Nov 27, 2010

Interview with Victor Fleming

Those who watched the crossword documentary "Wordplay" are probably familiar with the below lines:

"If you don't come across I'm gonna be down/ If you don't come across I'm gonna be down/ Your love to me is a mystery and the clues are all around / If you don't come across I'm gonna be down..." (Full lyrics here). The song was composed by today's constructor Victor Fleming.

Mr. Fleming started constructing crosswords regularly for various newspapers in 2004. Since then, his puzzles have appeared in LA Times, NY Times (total 26 puzzles), NY Sun, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Games magazine, etc.

I learned that you are a district judge in Little Rock. How did you get into crossword construction and how does your law background influence your puzzle style?

I’ve been solving crosswords since the age of 12, but I’ve played word games and made up puzzles and mazes for as long as I can remember. In 2003, I set a goal of publishing crosswords. After several rejection notes, I found two mentors, Peter Abide and Nelson Hardy. With these experienced constructors’ help, I learned what I was doing wrong, fixed that and have been published regularly since 2004. Given choices among various fill selections and various clues, I seem to gravitate toward legal stuff, though I try to balance that out.

You appeared in "Wordplay", which also featured a song you wrote. How was the movie experience and how did it affect your life?

The “Wordplay” experience was serendipitous and fun. I’d written a song to perform as part of a humor routine at the 2005 ACPT, the first one that I’d ever attended. Turned out that was the year that Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley were shooting footage for a documentary about crosswords. They met me, learned what I was up to and filmed Stella Daily, Ben Tausig and me rehearsing the song, “If You Don’t Come Across, I’m Gonna Be Down.” They liked it, left me and the song in the film and then licensed the song for the closing credits. I went to premieres of the film at the Sundance Film Festival and in New York, Chicago, Little Rock, Jackson (Miss.) and Fayetteville (Ark.). I had a blast.

What is the highlight of your construction career and what is the best puzzle you've made? Why?

There’ve been many highlights. The first and second puzzles published by the New York Times stand out because there was a 14-month turnaround for the first and a 14-day turnaround for the second, and they were published 5 weeks apart. My first puzzle accepted by Rich Norris at LAT stands out as well, because he really liked a theme that some people around me had not been complimentary of. The best puzzle, I suppose, was one in a Simon & Schuster book that Bruce Venzke and I did, called “You Be the Judge.” In it, the two words across the center were OBJECTION ?????????, and the missing letters could spell SUSTAINED or OVERRULED, as the crossing clues would support both.

You seem to be fond of collaborating with other constructors, how is it different from your own individual effort?

Dialoguing about puzzles is fun and educational. I made puzzles with my mentors. I’ve made puzzles with most of the people whom I’ve mentored. And I have made puzzles with a lot of different people who have just become friends. It typically begins with one or the other person starting a dialogue, as innocuous as “What do you think of this?” or as serious as “I’ve got something really good here and I’m stuck.”

When does the crossword muse normally visit you? And what kind of books/magazines/websites do you read for theme inspirations?

My muse is more like a drunken sailor than a sweet little fairy princess. For me, making puzzles is work. And late at night is when I pursue the activity. I dig through quote books and sites. I spend a lot of time at onelook.com. I pluck ideas from the newspaper and from magazines that I read and from contemporary and not-so-contemporary literature that I read.

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

I solve the L.A. Times, New York Times and CrosSynery puzzles every day. My favorite constructors are - well, I made a list and there were 40 people on it, and I am bound to have left out someone. So, please excuse me on this request. I admire different people for different talents that they demonstrate in the cruciverbalism.

10 comments:

Lemonade714 said...

Once again, thank you C.C. and Judge Fleming. In retrospect, POSIT, and AMBIT are common words in legal writing, and one downside of judges is having to remain seated and quiet through didactic argument. A fine interview of a man with talent and wit. I wish more judges possessed these skills, but at least this is one time there will be no contempt of court. bravo.

Anonymous said...

Judge Vic is charming.

Clear Ayes said...

Another interesting C.C. interview, this time with Victor Fleming. Thanks to both of you.

I haven't seen "Wordplay", but it is available on Netflix. It is going on my list today.

Dennis said...

Very, very nice interview; a most enjoyable read. C.C., you have a knack for asking the questions we'd all like to know. Victor, continued success -- this puzzle was a lot of fun.

JD said...

Thanks so much for the interview. It always makes puzzling more interesting when knowing a little bit about its constructor. Not a fan of legal words, but sure did enjoy your puzzle.

Mary said...

Very enjoyable interview, thank you both.

Ken Pulver said...

What a delight to visit this site while trying to arrive at "toteboard". Kept thinking electic lights. And - a further delight to feel like I've met the author. Will be back.

Anonymous said...

Your honor, this puzzle is too hard.

Chickie said...

Thank you C.C. and Judge Fleming for an interesting interview. I always enjoy knowing about the constructors who keep us entertained day in and day out.


I think I need to put"Wordplay" on my do not miss list.

creature said...

C.C., Your interviews add so much to my crossword experience. I was delighted to find this as a special treat this weekend. I don't use Netflix, but may start ,in order to see "Wordplay".

Thanks so much to Victor Fleming,
for sharing his personal experiences with the documentary and the crossword world in general.