Nov 15, 2015

Interview with Bruce Haight

Those who solve New York Times puzzles regularly and are familiar with Bruce Haight's byline won't be surprised with our bendy puzzle today. Bruce is fond of visual art and noted for his boundary-pushing style.

Bruce also makes super smooth Monday/Tuesday puzzles with heavy themage, as shown in this puzzle we just had earlier this month.

Today is our ninth LAT grid from Bruce. He has had 15 puzzles published by the New York Times since 2013.



I'm astonished that all the theme entries are placed in symmetrical spots. This does not happen often with turning gimmicks. Did you start out this way or did you decide to tighten up your approach in the grid-designing process? 
 
Hi CC !  Actually, I started right off setting up the grid with symmetrical theme entries, but then it was pretty difficult to find entries with the right lengths. I was able to play around with the blocks to make it work.  My initial submission had GOES ON A BENDER as a theme entry,  but Rich nixed that because it wasn't specific enough about what kind of turning was going on.  I thought I would never find an entry to replace that, but then COMING OUT AHEAD popped into my head- the entry turns out and ahead- perfect!

Which section gave you the most trouble in the filling process? Judging by the five Q's, I imagine you had fun in the middle.

Those Q's popped up mostly on their own, probably partly because of the position of that U in TURN A PHRASE- I do remember feeling like Quistmas came early when those appeared!  The area right next to THE FALLS was by far the toughest for me.  The puzzle that Rich accepted had TLINGIT at 49-Down, which Rich could not have been too happy about, but on my own I went back and moved blocks to get rid of that.  I noticed in one of your blogs recently you said something about being glad the LA Times allows 144 words in a Sunday puzzle- I never knew that, and I had a devil of a time getting down to 140 on this one. By the way, CC, do you think you could pull some strings and get them to show water coming out of the "S"  in FALLS for the online solution? And maybe a barrel going down OVER THE FALLS, over and over?  Thanks!   :)

Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background? And how did you get into crossword construction?

I'm an ophthalmologist in the San Diego area, originally from Wisconsin, and never had much interest in crosswords till 2012 (age 58).  I got a crossword app for my iPad and got hooked. I sent my childhood friend Pete Collins (well-known in the crossword community) an idea for a crossword  theme and he offered to co-construct it with me.  It got rejected, like all of my first 50 puzzles, but eventually I improved.  My Mom loves crosswords, so I got some inspiration from her. I just had my first grandchild, so  I'm  trying to work KEIRA into a puzzle.....

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

I love grid art, and I'm fascinated by what I call "constraint" construction - crosswords with low block counts, low number of letters used, one vowel only, 100+ theme letter count, quadruple pangram, etc.  I tend to shy away from intellectual themes - I'm not at all knowledgeable about art, history, geography, etc - that's one reason  I'm a lousy crossword solver.

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

I consider myself mostly a technician, so I like the grid layout and the fill process. I'm always looking for new grid art ideas, but they are tough to come up with and difficult to construct.  I struggle with theme development.   

What kind of reference tools do you use for crossword construction & cluing?

I use xwordinfo, Crossword Tracker, One Look dictionary search, Cruciverb, and Google

Besides crosswords, what else do you do for fun?

In the past I've been big into golf, tennis, bridge,  and backgammon tournaments.  However, since I got into crosswords my other hobbies have suffered. I enjoy playing guitar and piano.  My wife and I love to travel to Europe, and we love movies.  We watch only two TV shows- Downton Abbey and The Voice. 

If you could give one piece of advice to fellow constructors what would it be?

I see constructors complain all the time that too many of their favorite clues were not used.  My suggestion for this problem is to submit two or three clue options for the entries you are really excited about. Rich Norris sent me an Email one time telling me he likes my strategy on that  - he said just put a slash/ mark between the clue options and try to pick options that vary in difficulty.  This improved my clue "success" rate from 50% to 75%, which adds a lot to my enjoyment of puzzle construction.

How have crosswords changed your life?

Well for one thing, they saved my life.  When I got obsessed with crosswords in 2012  I ate less and slept less and lost ten pounds.  My wife thought I had cancer so she made me get a CT scan.  Sure enough, I had an awful type of kidney cancer that is nearly 100% fatal once it gets big, and usually has no symptoms till it's too late.  However, mine was tiny and easily removed, with no sign of it three years later.   The doctors said it was way too small to cause weight loss, so I thank the crossword community (and my wife Liz) for saving my life!

3 comments:

Lemonade714 said...

Interesting interview, thanks C.C. and Bruce. Your cancer story is eerie but wonderful. One of my brothers had his colon cancer caught early by his Chiropractor.


I also note Marti always sent in a couple of clues for Rich to choose from. I guess you need your own puzzle website to get 100% of your clues used.

I love all those who work with the visual aspects of the grid and have enjoyed Bruce's Fridays.

Bill G. said...

Thanks. I enjoyed the interview and the puzzle very much.

Abejo said...

Great inspiration, Bruce. Keep on trucking'!

Abejo