Williams, 62, of Clearwater, Fla., is thrilled, too, to be reintroduced to the region's crossword puzzle solvers.
Question: What is your background and how did you start making puzzles professionally?
Answer: I grew up in Scranton. . . . went to Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. I left without a degree after 31/2 years, majoring in psychology, but I wanted to be an artist. I went to New York City and worked as a paste-up artist for various catalogs and in-house publications until I got a job at Dell Publishing and got to know people in the crossword department. . . . I began to produce legitimate crossword puzzles [around 1968]. . . . I was able to get a lot of creative satisfaction from it.
Q: Do crossword puzzle creators have different styles? What is your style?
A: There are a lot of people who have no style at all . . . with computer programs these days, you could just select a diagram, tell the computer to fill it in with words, and then write clues for those words, and you would have a puzzle - but it would be run-of-the-mill. . . . I try to use ordinary and interesting words in the diagram while keeping obscure words to a minimum. I use clues to control the difficulty level of the puzzle and to add to the fun of solving the puzzle.
Q: How do you create your crossword puzzles?
A: I sit down with my laptop and start working. I have an idea for a good theme of a 15-by-15 crossword puzzle, hopefully an original theme or a new twist on a well-traveled theme. People with birds in their names would be a well-traveled theme - a twist on that theme would be people with a bird in their name who all fit into a category, like baseball players. . . .
Following the conventional rules, I create the diagram on the computer. At that point, I've compiled the word list and the computer makes a first pass at filling it in. . . . I massage the word entries piece by piece. Once I have all the words I'm happy with, then it's time to check for various things that aren't allowed, repetition of the same word or a form of the word. Then I work on the clue list to make the clues appropriate for the difficulty level I want. Making the theme the best it can be is part of the editing process when you're editing the clues.
Q: How long does it take to create a crossword?
A: It can really vary. I could sit down and ideas could come at me thick and fast. Once I have an idea, from that point on, it could take an hour or several hours, depending on lots of things, like how well it all fits together.
Q: Can a person who earns a living making puzzles earn a living making puzzles?
A: I can, but it's very hard. There's not a lot of money to be made. At the Tribune, we had the price up to $75 apiece for a 15-by-15 daily puzzle. I've done puzzles in the past for specific requirements - I had to do some sample puzzles for government gift shops, and I only charged them $100 apiece. I guess it's whatever the market will bear.
Q: What is the best response you've gotten to your puzzles?
A: I recall one from a guy who used to visit his mother in an old-age home, and they had nothing to talk about after a while. One day he brought the crossword puzzle, they did it together, and it started conversation. Another was from a group of people who used to solve the crossword puzzle together at a factory over lunch.
Q: And the most bizarre?
A: I think the most bizarre was the person who accused me of intentionally using the word ass more than was necessary. Another was a complaint that I referred to black magic as something witches do. A Wicca organization wrote. They wanted to emphasize they do white magic.
Q: What is the most challenging part of creating a puzzle?
A: The most challenging is coming up with good, new ideas for themes after all these years. From the response I've gotten from self-syndication, I think I've achieved that.
Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.