The crossword community is reeling this morning at the news that Merl Reagle just passed away today. He was only ill for a couple days, with acute pancreatitis from gallstones. It’s a shocking loss of an incredibly vibrant man.
Merl has been knocking puzzlers’ socks off for decades with his fearsome feats of construction, his groanworthy puns, his knack for uncovering delightful bits of wordplay that feed our souls. Before he began syndicating his Sunday puzzle, he was a seminal member of the “new wave” of crossword constructors back in the early Games Magazine era. He influenced and mentored so many people over the decades.
Merl was a gifted raconteur with a generous heart, a genuine friend to countless people. Many people’s first direct experience with him was at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where he had a savant’s knack for anagramming the letters on a nametag or, if the letters weren’t conducive to a good anagram, coming up with some sort of wordplay. I don’t know that anyone is quicker than Merl at this sort of thing.
Merl worked on game shows in L.A. before his puzzle days. He went on to be featured in the documentary Wordplay on the silver screen, and played himself in an episode of The Simpsons. He was in a rock band in the ’70s, too (he’s singing on this video). The consummate entertainer.
Last month, Merl emailed me (eschewing the shift key, as was his wont): “can’t help thinking of you on a daily basis. also could not help noticing that your last name has ‘renal’ in it from left to right. in fact, i’m hoping that ‘o my, renal day!’ is a smile inducer when the actual day arrives. i hope to see you at many, many more tournaments and i’m putting in my reservation right now to have lunch with you as soon as we’re in the same city together. (even ‘transplant’ is an interesting word, one of the few 10-letter words that’s spelled exactly the same as its pronunciation.)” The perfect combination of Merl’s unstoppable wordplay brain and his personal warmth. I will miss him terribly, and the ACPT will feel incomplete without him. Millions of people’s Sunday newspapers will also feel empty without Merl’s crossword to delight solvers.
My condolences go out to Merl’s wife, business manager, and soulmate Marie, and to those of you who have been friends with Merl for longer than the decade that I knew him. Such a deep loss.
Love and cherish you forever, Merl.