December’s Indie Spotlight travels (virtually) to London, Ontario, to focus on Will Nediger’s Bewilderingly Puzzles. Unlike some previous Indie Spotlight subjects who’ve been on the scene for many years, Bewilderingly — in both free and subscriber offerings — has only been publishing since last fall. Also, since Will charges in Canadian dollars, it’s quite a bargain for those of us south of the border, depending on the exchange rate. I caught up with Will to chat about indie puzzles, experimentation, metas, and the advantage of having a mentor.
Describe Bewilderingly Puzzles in ten words or less, or in an anagram or palindrome.
“Bewilderingly Puzzles” is an anagram of “puzzles by Will Nediger,” so I could go with that, but it seems like a cop-out answer. If I had to describe Bewilderingly Puzzles in ten words or less, I’d say: “Lowbrow Millennial humor plus highbrow literary references” [As a example, Will’s most recent email to subscribers noted that a previous “overly-convoluted variant” contained a clue with “a Gertrude Stein-based pun about the lead singer of Guns ‘n’ Roses.”] That pretty much describes my personality, and hopefully it shines through in my puzzles and means that there’s something for everyone.
What made you want to start your own indie site? Do you consider it a successful project so far?
I love the freedom of having an indie site — by that I don’t just mean being able to write the sorts of silly clues that are the mainstay of indie puzzles, but also the ability to experiment with formats, shapes, and sizes in a way that mainstream venues shy away from (and for good reason — allowing 19 by 11 puzzles or whatever would be a typesetting nightmare for the New York Times).
Experimentation — with format, theme content, cluing, entries — is the great advantage of indie puzzle publishing. Of your recent subscriber puzzles, I particularly liked “Hawai’i” (because I’m a diacritics nerd and it was fun to discover a new one) and the September 28 puzzle that didn’t have a title because its companion puzzle was the title (I’m trying to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t solved it yet). I suspect that that kind of excitement — when there’s more to a puzzle than filling the grid — is also what draws solvers to metas. Any more metas in your future?
I’ve got lots more metas lined up for the future. From a constructor’s point of view, metas are refreshing in that there are a lot of simple themes that haven’t been done before because they can only be done as a meta, not as a standard puzzle. Of course, Matt Gaffney’s stellar body of work has already used up a ton of great meta ideas, but there are still plenty out there.
What advice would you give a constructor who might be considering “going indie”?
My site’s pretty young so I’m probably not the best person to ask for advice, but my biggest piece of advice would be to strike a balance between letting your freak flag fly and doing more standard stuff. Personally, I love to solve (and to write) strange, out-there crosswords, but you’ve also got to keep the audience in mind.
I am one who likes the freak flags, so for some audiences, stranger things are better things. Regarding the “standard stuff,” do you think an indie site could be a place for constructors to build a resumé of sorts, to practice and to build cred for the mainstream puzzle industry?
Indie sites can be a good way to practice and build cred, though I’d add the caveat that it’s probably a good idea to have some formalized feedback, either from a mentor or just soliciting it from your solvers. The nice thing about the mainstream puzzle industry is that feedback from experienced editors is already built in. Back when I had my first themeless accepted by Peter Gordon for the Sun, he changed one of the corners to make the fill pop more and gave me a super helpful description of how he did it, which has always stuck with me.
Behind the Grid: What’s your puzzle biography? How did you get started solving and/or constructing puzzles?
I’ve solved crosswords as long as I can remember, and I tried my hand at constructing when I was a kid. I didn’t have a mentor (though I highly recommend finding a mentor to aspiring constructors!), so there was a lot of trial-and-error scribbling on graph paper. Eventually I got a puzzle accepted to the NYT, and it was off to the races. I took a break from constructing when I went to grad school, and now I’m back with, I think, a pretty different constructing sensibility than I used to have. (Sometimes I look back at my puzzles from years ago and wonder what I was thinking.)
What is your favorite type of puzzle/game to solve/play?
I love a good variety cryptic, even though I’ve only ever constructed one cryptic in my life. Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Atlantic puzzles are, of course, the absolute greatest. But I’ll solve pretty much any word puzzle.
What else do you do in life? How does it intersect with puzzle constructing?
I work for a company that produces question sets for Quizbowl, which is basically an intercollegiate academic trivia competition. Being a crossword constructor/Quizbowl writer means that I spend a huge chunk of my time writing clues of various sorts, although the clues in Quizbowl questions aren’t about Esai Morales nearly as much as crossword clues are. I’m also obsessed with literature and film, which is less directly related to crosswords, although those obsessions show up a lot in my cluing.
Will you share your favorite Quizbowl clue for our Fiend readers?
One of the best things about writing Quizbowl questions is finding interesting or wacky anecdotes about famous people. My favorite recent one is about the philosopher Giambattista Vico, whose last name would be really useful for crosswords if he was more famous outside the world of philosophy. Apparently, at his funeral two groups of his supporters got into an argument about who would get to bury him, and they couldn’t come to an agreement, so they just left the coffin lying there.
And with that, we’ll leave this interview lying there, in Vico’s coffin. Thank you, Will — I look forward to solving more from you!