Jul 11, 2013

Interview with Tom Pepper

Tom Pepper made one of the most creative puzzles earlier this year. Please click here if you have not solved the puzzle. Spoiler alert: Here is a wonderful write-up by the super-fast Howard Barkin.

Today is Tom's LA Times debut. He has had 2 puzzles published by the NY Times. You'll all like him when you meet with him in person, trust me! He is Minnesota Nice. (Added later: Please click here (George Barany's website) for more information on the puzzle).


  Left to Right: Tom Pepper, Marcia J. Brott, Victor Barocas, David Hanson, DK
&  Andrea Carla Michaels



I'm so in love with your "Executive Decisions" puzzle. How did the idea come to you and how long did it take you to complete the grid?  

Thanks, C.C.  It started out as a list of the presidents on the faces of U.S. coins.  The first problem: that's boring.  The second problem: the Mint had recently started making commemorative dollar coins with all the presidents on them, which I didn't know until I was already knee-deep in the puzzle.  So I gave up on that idea.  But I really liked the gimmick part of the grid, and I had put a lot of effort into making it work, so I noodled on it more, and came up with a better context for it. (I'm being intentionally vague in case someone reading this wants to dig it out of the BEQ archives and solve it.)  I wish I had logged my hours on that puzzle.  I think I'd be shocked at the number.  I'm sure it's over 100.
 
What are the other theme answers you also considered but discarded for today's BUGS puzzle?  

My original effort had seven themers: HIDDENMIKES, FLUS, OBSESSIONS, ELMERSNEMESIS, PCGLITCHES, IRKS, and ORIGINALVWS ... but all that theme caused the fill to suffer greatly, so I scaled back to five--only HIDDENMIKES from my original grid survived to the end.  Surprisingly, I never came up with a good answer for the most common usage of bugs: those creepy-crawly things.
 
Tell us a bit about your background. What prompted you to make your first crossword?   

Grew up in MN. College in Oregon (Go Ducks!). CPA. MBA. Finance guy. So numbers are my work, words are my play time.  I'd solved crosswords on and off for years, and made a few (horrible) birthday/Christmas puzzles for family and friends along the way.  But two years ago, when my second daughter left the nest and I had all this time on my hands, I bought Crossword Compiler as a birthday present to myself and added "Get a crossword puzzle published somewhere" to my bucket list.

Which part do you enjoy the most in the construction process: theme development, filling or cluing?  

Good question.  It's kind of euphoric when a clever theme idea or a fabulous, never-used clue comes to mind, but it doesn't happen that often, so theme development and cluing are usually more work than pleasure for me.  But once I get a theme framed up, it's hard to pull me away from the filling process.  Filling a puzzle is solving a puzzle in itself.  I stay up way too late some nights "solving the puzzle."  You're probably thinking that sounds like an addiction ... and you're probably right!
  
What kind of themes and fill appeal to you and what are the ones you try to avoid in your grids? 

The best theme answers make you smile as you fill them in.  I like puns, re-parsing of words, current slang ... and the edgier (without going over the edge), the better.  I try to avoid the words people complain about in the blogs.  A lot of them are 3-letter answers, so I try to minimize the number of 3-letter words when creating a grid.  I'm working on a puzzle right now where the theme answers go around the edge--it's the last time I'm going to try that!  Way too difficult working from the outside in.

You mentioned that you have some 1960s baseball cards. What's the most cherished card in your collection and what's the one card you'd like to own someday? 

I was a big Willie Mays fan, and I like the purple color on his 1965 card, so while it's not the most valuable, it's my favorite.  (Tony O's 65 card is purple too--another favorite!)  The cards I'd like to own (again) are the dozen or so I gave away back in the '80s to a kid I was babysitting who wanted to start collecting.  I know my 1965 Mantle card was one of them.  He told me the next day he'd looked them up and they were worth $400.  I had no idea.
 
Besides crosswords, what else do you do for fun?  

I enjoy my time volunteering as a tutor to East African adults one night a week, and as a teacher of a 12-week class through the National Alliance on Mental Illness for family members of people living with a mental illness.  And I love to play golf, play Boggle, and travel.

5 comments:

MJ said...

Congratulations on your LAT debut puzzle, Mr. Tom Pepper! And thanks for taking the time to share with C.C. and her blog followers. lt's always fun to hear from the constructors.

I just finished solving your BEQ puzzle. Absolutely amazing! Your hours invested in its construction resulted in a brilliant puzzle! I am in awe!

Lemonade714 said...

Another wonderful look at a creative and caring constructor. Welcome to our Corner Mr. Pepper. I wonder if he regrets not getting his PhD.

Irish Miss said...

Terrific interview, CC nd Tom. Insightful and delightful!

lois said...

Great interview, CC. Mr. Pepper is quite an interesting peson. I love especially how he adapted to the empty nest...barely let his feet touch the floor. He spread his wings and shot out of there like a rocket. What a great example and generous man! Welcome to the Corner, Mr. Pepper. I hope we see and hear from you often.

Chickie said...

Thank you for the interview with C.C. It is always nice to "get to know" the constructors of the puzzles we all enjoy so much.

Congratulations on fulfilling one of your bucket list items and on your LAT debut.