Will Shortz— The New York Times crossword editor, NPR puzzle master, and affable subject of the crossword documentary Wordplay—is in town this week for a Portland Arts and Lectures gig. The Mercury caught up with him to pick that puzzling brain of his.
MERCURY: While other people are spending their Sundays with The New York Times crossword, what do you do?
SHORTZ: Sunday mornings, I sleep. But if you're asking what else I love to do besides puzzles, it's table tennis. I find that after I've spent all day thinking, it's great to go out and do something physical. I play five to six nights a week.
What kind of puzzles do you do when you're off the clock?
I love tough American-style crosswords, and I love the British style of crossword, which is called a cryptic crossword. I'm hooked on Sudoku.
Speaking of Sudoku, what's the next puzzle trend?
I think the trend is a general one of Japanese-type logic puzzles of which Sudoku is an example. One that I particularly like is called Nurikabe. It's a little logic puzzle and it doesn't have numbers or letters, it has a square grid and the object is to fill in the square with... oh, it's too complicated. I can't quite explain it.
I'll look it up. Which actually brings me to my next question...
Let me answer your question before you even ask it. My answer is, it's your puzzle, do it any way you want.
Besides looking up the answers, got any crossword tips?
If you have an answer in the grid, fill in what you know and build out from there. Use the more unusual letter for the crossing answers—those will help more—like a J, K, or Q. If you have an answer in the grid that's not crossing with anything, consider the possibility it's wrong. Don't hesitate to guess, but don't hesitate to erase something if it's not working out. If you get stuck, put the puzzle down and come back later.
So do you do your puzzles in pen or pencil?
I'm a pen guy, usually. I like the way it rolls across the paper.
You don't need to do much erasing?
Ha! I write over if I have to.