Feb 24, 2010

Interview with Scott Atkinson

Scott Atkinson made his crossword debut in July 2008. Since then, he has had six more puzzles published by the LA Times.

Mr. Atkinson also had two puzzles published by the NY Times, including the very creative "Time after Time". This work preceded Pancho Harrison's "Time after Time", which many of us enjoyed. His puzzles also appeared in the much revered NY Sun.

What is the inspiration for this puzzle?

For me, theme inspiration is often provided by a phrase that sounds snappy to me. In this case, NAILBITER just seemed like a fun and descriptive term. So then you see what about that phrase might help you build a theme. In this case the double meaning for "nail" provides the opportunity for a wordplay theme. What are other pointy metal fasteners that can be used as the first part of phrases that have nothing to do with their meanings as fasteners? The other theme answers fit the bill.

And what are the challenges in putting this grid together?

There has to be lively fill, since the theme answers are not that long and the theme is not very complicated. I hope the fill here meets that challenge.

What is your background and how did you get into crossword constructing?

I have enjoyed crosswords for 30 years. When I learned that some editors, like Rich Norris. will accept submissions from newbies, I decided to give it a whirl. I have some friends who test-solved for a while until I learned what worked. Mentor extraordinaire Nancy Salomon really taught me how to develop a good wordplay theme and co-wrote my first one to help me get my foot in the door.

What is a great puzzle to you? And what kind of theme/fill wow you?

I love the low word count puzzles with wide open white spaces. A puzzle like that is fun to solve, whether it has a theme or not. And you know that the constructor put a lot of effort into it. But I love them all, really. Basically any puzzle without Roman numeral arithmetic problems makes me happy.

I noticed you were first published by LAT only in July 2008. Have you experienced Writer's Block in terms of theme ideas? If so, how do you deal with this spell of lack of inspiration?

When I first started making puzzles, theme ideas just came pouring out on a daily basis. Now I have to wait for random inspiration. This comes less frequently, but since it's not my day job I don't worry much in a dry spell. To deal with it, I'll mess around making some themeless puzzles.

How does being a constructor affect the way you solve and enjoy a puzzle now?

It definitely gives you appreciation for how hard it is to make a great puzzle, and how rare and wonderful it is to have one of your works accepted by one of the high-quality editors in the biz.

What kind of puzzles do you tackle every day and who are your favorite constructors?

I always do the LA Times, of course. It's the one carried in my local paper. New York Times as well. My favorite constructors are Patrick Berry, Nancy Salomon, Liz Gorski, Paula Gamache, Rich Norris (of course), Mike Shenk, Bob Klahn, and Kevin Der, whose themeless grids are just amazing.

Besides crosswords, what else do you do for fun?

I am an enthusiastic family guy and love to hang out with my wife, kids, and dogs. Also, endurance sports are fun for me. My biggest achievement (prior to having a puzzle accepted by Rich Norris, that is) was tackling and finishing the Hawaii Ironman triathlon in 2005. And I'm looking forward to finally getting certified in scuba next month.

17 comments:

Dennis said...

I always like these interviews w/constructors; it's interesting to see where the inspiration comes from when they put together a puzzle. Obviously, even with a fairly simple puzzle like today's, there's a good amount of work and thought behind it. And Scott, congratulations on finishing the Ironman competition - that's one hell of an accomplishment.

Again we see a reference to Nancy Salomon -- she must be an extraordinary lady.


Nice interview, guys; thanks.

C. C. said...

Dennis,
Interesting to know that Mr. Atkinson's theme inspiration often comes from a snappy phrase. I always thought the constructors get theme first, then find the sparkling phrases to support their theme. Nancy Salomon definitely should be among the first to be inducted into the Crossword Hall of Fame.

Hahtool said...

Wonderful interview. I loved today's puzzle. There were so many fun two word responses outside the theme that made me smile. I hope we get more of Scott's puzzles.

Lemonade714 said...

Thank you both for further insight in the world of constructing. I do see a puzzle as similar to a poem in that it can all come from a single word or phrase which grows from that single stem.

Nice to meet you Scott, where do you hail from?

Mainiac said...

Thanks for the interview CC and Scott, I always like getting insight on the view from the other side of puzzling.

Thanks again.

Mainiac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Short and sweet. Thanks, Scott.

MJ said...

Thank you for another great interview, C.C.
It's always interesting to hear how constructors get their inspirations and develop the puzzles.

And thank you, Scott Atkinson, for taking the time to share with us. I had to smile at your dislike for Roman numerals, a pet peeve of a number of solvers here. I look forward to more of your puzzles.

Crockett1947 said...

The fact that C.C. can give us interviews with the constructor of the puzzle on the day of publication indicates that she is in the know behind the scenes. To be in that position is a validation of her credibility in the Greater Crossword Community. We know she is the best, and it's nice to know that she has the respect of others in the biz.

Scott Atkinson, thank you for the fine interview.

JD said...

Another great interview, CC. It's always interesting to learn how cruciberalists (use it or lose it!) started creating puzzles. Amazing how each of you have such a well-rounded knowledge base, while I'm sputtering,"I didn't know that."

Nancy Solomon must be the nicest lady ever!

Thanks Scott,we'll be looking forward to many more of your puzzles.

Scott A. said...

@Lemonade

I hail from the hometown of BRADPITT-Springfield, MO!

Thanks everyone for the nice comments! I'l definitely start hanging around CC more often! I cannot emphasize enough what a great editor Rich N. is!

It was interesting reading CC's interview with Peter Gordon. I forgot to mention him as a help to getting me going. He is great at building fill that sizzles.

I think I have a puzzle happening at the Chronicle of Higher Education this Friday. Patrick Berry, my puzzle hero, is the editor there. He really did most of the work on that one, but gave me the credit anyway.

Thanks again... especially CC!

Chickie said...

Thank you Scott for joining us here with your insights on construction of a crossword. Even an "easy" puzzle is difficult to construct as we have found out. It is always nice to know about the people who put these challenges in front of us.

It is also interesting to know that other constructors mentor "newbies". That isn't always the case in many fields.

Lucina said...

C.C. and all:
What a strange experience I've had. I feel like I'm in the twilignt zone. I posted two comments earlier and now they are gone! Does anyone know what happens?

I really liked this puzzle, not a nailbiter (I couldn't bite my nails, anyway, as they're acrylic) but really fun. I danced around a bit then got traction and went on easily.

My favs: it's a wrap and umlaut. Very clever.

Here in the Southwest there are numerous "tack rooms" as the horse culture is still very much in existence. One of my friends was thrown from her horse last week when she went for her daily ride. A dog spooked the horse and he bolted, causing her to lose control and fall; she sustained some serious injuries, including a broken rib and requiring transplanting some skin from another part of her body to her arm.

I really enjoyed the interview with Scott; it's inspiring to know what a constructor experiences as he/she develops the puzzle. Congratulations on the triatholon, Scott. We were in Havaii once when it was in progress and saw the brutal terrain where the bicyclists were driving the course.

C.C.:
You asked me some time ago about Robert Wayne Williams and today I saw his name on a puzzle that's included in a weekly flyer with our newspaper. It's The Buyers' Edge and is posted every Wednesday.

Adios, amigos. I hope this posting survives.

Anonymous said...

@lucina, scroll down to today's puzzle.

Paul said...

Greetings, just found this spot last week and I love it. Today's triple string answers almost got me....then figured out that HEAD was the lead-in for each word not just the last one as usual.

C. C. said...

Scott Atkinson,
Thanks for swinging by.

Paul,
Welcome! I just copied and pasted your post to today's (Feb 25, 2010) Comments section.

Eric said...

I just did Scott's puzzle for 3/15. Maybe the second puzzle I've ever wanted to write fan mail for. I could only get about 4 words first time thru then ended up solving the puzzle.

I liked being able to figure it out in the end. A very fun puzzle! No roman numerals or French words. The anagrams were a nice touch. Very solid! Nice job!

How about a Puzzle based on amblyopia ex anopsia?

Eric Lamberts