Apr 5, 2010

Interview with Rich Norris

It's been a very entertaining and educating year since we switched to LA Times on March 21, 2010. A quick catch-up with editor Rich Norris for the latest status regarding our current puzzle.

Are you now comfortable with the difficulty graduation level of our puzzles? Several regulars on our blog have given up on Saturdays due to its continued inaccessibility.

This sounds almost like two questions, which I'll answer separately.

Overall difficulty: yes, I am comfortable with the current levels.

Saturday: Saturday puzzles are admittedly harder than they were during the summer/fall "easing" period, but they aren't as hard as they used to be before then. There's really no way to make them both challenging enough for more-skilled solvers and yet accessible to those used to Wayne Williams' level of difficulty. To me, it doesn't seem fair to clue the entire week at such a basic level. The higher-level solvers are entitled to one or two puzzles a week that challenge them.

How is your editing style in the past year different from your LAT/TMS Daily consolidation days?

Except for that "easing" period I mentioned above, not at all.

How many more Dan Naddor puzzles are left in your pipeline? And what was it like to work with Dan?

I don't have a current count, but there are enough to last the year and then some. I think I've already said all there is for me to say about working with Dan. To sum up: his penchant for constantly stretching limits tried my patience once in a while, but on the whole, he was an editor's dream. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him. And miss him.

Many of us missed Scott Atkinson's rotational turn in his recent TURNSTILE puzzle, and I certainly would not have noticed the counterclockwise one letter at a time rotation in Don Gagliardo's SHOE BOX puzzles if not for his Interview. How do you feel as an editor when solvers simply miss such woven intricacy?

I knew that the SHOE BOX puzzle would cause some confusion--because Tribune wouldn't allow me to use circles in puzzles at that time. Explaining such themes in prose is a challenge. I took a chance, and I feel it was a success because most solvers spotted it. "Turnstile" had circles, though. I thought that was enough theme help. It's not clear to me why so many of your readers didn't grasp the gimmick. It might simply be a lack of experience with this kind of puzzle. You can expect more circled themes in the future. Maybe that will help. ;-)

We've learned from the constructors that some of the entertaining clues are actually your creation. Where do you normally get your inspiration for cluing? What kind of newspapers/magazines/books/websites do you read every day?

My inspiration for cluing comes from years of experience, a pretty broad grasp of the English language, and my wife Kim, who's about as clever a wordsmith as I've ever met. I read the LA Times every day. Monthly, I subscribe to Consumer Reports and AARP the Magazine. I do loads of reading online: other newspapers, sports Web sites (I'm a sports nut), and whatever other sites my work happens to take me to.


C. C. said...

Bill G & Kazie,
I asked Rich the first question with you two in mind.

Lemonade714 said...

Thank you for the update; I wonder if Mr. Norris still enjoys solving puzzles. Is there a point an editor needs a break?

Chris in LA said...

On-line grids don't show circles - any way to fix that?

Chris in LA said...

PS - although I am relatively new to Xwords (about 2 years) I really look forward to the Saturday challenges - thanks and keep up the great work Rich!

Al said...

I agree that the puzzles need to have varying difficulty for a range of solvers. If all you ever want to solve are puzzles that do not challenge you, then you'll never get any better, and will eventually become bored with it. OTOH, if you're someone that simply wants to stay in their comfort zone, and is simply passing their time and want a more, "consistent" feel to your puzzles, then Wayne's daily puzzles are online now, too.

windhover said...

Hi CC,
A brief but interesting interview, and an opportunity for me to comment early in the day for a change. I still work every puzzle, even though it's a week or more later than everyone else. It has been previously established that I am a midlevel solver. I rip through Monday and Tuesday, though not in Dennis time, slog through the mid and late week puzzles, and usually take two or more sessions to get through Saturday, which I occasionally just quit on. I said all that to say this: at the risk of offending some blog friends, the carping about too-difficult puzzles ONE DAY a week passed tedious quite a while back. What is it about crosswords that gets you off? Looking down at a completed grid? Like another of my favorite activities, it isn't the afterglow that brings me back again and again, it's the experience. It's quite alright to say, "Damn, that puzzle was a tough one", but why complain that it wasn't fun because you didn't finish it? Continuing the analogy above, is it absolutely necessary to "finish" every single time? OK, so the analogy isn't perfect. But you know what I mean. Relax, it's just a puzzle, and like the analogy, it's all good, or should be. Go forth and solve, or ...... You know.

Anonymous said...

We did not miss the entire turn, only the one letter a time order.

kazie said...

Thanks both to C.C. and Mr. Norris for the interview.

Thank you too for taking Bill and me into consideration. Part of my problem on weekends is time. Right now we're trying to see as much of our son and d-i-l as we can since they will be moving back to Germany soon. Also my DH wants to be in on my time when he's home and I can't concentrate with interruptions. So it's unfortunate that the puzzles that need more of my efforts occur then and this weekend I simply didn't do them.

I can relate to WH's comment, but OTOH I get really deflated when I am totally stumped by a puzzle full of dedicated knowledge I simply don't have, will never have and have no interest in acquiring, like Friday's and Saturday's this past week. Sunday I didn't even go online to look at it.

I think too, there is definitely a level where I and a few others of us are at between LAT and Wayne Williams. So I somewhat resent the classifying of all who dread the weekend puzzles as Wayne Williams fans.

Anonymous said...

There's no comparison
between Rich and the egomaniac Wayne Williams.

Boots said...

Enjoyed the interview and Rich, I hope you continue to present us with challenging puzzles. I recently read an article, don't remember where, that listed activities that would help you keep your brain sharp into old age. One of the activities mentioned was crossword puzzles but only if they presented a challenge. Where's the challenge if you can finish a puzzle in five minutes or the fun. The fun is in the challenge but I do agree with Kazie that a good puzzle constructor should not have to resort to obscure names and facts to construct a really challenging puzzle.

Spitzboov said...

C.C. Nice interview with Rich. Thank you.

While in FL for 4 weeks in Feb, we had daily access to the St. Petersburg Times which publishes both the LAT and Wayne Williams puzzles. I did both every day. Sometimes the LAT was a little easier but mostly it was as hard or harder than the WW one. But the LAT puzzle was consistently brighter, fresher and more engaging. IMHO.

I think, generally, Rich strikes the appropriate level of difficulty, I guess I would prefer to see at least occasional changes in difficulty for the different weekdays. That way each morning there is a little more of a 'surprise'.

MJ said...

C.C and Rich Norris,
Thank you for the interview and update. As a mid-level solver (improving with time) I appreciate the challenge of a more difficult puzzle some of the time.

One question, please. I generally solve the puzzle in the LAT actual newspaper, and the editor(s) byline lists Joyce Nichols Lewis as coeditor Monday through Saturday. What role does she play in the puzzle preparation process?

Clear Ayes said...

The graduated difficulty level is fine with me. I think it is wonderful that Rich Norris tries to take all levels of expertise into consideration.

I still have some problems on Fridays and Saturdays, but that's OK. I have been quite surprised and pleased over the past year that I have actually learned some new words via the crosswords. I might never use them in real life, but it will make me smile the next time ALGOL makes an appearance. It is those little moments, as well as the big "Ahas" that make crosswording an enjoyable experience for me.

JimmyB said...

C.C. and All -
Please add my vote to those who appreciate the way Rich ramps up the difficulty toward the end of the week. Along the lines of Windhover's comments, I am reminded that when I was a student athlete running track, the workouts I hated the most were the ones that did me the most good. Similarly, the teachers I thought were the hardest ("meanest") were the one's I look back on as teaching me the most. So I'm happy to weather those ego-deflating Saturday puzzles, because you know, they don't take me as long as they used to!

Tinbeni said...

I think the difficulty levels for the days of the week are just fine.

Monday to Wednesday seems like Spring Training.

Thursday the regular season.

Friday the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Saturday the World Series.

Crockett1947 said...

Rich, Thank You for taking the time to give us an update. I agree with Tinbei's assessment. My problem is that I only have internet access and if I'm away for the weekend I may not be able to get to the puzzle. And if I do and Cruciverb is down, using the LAT site is not a good experience. But, I'll keep coming back for more because of the challenges.

C.C., thank you for the blog and the interviews!!


Lucina said...

C.C. and Rich.
Thank you for this interview. I am in the camp for increasing difficulty through the week. Actually I would prefer difficult ones all week, but realize it's my preference and I do go and find more difficult ones.

It, the act of solving xwds, is a learning experience, if only of what I don't know and continue to add to my lexicon as CA pointed out.

Keep it up, Rich!

Annette said...


Thanks for taking the time for C.C.'s interview. I'd like to take this opportunity to "Thank You" for all the hard work done behind the scenes of the puzzles.

Until coming to this blog and hearing from the Constructors, I don't think many of us realized just how much work went into them. I know I sure didn't, and took them very much for granted!

Many of the Constructors also credit you for the time, patience and knowledge you've provided them, which have improved the finished products, as well as their own skills.

Our thanks to you, Rich, for the entertaining and mind-expanding puzzles you provide us! As is mentioned often, we all learn something new from the puzzles almost daily.

I hope you realize how much you are appreciated, too!


C. C. said...

Chris in LA,
Below is the reply from Rich:

"It's unfortunate, but Chris is correct. LAT Online has its own software which is simply not as comprehensive as it could be. Inability to support circled squares is one of its shortcomings. I don't know if this has anything to do with Java, though I do know that Litsoft's Java applet doesn't support circles, either. However, Litsoft's Across Lite software does support them, and the puzzles are available in that format at Cruciverb."

C. C. said...

Below is the reply from Rich:

"Joyce was LA Times puzzle editor long before I arrived. I began working with her 10 years ago, at which time we shared editing responsibilities. She's now retired, though we do talk regularly about the puzzles. I do all the editing, and she's among the professionals who check my work. Her name remains on the byline in recognition of her years of service to the LAT Crossword.

And, though you didn't ask, she's a terrific golfer. ;-)"

Anonymous said...

Just completed the 2/26/11 crossword and RN really dropped the ball on: "Jets' org." Answer: "AFC?" Really? Clue should have been "Jets' conf." Not many crossword editor know much about sports.