Andy Kravis is a member of Team Fiend and the Cruciverbalist at Law. He’s now more Cruciverbalist than Law. Here’s what Andy has to say:
I want to make crosswords that are fun to solve! 95% of the puzzles on my site are standard crosswords. Occasionally, I’ll put up a variety crossword (usually a Vowelless or a Double or Nothing), but I do that a lot less now that I’m editing for and contributing to Joon Pahk’s variety crossword site, Outside the Box Puzzles. If I have a good idea for a variety crossword, it goes there first. (Jenni says: if you didn’t get a chance to do Andy’s puzzle at ACPT, check it out at the link!)
The difficulty level varies widely. My most recent themeless was intended to be very easy, smooth, and accessible to all solvers. On the flip side, I’ve also published themeless puzzles that are very challenging for a variety of reasons: they have difficult vocabulary or proper nouns in the grid, they have difficult-to-decipher clues, I’ve used an odd grid shape that obstructs a solver’s flow. The same goes for my themed puzzles. My favorite puzzles to write are easy themed puzzles because everyone can enjoy them, and it allows me to really focus on filling the grid cleanly. But occasionally a really oddball theme occurs to me, and people seem to like those too.
I used to update every week. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to that level of frequency, unfortunately, since I’ve since committed myself to so many other crossword projects: the aforementioned work for Outside the Box Puzzles, constructing regularly for Daily Celebrity Crosswords, co-directing the Indie 500 Crossword Tournament (shameless plug! The next one of these is June 3rd, 2017, and you can register at www.theindie500.com ), and submitting a lot more puzzles to mainstream venues. Now that crossword constructing has become my livelihood, updating C@L has become a low priority. I only publish a puzzle on C@L (a) if it’s been rejected from other venues, (b) if I co-construct with someone explicitly for the purpose of putting it on the site, (c) if someone submits a guest puzzle for the site, or (d) if I know it’s unpublishable anywhere else for whatever reason (usually this means it has a seed entry that’s beyond the ken of most mainstream publishers — see a recent themeless I co-constructed with Erik Agard whose seed entry was HORIZON ZERO DAWN, an incredibly popular video game).
Aside from occasionally looking over my mom’s shoulder while she solved the NYT Sunday puzzle, I didn’t really solve many crosswords at all until I was 21 or 22. Even then, I started off as a very casual solver. During my first year of law school, I kept a little book of NYT Sundays in the bathroom and solved for 5 minutes at a time, which at the time was usually only enough to fill in about an eighth of the puzzle. That year, I saw Wordplay for the first time, and since I had just moved to NYC, I thought it would be fun to go to the 2011 ACPT (which was in Brooklyn at the time). Even though Puzzle 5 wrecked me, I had a great time. I solved a lot more puzzles the next year. I went back in 2012, made a lot of friends, met a lot of constructors, and did a lot better at the tournament.
That’s when I decided to try my hand at constructing puzzles. The only person I knew at the time who constructed puzzles was my friend Will Nediger, so I reached out to him to co-construct a Sunday puzzle, which we eventually had published in the LA Times. I had a ton of fun doing it, and I ended up making a bunch more puzzles that, for one reason or another, were unsuitable for publication, culminating in a 23×23 pun puzzle I gave out at the 2013 ACPT. Neville Fogarty and Erik Agard had both recently started their own indie sites, both of which I was (and still am!) a huge fan of, and they were exceedingly supportive and inspirational to me in deciding to post that 23×23 crossword online and committing to construct weekly thereafter. My goals were (a) to get better at constructing by way of constructing a lot more and getting constructive (pun extremely intended) feedback, (b) to get better at solving, and (c) to build some goodwill in the crossword community. In those respects, I think C@L has been a success. I’m very grateful that the crossword community has been so supportive. If I had posted my first puzzle and a bunch of trolls had come along and said “LOL THIS SUX AND YOU SUCK” I probably would have quit immediately. But they didn’t, and people are still solving my puzzles. So thanks for giving me the sweet, sweet validation that I crave.
What Jenni says:
I’ve enjoyed Andy’s NYT and Fireball puzzles (often in collaboration with Victor Barocas) and I’m glad I had the chance to dive more deeply into his work. I started out with the most recent puzzle posted at C@L, “Lost Connections.” The clues to the theme answers are all missing something; it turns out they are missing (in order) single, double, triple and homer. That last clue appears as [—-] and the answer is ODYSSEY AUTHOR. The revealer is [Unexpected success, or what each of the clues f0r 17-, 23-, 37-, and 47-across contains?] and it’s a SURPRISE HIT. I’m a sucker for a good baseball-themed puzzle, and this one was delightful. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that it was published on April 5th, close to the beginning of the baseball season. The fill gives us a nice mix of sparkle (OH C’MON), wordplay (PO BOY for [Hero of New Orleans]) and inferrable trivia ([Shade of red whose name comes from the French word for chestnut] is MAROON). Smooth and fun to solve.
I picked a themeless at random and ended up with #41. This was much tougher than “Lost Connections,” in part because I thought ADAM ARKIN was ALAN. That slowed me down. I liked the fun wordplay: [Time for a new watch?] for AIR DATE. There were some clunkers (READAPT) and some entries that are dusty from age (Ida LUPINO), and let’s remember that these are the puzzles Andy posts because they won’t be published commercially. Still, lots of fun.
My third choice was “Loose Translations” from July of 2016. The “translations” were not-quite-homophones: REFORM JUICE (Jews), MICROBRUCE (brew), UNION DEUCE (dues), and PETTING ZEUS (zoos). This puzzle had a nice, solid, enjoyable theme with good fill and a minimum of crosswordese. I decided that I prefer the themed C@L puzzles to the themelesses. I’m also noting that the puzzles on the blog are, by definition, not Andy’s best work, and they’re pretty good. I will keep my eyes open for his puzzles on Joon’s site and in other venues.
Puzzles on C@L are all free, and they’re available in .pdf and .puz formats. Andy also had a puzzle in Francis Heaney’s Puzzles for Progress collection; if you didn’t buy that this winter, hop on over and buy it now. It’s not too late, and the puzzles are awesome. You can register for the Indie 500 and have a fine time on June 3 in Washington, DC. Happy solving!