Indie Spotlight: Fireball Newsflash Crosswords by Peter Gordon

I must begin this commentary on Peter Gordon by mentioning how jealous I am! It would be a dream to do puzzles for a living instead of a hobby, and our spotlight today is on one of the very few who have that distinct privilege. I personally have subscribed to Fireball Crosswords off and on for most of its existence, and I have purchased every season of the Newsflash crosswords that have been made. We have regular write-ups on this blog of the Fireball, as they represent some of the finest crosswords being made today. We will thus focus on the Newsflash puzzles. They come out on Fridays, and it is always amusing to see how timely they are, even including news sometimes from FRIDAY! It is that sort of flexibility that indie crossword constructors enjoy, and we as solvers get to reap those benefits. Each year, Peter runs a Kickstarter campaign, an example of which is seen here. This is the fifth year of these puzzles, and they are a joy to solve. Usually not quite as difficult as the regular Fireball, but again, the events that are fresh in the news make these interesting. If you don’t subscribe to his Fireball Crosswords, what is wrong with you? They are found at this site. He also has made an iPhone app called Celebrity: Get a Clue that can be found here. If you like celebrity trivia, you will have fun with it!

I was able to ask Peter a few questions about his puzzling career:

Tell us what you’re going for with your puzzles, in 10 words or less.

Crosswords that contain “All the News That Fits Symmetrically.”

What kind of puzzles are they? 

15×15 crosswords.

What’s the difficulty level?

Tuesday if you follow the news, Wednesday if you don’t.

How often do you release a new puzzle?

I email a .puz file and a .pdf, so you can solve in Across Lite or print and solve on paper. For the answer, if you use the .puz file you can simply reveal it. For pdf users, there’s a separate pdf of the answer grid.

What’s your puzzle background?

I worked at Games magazine from May 1988 to May 1990 and then (after their break due to bankruptcy) from July 1991 to June 1996. Then Sterling Publishing since June 1997. I started the imprint Puzzlewright Press there. In addition, I was the crossword editor for the New York Sun, puzzle writer for The Week, and puzzle editor for a weekly puzzle in the Washington Post.

Please provide links to where your puzzles can be found. has two sample puzzles for Fireball. You can sign up for Fireball Newsflash on that site, too, in the bright yellow box near the top. Newsflash is $7 for 20 puzzles. They come out usually every two weeks, but sometimes there’s a three-week gap. It takes about 11 months for the 20 puzzles. For a sample Newsflash puzzle, you can go to the most recent Kickstarter campaign:
Newsflash is done through Kickstarter.

Fireball Crosswords is a little different. There I know I have enough subscribers, so I just tell everyone in December that it’s time to sign up for another year, and they go to the website and pay by PayPal (or snail-mail a check). Fireball is $26 for 45 puzzles. They come mostly weekly, with no puzzles in August, and a break from mid-December to mid-January.

What got you started doing and/or constructing puzzles?

I started doing puzzles at age 5 or 6 when I got a book called “Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers” by Martin Gardner. When I was 13, I subscribed to Games magazine. My first issue was March/April 1980 (Issue #16). I loved it and asked if I could volunteer there in the summers. They said yes, but I had to wait until I was 18, so I did that for two summers during college. Then I got a job there once I graduated.

What is your favorite type of puzzle/game to play/solve?

My favorites to solve are metapuzzles. The aha moment when you crack the meta is such a great high.

Are you one of the few people in this country who supports themselves solely with puzzle making?

Yes, I make a living from just puzzles. My wife is an elementary school teacher, and when the kids were young, she took several years off and I was able to support four people just from puzzles.

And most importantly, what are your main news sources for the Newsflash puzzles?

I read the New York Times every day (dead tree edition). I don’t think I’ve missed a day since my honeymoon (in 1998), when I was in the Caribbean and couldn’t get the paper (though the hotel did get the Times Fax, and daily eight-page fax). Now it’s easy, since if I’m away I can catch up with the “Today’s Paper” feature online, which is an electronic version of the print paper. I take note of anything that looks like a good topic for the news puzzle. Obituaries are a good source, since they suddenly put someone into the news who was not in the news the day before. I also like when a word is in the news, like COVFEFE or the winning word in the national spelling bee. Before I start writing the puzzle, I read a lot. My online sources include the New York Times, The Week, the Washington Post, CNN, Google News (which links to many sources), L.A. Times, Time, Moviefone (to see what’s opening soon), and the Slate news quiz. I also get The Week in print and Entertainment Weekly. It’s an hour or two of online reading before I’m ready to start writing the puzzle.

That brings to mind an auxiliary question: who test solves these?

Frank Longo tests them. I usually finish late Thursday or early Friday. I email it to Frank, who checks everything and has saved me a number of times from embarrassing errors. While he’s checking everything, I take Lulu, my labradoodle, for her midnight-ish walk. Then when I’m back we go over the puzzle and I send it out, usually in the wee hours of Friday to the Earlybird subscribers (and then six hours later to the regular subscribers).

So there you have it! Hopefully you learned a little about Peter that perhaps you didn’t know before; I know I did! Looking forward to seeing him in Stamford next spring; maybe I’ll play his iPhone trivia game again!

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