Mar 21, 2013

Interview with Alex Bajcz

I was so delighted with the ZERO G puzzle Alex Bajcz (Hungarian name, pronounced like "Badges") constructed for us in February. I had previously seen a couple puzzles with a simple G dropping gimmick, so the spelling changes Alex implemented in his theme struck me as more nuanced and elegant. Just a wonderful debut puzzle and I look forward to many creative grids from Alex,  a PhD student at University of Maine. Hello ORONO!
 
How did this theme come to you and what were the trouble spots in your constructing process? 13's as the first & last entries always make gridding/filling trickier.

Let's see...I recently re-took up crossword writing last summer, and this was the puzzle idea that drove me to do it. Not sure how exactly it came to me. I think I was reading up on types of themes and came across "container" themes and UNDERCOVER COP just came to me in a flash. As for the grid, I can't really remember struggling with any particular part. My grid designing skill is most definitely better now, I'll say that much. I do remember the NE was a little tricky (that ELIO/ AND ON crossing is yucky, I know!), as was getting LIQUORED UP to work...Qs are hard haha. 

What's your background and how did you get into crossword construction?

I took up crossword solving my freshman year in college because A) paying attention in class is hard for me and B) no one would play Scrabble with me any more. In all actuality, I'm not terribly good at Scrabble, but I do know my QINDARs and QANATs if you catch my drift. Crosswords gave me my word game fix without having to involve any other people. It's funny to me that I like word games as much as I do because I am an atrocious speller (something that hasn't cost me while writing a puzzle....yet (knock on wood)). I took up crossword writing because I was A) tired of being bad at solving crosswords and B) because I wanted to contribute rather than just consume. I'm still bad at solving, but now I get twice the enjoyment out of crosswords! haha

What kind of theme and fill excite you and what kind do you try to avoid in your grids?

I think all themes are potentially good. I think perhaps I prefer themes that are "tricky;" there's a NYT puzzle from a while back that had MIXED METAPHOR as a central answer and 6 anagrams of METAPHOR crossing it, which probably ranks as my favorite puzzle to date. But I think "straight" themes can be charming to solve also. Basically, when I finish a puzzle, I want to feel two things: "This puzzle definitely exists for a reason" (a good idea spawned it) and "This constructor really took their time choosing theme and fill answers." If I feel those two ways, I'm satisfied. 

Clean fill is super important to me. For every spot, I search at least two databases and create lists of all the words that could go there, and then choose only the ones I like well enough to use. I avoid things like partials, obscure words, and things I personally wouldn't have recognized (but there are always exceptions). I prefer multi-word answers (PICK OVER) and "vocalizations" (LET'S PLAY) the most. I also have to admit I really like "debuts." Anything that might make folks smile as they fill it in is also a plus--things like HARPOON GUN or BALL PIT and the like.

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

Cluing is almost an afterthought for me, I'll admit. I give it two passes. If I can't come up with something clever after two "tries," I give up and leave it to the editors. That said, I do try hard these days to make all my clues "new." 

Filling takes the most time because I'm patient and do it "by hand," but theme brainstorming is by far where the most mental energy of mine goes. I get writer's block big time with crosswords--I'm useless without inspiration! That's why it has been fun for me to collaborate with a fellow constructor recently. 

What puzzles do you solve every day and which constructors constantly inspire you?

I solve the NYT every day. I used to solve the LAT every day back in undergrad, but I switched about two years ago. Elizabeth Gorski and Jeff Chen are probably my favorite constructors right now. Liz always amazes me with her creativity, and they both almost always produce sterling, lively fill, which I really value. Patrick Berry's puzzles also tend to impress me, even though I can almost never solve them.

Besides crosswords, what are your other interests? 

I'm an evolutionary ecology PhD student who studies the reproductive behavior of fruiting plants. In other words, I study why fruits are the way they are--it's very delicious research. I'm working on wild blueberry right now, but I've worked on raspberries in the past and would like to return to them some day. I'm also a big trivia nut in addition to my love of word games. I attend a weekly trivia contest, run my own private trivia league for my friends, and play on LearnedLeague. I'm as bad at trivia as I am at solving crosswords, but I love them both. 


5 comments:

Hahtoolah said...

Great interview. It's always interesting to learn a bit about our constructors. I am also so glad to learn that Mr. (soon to be Dr.) Bajcz is studying at "my" university. I hope we see a lot more of his puzzles.

Lemonade714 said...

Thanks C. C. for keeping us in touch with the new constructors. Alex was kind enough to stop by after his first puzzle on February 1, and leave his email address.

AnnieB8491 said...

Thanks for sharing. Interesting to 'get into' the mind of a constructor.

Chickie said...

Thanks, C.C. for a great interview with Alex Bajcz. I really enjoyed getting to know him better.

I hope we see and hear from him again, very soon.

TTP said...

Thank you CC and Alex. It's interesting to know about constructors.