Apr 1, 2010

Interview with Alex Boisvert

Today's edgy quote is our second Alex Boisvert puzzle since the TMS switch last year. His last OOK puzzle is also quite unique. It contains no three-letter word at all.

Besides LA Times, Alex's puzzles have also appeared in the NY Times, NY Sun, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Games magazine.

Today's puzzle is a rather creative approach to a normally boring quote puzzle. How does the "edge" idea come to you?

Thanks! I actually got the idea from Brendan Quigley's Ten Bulls**t Themes post where he talked about the "stepquote." I had never heard of it (if you haven't either, here's an example, but it gave me the idea to run a quote around the outside of a puzzle. Once I found an appropriate quote, I was pretty much set, except that it turns out running a theme around the outside of the puzzle makes it really hard to fill! It took me forever to get something decent. Hope it was worth it. (Incidentally, I don't find quote puzzles boring, but I know a lot of people do)

We seldom see a non-symmetrical grid and quote entries broken into mostly non-recognizable letter strings. What kind of feedback did you expect from average solvers?

(Actually, the puzzle has left-right symmetry, but that's still unusual) I expect a lot of people to hate this puzzle! Still, I hold out hope that some people will love it too. It does strike me as a puzzle that might be polarizing - most puzzles that are out of the ordinary in some way are. Seems just about right for an April Fool's puzzle.

How would you describe your style? I was impressed that there's no 3-word entry in your last LAT.

I'm not sure I have a style, although I guess most of my puzzles fall into one of two categories: easy Monday-Tuesday puzzles, and puzzles that have some sort of unique twist. I've made a couple of pun puzzles but I don't like them - "Puns are the lowest form of communication," I always say - so most of the entries in my puzzles are real phrases. I especially like making crosswords where a defining theme entry crosses several others, but those aren't easy to make! As far as the LAT puzzle you're referring to - I wanted to see if I could write a Monday puzzle with no three-letter entries. So I did it, but most people didn't even notice, so I won't be doing it
again.

What's your background? And how did you develop an interest in crossword constructing?

Like many constructors, my background is in math. I got my undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in Maine and my Ph.D. at UCLA. Now I help design software for hyperspectral cameras. While I was in grad school a friend showed me a crossword he was making for his girlfriend. That's when I thought to myself "Hey, I can do that too!" So I tried making a few and eventually I got it right, with a lot of help and patience from editors.

Tell us a bit about your website and the tools you've developed for crossword constructors/solvers.

On alexboisvert.com I have a bunch of apps I wrote for myself, but that I thought might be useful for others. The website started off pretty small but I kept finding more ideas for software that I wanted to make and so it kept growing. Right now the most popular app I have is CrosswordButler, which allows people to download bunches of puzzles every day. I also have the Kaidoku blog where Matt Gaffney and I each contribute one puzzle a week. Kaidoku is a crossword variant that I'm starting to like better than typical crosswords, because it requires logical thinking as well.

What's the best puzzle you've made and why?

Boy, that's hard. The puzzle most people seem to remember is this one from September 19, 2008 PDF, Solution. This one from a year previous PDF, second page, Solution garnered a lot of positive feedback too. I'd also point to this puzzle which is unpublishable for obvious reasons but which I think came out rather well (warning: colorful language involved)

What kind of puzzles do you solve every day? And who are your favorite constructors?

I don't solve that many crosswords any more these days. I did when I used to ride the bus to work but these days I bike. I solve the A.V. club crossword whenever Byron Walden constructs it, and I try to do Matt Gaffney's contest puzzle and Peter Gordon's Fireball crossword every week, but mostly I've been solving Kaidoku. As far as my favorite constructors, there are probably too many to mention, but in addition to Byron, Matt and Peter I would say (off the top of my head) Lynn Lempel for early-week puzzles, Pete Muller and Patrick Blindauer for crazy rule-bending puzzles, and Doug Peterson and Karen Tracey for themelesses. Also anyone who's ever been mentioned when you've asked that question before.

Besides crossword, what else do you do for fun?

Well, I have two young children so I don't have that much free time these days. I love hiking and camping. I enjoy trivia and I go to a weekly pub quiz when I get a little free time. I like to cook and I love to eat good food. And sleep ... but I haven't done much of that recently.

10 comments:

Hahtool said...

Nice interview, CC. Thanks for stopping by and sharing how you came about constructing this puzzle.

Dennis said...

Alex, C.C., super interview. And I loved all the links - as if my days aren't busy enough, I've got a whole new set of puzzles now. I for one love the off-beat themes.

Also, thanks for the 'hyperspectral' education; good stuff.

Lemonade714 said...

The interview begs the question, what made M. Boisvert such a unique thinker. What were the deefining moments which fostered independent and creative thought.

Thank you both

Anonymous said...

I changed my mind about the puzzle after reading the interview. Thanks, Alex Boisvert. The puzzle made no sense until I came to the blog.

Boots said...

Good morning everyone. great interview as always C.C.. I loved this puzzle. At first it made no sense then the light bulb lit and I zoomed through and finished in record time, for me, on a Thursday, 35 min. I rarely post and am mainly a lurker but just had to comment on this puzzle. Have a great day everyone!

Anonymous said...

Did not like this puzzle!!!!!

Crockett1947 said...

Another sterling interview. It's always so nice to know more about the constructors.

The first thing I noticed about this puzzle was the different symmetry. Then when I couldn't make sense of 1A and looked at the combination of 1A and 8A, I knew something was up but didn't grok exactly what until sleeping on it. With a fresh look this morning I was able to put this one away, but I did have to check out one letter. Nice puzzle, sir!

JD said...

well done. Thanks to you both. I loved that puzzle, and yes, it was great for an April Fools' Day!

Mainiac said...

Great interview CC and Alex, Very unique puzzle and quite a challenge for me. Once I got the theme figured out I thought "How clever"!

Thanks again CC

new guy said...

i was not happy as i went along, but then...all of a sudden...wow! o.k. it's not bad.