FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, I have worked countless crosswords by New York Times "Puzzlemaster" Will Shortz, as well as finding him charming on NPR's Weekend Edition. Speaking to Shortz over the phone, he's much like he is on the air—friendly, witty, interested in other's lives. Expect Shortz to be all that and more this Saturday, as he delivers the keynote speech at Portland State University's alumni-sponsored PSU Weekend. The lecture, he says, will be less talk and more audience interaction. Shortz and I talked about Portland, table tennis, antique games, and, of course, puzzles. I even discovered several games in which I could likely take down the Puzzlemaster. WILL GARDNER
MERCURY: Tell me about your talk at PSU.
WILL SHORTZ: I'll be talking about crosswords, great examples of crosswords, what makes a crossword great. There will also be audience participation. I'll be providing word games during the talk.
Do you ever get tired of talking about puzzles? Or having puzzles dictate your life?
No, I never get tired of puzzles, really. They take you into every field of human thought. And I love to come into contact with fellow puzzlers. They're usually very smart, interesting, funny, worldly people that share my love for puzzles. As for work, my job consumes me. But, I love my job... I would be working on puzzles anyway. In fact, I always have my ears and eyes open for fresh words or phrases to be used later.
What about board games? Or games that don't require word play (like Sudoku)?
I'm not into board games so much. I do like games that involve dexterity—like the '50s game Blockhead! I am quite fanatical about table tennis, though. In fact, I'll be playing with the Portland Table Tennis Club while I'm there.
What is a typical week like for the Times' crossword puzzle editor?
There really is no typical week. I spend at least one day going through hundreds of submissions. Then there's the editing. Every puzzle is screened by four "testers" to make sure it is fresh, but fair. Monday's puzzles are the quickest to edit; Friday's and Saturday's take longer.
If you and I were to play a game, would you rather play Stratego or mah-jongg?
I don't know mah-jongg and I've only played Stratego once or twice....
Do you play Yahtzee?
I love Yahtzee! I just played last week.
I think I could beat you at Yahtzee.
You probably could.