Puzzle-Making Students Search For The Right Words

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This past week, the New York Times crossword puzzles were constructed by undergrads at Brown University as part of Brown Puzzlemaker Week. Host Liane Hansen speaks with one of the students briefly working this part-time job.


Our weekly game with Puzzlemaster Will Shortz is coming up in a few minutes, but first, we want to introduce someone who may be a potential Will Shortz. If you solved, or at least tried to solve, any of the New York Times crossword puzzles over this past week, you might have noticed something next to the puzzle constructor's name in the top right corner - Brown University.

From Monday through Saturday, six Brown undergrads were given the chance to befuddle Times puzzle solvers. Natan Last is co-president of the Brown Puzzling Association. He helped to arrange the collaboration between Will Shortz, the New York Times, and Brown University. He's in the studio at member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island. Welcome to the program.

Mr. NATAN LAST (Co-President, Brown Puzzling Association): Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: So, how did it come about that these undergrads, you at Brown, get the honor of constructing puzzles for the New York Times?

Mr. LAST: Well, the past two years the Times has run a special week of puzzles, and I had worked for Will Shortz last winter break and suggested the idea that, you know, this year's theme be Brown week.

HANSEN: And you've actually published a crossword in the New York Times before, right, so it's not your first time?

Mr. LAST: Right. I've had 12 in the Times now.

HANSEN: Twelve? So, what's it like to watch other Brown students actually see their work in the Times for the first time? It's really exciting. There was Amy Lucido(ph), who's in the class of '13, the day her Monday puzzle came out, she was just ecstatic the entire day. I saw someone, actually a fellow Brown student, ask her to sign the crossword puzzle, and she could not have been giddier.

HANSEN: Really? Now, how much did Will have to do editing some of these puzzles? Because I saw a clue in one of them. It was Gulager on "The Virginian," and the answer was Clu C-L-U. I can't imagine any of you knowing the television program or the actor.

Mr. LAST: Definitely not. You're definitely right. That was 100 percent Will's hand. None of us know what "The Virginian" is, let alone black and white television.

HANSEN: Is there, you think, a temptation to overcompensate, maybe try too hard, as opposed to one youd design for the school paper?

Mr. LAST: The Times has a certain standard and it has a certain readership that you have to be loyal to. You know, you've got to stick in your "Hamlet" references, you've got to stick in your "Virginian" references. But when it comes to, you know, the Brown Daily Herald, clue after clue is a Pokemon reference, "Simpsons," just stuff that, you know, our generation is very comfortable with.

HANSEN: You haven't seen your name in a puzzle yet though, right?

Mr. LAST: My name? No, no, no. My name has no significance outside of my own limited history, but hopefully one day it'll be famous enough to find itself in the New York Times crossword.

HANSEN: Natan Last is a junior at Brown University and the co-president of the Brown Puzzling Association. All the New York Times daily crossword puzzles this past week were constructed by Brown University undergrads. Natan joined us from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island. Natan, thank you. Good luck.

Mr. LAST: Yeah, thank you.

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