What Will Shortz Wants

Will Shortz sent an unusual and notable bit of correspondence yesterday, re-posted here from the cruciverb-l mailing list, unabridged and with permission. Useful advice for constructors, interesting insights for fans.

First of all, a big apology to the New York Times crossword contributors who had long waits for replies on their submissions over the past year. The amount of mail I get is ferocious, and once I fell behind it became hard to catch back up.

The good news is that I believe I’m now completely up-to-date, except for a few manuscripts that have come in within the last week or so. If you have a submission with me that you haven’t received an answer on yet, please let me know, and I’ll try to answer it quickly.

Thanks to Paula Gamache, who sends most of the actual replies to contributors, based on my comments. My job would be impossible without her. Also to my summer intern, Joel Fagliano, who made it his goal to end this summer with me having a clean in-box. He succeeded.

For future submissions, my greatest need now is for Thursday and Sunday puzzles that do not involve rebuses. (I’ll still accept rebuses, but the wait for them to be published will be longer than that for other themes.) Also, I have an oversupply of puzzles with add/drop/change-a-letter themes. These will always be welcome, but they have become so common, the bar on them has been raised.

For Sunday puzzles, I’d welcome a little less theme material, if correspondingly more emphasis can be put on quality fill. I’d especially welcome constructions with word counts below the standard 140-word maximum. This would allow longer and (I hope) fresher non-theme material.

In case anyone is wondering why I don’t accept electronic submissions, there are two main reasons: First, when I look at a puzzle, I like to mark up the manuscript, putting check marks next to entries I like, minuses next to entries I don’t like, and x’s next to ones I wouldn’t allow; also searching for problem crossings. There is no good way to do this on a computer screen. And since I get 75-100 submissions a week, I simply can’t print all these out to look at them.

Secondly, I like as much as possible to examine submissions when I’m outside my office — say, sitting on the porch, reclining on a sofa, traveling on a train, etc. I’m already tied to a computer much of every day in editing and typesetting the Times crossword. I’d rather not be tied to it even more looking at submissions.

So I hope everyone understands.

I also hope the Sunday pay of $1,000 makes the extra effort worthwhile. At some opportune time I will try to get the daily rate of $200 increased again.

A few notes regarding manuscript format: It’s most helpful to me for the answer page to appear on top, because that’s the first thing I look at. The grid should be numbered so I can readily check answers against their clues. An empty grid should also be provided, in case I want to change areas of the construction. On the clue pages, answer words should go on the *far* right, to leave room for editing. (I hate it when the answer list goes down the middle of the page. That doesn’t give me much room to write.) Please do not staple the manuscript, because that makes it hard for me to flip back and forth between the grid and the clues. A paper clip is ideal; no fastener at all is fine. Finally, there’s no need anymore to include your Social Security number on the manuscript, since the Times will ask for that when your first puzzle is accepted. I just need your name, address, and email address.

Going forward, I will do my best to stay up-to-date on correspondence.

About T Campbell

T Campbell is a crossword constructor and comics scriptwriter. Among his cruciverbal accomplishments are the Ubercross C-Spot (the largest puzzle to follow New York Times standard rules), Crossworlds, a collection of 50 science-fiction-themed puzzles, and the forthcoming On Crosswords: Callin' Out Them Squares.
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2 Responses to What Will Shortz Wants

  1. Alex says:

    I’ve updated my Puz2NYT tool to put the solution grid before the blank grid.

  2. Debbie says:

    A fascinating read, thanks for posting this! It’s so nice to hear how receptive he’s been to comments re: fill and certain oversaturated themes.

    75-100 puzzle submissions a week?!? WOW. Considering that my one effort when I was 16 years old failed miserably, I’m consistently amazed by people’s ability to generate clever, enjoyable puzzles.

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