Sep 21, 2012

Interview with Neville Fogarty

Look what I found when I googled Neville Fogarty? A 11-year-old Jeopardy! "Back to School Week" (October 3, 2000) contestant with a pet fish named Bob Saget. So don't feel bad if you're stumped by his puzzles.

Neville started constructing puzzles in 2008, and he has been published by the LA Times, NY Times & the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Neville just started a new site and publishes a new puzzle every Friday. Click here and check his offering today.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you develop an interest in crossword construction?

I started solving crosswords regularly in the summer of 2007 in preparation for an audition for the short-lived game show "Merv Griffin's Crosswords." Later that year, I tried writing one myself just to see if I could make one by hand. My first puzzle wasn't perfect, but it was pretty fun to make, so I spent the next few months reading up on construction online and refining my skills by writing a weekly puzzle for my school newspaper.

You've been making both themed and themeless puzzles (MONEY SHOT!),  which one do you enjoy more and what are the major differences in your approach?


Slipping phrases like MONEY SHOT into a themeless is great fun, but I really love writing a good themed puzzle. There's just something about finding some phrases with a common bond or a neat phrase to riff off of. I'm not giving up on either of them.

When I go to write a themed puzzle, I usually already have a theme in mind. either I've noticed a cool pattern in a word, or a bit of wordplay somewhere. Sometimes I'll have stumbled across a nice "tie-together" entry for a theme, and I'll work backwards from that. Then it's a lot of brainstorming to come up with the best theme entries possible before I go to fill the grid. Since I've been blogging over at the Crossword Fiend, I've become very conscious of what themes we've seen before and what is and isn't fun for the solver. I try to keep this in mind when I'm constructing: What experience am I bringing to the solver? I want them to be able solve a fresh, new puzzle each time, so I have to put my themed puzzles through a lot of internal scrutiny.

With a themeless puzzle, it's a similar story, but I have some more leeway. I don't have to have a new idea tying the puzzle together. Instead, I get to rely on picking out some fun names and phrases to make a puzzle shine. Most of my themelesses feature a pinwheel-type pattern - stacks of 8 to 10-letter entries in each corner. I usually pick out one entry for each corner and then try to fill around it, making each segment of the puzzle as lively as possible.

As a young solver/constructor, what kind of themes/fill fascinate you the most and what kind of themes/fill do you dread seeing in a puzzle?

I love seeing contemporary titles (books, TV shows, etc.), full names of well-known people, and current turns of phrase in crosswords.  I usually don't mind when things push the so-called breakfast test. I don't need a theme to be mindbending to enjoy it; just something that has interesting phrases and clever clues.

I'm not a fan of entries that I can't reason out if I haven't heard of them, especially ones where the crossing is unhelpful. This mainly applies to unfamiliar abbreviations crossing not-so-well-known names that don't even look like names to me.

Which part do you normally spend the most time on in the construction process: theme brainstorming, gridding or cluing?

I really enjoy cluing, and I can bang it out pretty quickly, usually. Even for themed puzzles, I probably spend the most time filling the grid. I tend to write more than one grid just to make sure I'm making as fun a puzzle as possible (or because I've worked myself into an undesirable corner), so the time spent gridding tends to add up.

Which is the best puzzle you've made and why?

Now that's a hard one; it often feels like whichever one I'm working on is my current favorite! I'm quite partial to the most recent themeless puzzle I posted on my new webpage: http://nevillefogarty.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/puzzle-9-themeless-3/. But if you ask me next week, it'll likely change.

Wat puzzles do you solve every day and which constructors do you find most inspiring?

I solve the Los Angeles Times and New York Times puzzle everyday like clockwork. I think my short list of inspirational constructors would include Mike Nothnagel and Doug Peterson, primarily for their awesome themeless puzzles, Brendan Emmett Quigley and Matt Gaffney for their ability to mess with my head, and Merl Reagle for his overall punniness. I wish I could steal some of their abilities!

Besides crossword, what else do you do for fun?

Most of my time away from crosswords is spent working toward a PhD in mathematics - I'm a second-year graduate student at the University of Kentucky. But beyond that, I love playing racquetball, video games and ultimate frisbee.

7 comments:

Lemonade714 said...

It fascinates me how many very young constructors we have in our world; real child prodigys. When you read this young mans puzzles or his blogs, you would not guess he started as a teen ager in 208.

Well done. Now with the name Neville, I wonder about his hertiage.

Thank you C.C.

Irish Miss said...

Thanks CC and Neville for a very insightful interview. I love hearing the thought process, the approach, and the creativity of all of you puzzle constructors. Bravo.

Abejo said...

Great interview and Great Job, Neville. Enjoyed the puzzle. Keep up the good work.

Abejo

Mikey said...

Really liked ALAR. Got a little messed up in the E side, desperately trying to make MITER (or MITRE) work where TIARA was wanted. The pope's tiara is nothing like Miss America's.

Anonymous said...

Can Neville Fogarty beat Joon Park?

Lucina said...

Neville, your youth and intelligence are impressive! I really enjoyed your puzzle and reading the interview. A mathematical mind always makes an impact with me!

Neville said...

It's a pleasure as always to read the comments here at CC! I hope you enjoyed the interview - C.C. had some great questions for me.

Lemonade, my heritage is mostly European - Irish, French and British. (There's a little Creek thrown in for good measure!) My last name's cleary Irish, and my name is of French origin, though popular in Britain. I got it from my maternal grandfather, and it goes up the tree from there.

I'm fairly certain that Joon could take me down in any trivia or crossword competition, Anonymous. :)

Happy weekend, everyone!