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Will Shortz, renowned puzzle master, joins 'nerdy' convention in Vancouver

07/10/2015 05:39 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT
Here's a clue for you: First word: four letters. Second word, six letters. The clue? Crossword editor of the New York Times.

If you guessed Will Shortz, you are correct.

Shortz, who is also the long-time puzzle master on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, boasts a one-of-a-kind degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He is in Vancouver this weekend for the National Puzzlers' League convention.

The convention — which is "a little nerdy" in Shortz' words — is devoted to sophisticated word puzzles and nearly 200 people are expected to attend. 

Shortz, who is the convention's program director as well as the master of ceremonies, sat down with On the Coast's Stephen Quinn just before the event began.

How has the digital world changed puzzle making and puzzle solving?

First of all, crosswords have never been better than they are now. There are tools online that help you construct crosswords.

It used to be if you were making crossword, and you sent it to the editor, the only feedback you got was from the editor — yes and no, and what they thought. Nowadays, you can go on a crossword blog and you get comments from hundreds of people. That helps elevate the quality of the crosswords.

For radio … I'm much more restricted on the challenge puzzles I can give now because there are so many tools online to solve them, and I try to create puzzles that you can't solve with electronic help.

Are there new forms of word puzzles emerging all the time?

Yeah. Every night's program [at the convention] has original things that members create and bring. We're going to have an icebreaker game. Everyone's going to get a word and you try to find a word that somebody else has in the room where you can put your word inside theirs to create a longer word, or put yours around someone else's to make a longer word.

For example, if you have 'lamb' and you found someone with 'cake,' then you stick your word inside to make 'clambake.' Or if you had "pants" and you found someone who had 'tie,' then you put yours around to make 'patients.'

Do these puzzles ever just become so diabolically difficult that really you're making it for yourself?

That would be a bad puzzle because you want the solver to struggle and you want to push them to the limit, but ultimately you want the solver to succeed because that's where the pleasure is.

When did you first start doing this?

I've been at the New York Times now almost 22 years. I've been program director for the National Puzzlers' League convention for 40 years. I started in 1976 and I sold my first puzzle when I was 14. And I had the world's only college degree in enigmatology — the study of puzzles. So basically I've been doing this my whole life.

You never get tired of it?

The great thing about puzzles is they're always challenging. I'm always learning something and stretching myself. And I laugh a lot.

The National Puzzlers' League convention takes place at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Vancouver from July 9 to 12.

Listen to the interview: New York Times crossword maker in Vancouver.

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