Most crosswords in the daily newspaper are written by freelance constructors who submit proposed puzzles to the various editors. One such constructor is Andrew Greene, the author of this post. When not engaged with his cruciverbalism hobby, Andrew is a developer on the Buzzword team. Most recently he brought you spell checking in 19 different languages.
Guest author: Andrew M. Greene
Many people think of constructing and solving crossword puzzles as a solitary activity. While this may be true for some, there are organizations like the National Puzzlers’ League and events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (which was featured in the 2006 movie Wordplay) that bring puzzle solvers and constructors together.
Today’s puzzle in the Wall Street Journal was constructed by a team of three hobbyists who know one another from the National Puzzlers’ League. One lives in Denver, one lives in Vancouver, and I live in Boston. We used Buzzword to collaborate on writing the clues for this puzzle.
The process for writing a crossword puzzle is straightforward. First comes the theme entries: in our case, imagining the headlines if famous people ran for office. Second, you “fill” the grid with the shorter words that turn your longer theme entries into a crossword. Finally, you list all the words in the grid, and start writing clues for them.
Buzzword was perfect for writing the clues. I started by exporting the word list from Crossword Compiler, the software that we had used for filling the grid, and importing that file into Buzzword. Then I shared that document with my teammates.
Over the course of three weeks, we’d each open the document when we had some time to work on it. Whenever we did that, we immediately saw any work that the others had done. We didn’t have to worry about someone else working with an older version, and we didn’t have to make a decision that “I’ve done enough work to email my latest version to everyone else.”
As the document filled up, we started editing each other’s clues, suggesting alternatives or making corrections. We used Buzzword’s commenting feature not only to ask questions but also to cite sources for our research on some of the more obscure clues. (There’s nothing more frustrating in a puzzle than a clue with a factual error.)
When we were satisfied with the clue list, one of my teammates exported it and sent it in to the crossword editor at the Wall St. Journal. He liked it, accepted it, and it’s in today’s newspaper.
The previous time that our team had written a puzzle together (New York Times, Aug. 26, 2007), we had to let one person write most of the clues because we didn’t have a good tool for sharing that part of the process. This time, Buzzword made it easy for our team to brainstorm together despite being thousands of miles apart and usually not logged in at the same time.
(Next time, we’ll probably use ConnectNow to collaborate on filling the grid, too. Stay tuned…)