One Across, Two Down

Andrew Reynolds working on a crossword in front of a fire

1. Andrew Reynolds, '10 (chemical engineeringis always working on a crossword puzzle. Actually, make that more like six or seven. But unlike most of us, he has a tremendous advantage. He knows the answers without looking at the clues. And he should.

They’re his answers. In the puzzle world, he’s known as a crossword constructor.

At age 27, he’s still perfecting his game, which is coming along nicely. Since 2012, The New York Times has published four of his creations. He’s waiting to hear about a fifth.

His first, framed and on a wall in his North College Hill home in Cincinnati, focused on Led Zeppelin’s song “Stairway to Heaven.” He couldn’t resist after he discovered he could turn the phrase into a stair-step pattern and run it from one corner of the grid to the other.

His fresh approach appealed to the Times, whose crosswords are considered the gold standard.

His first will always be special to him, but he’s proudest of his puzzle that ran in the Times last April 1. Readers were anticipating special word play on April Fools’ Day.

Reynolds didn’t disappoint. He created clues with more than one correct answer. Known as a Schrödinger Puzzle, only a handful of these have run in the Timessince 1996, when the first appeared on election day.

The clue to the middle answer across the grid was “Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper.” The answer could have been “ClintonElected” or “BobDoleElected.” Either worked. Unaware there was more than one way to answer, readers were furious that the Times puzzle appeared to be predicting the new president.

For constructors, that now legendary puzzle is something to aspire to. It certainly was for Reynolds.

“I started trying to think of other ways to do that concept. ‘Flipping a coin’ was what came to mind because ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ had the same number of letters, which was the key.”

2. On the grid

Reynolds doesn’t remember an exact moment when he decided to craft crosswords. His grandmother works the Times puzzle religiously, which is how his father got started and then shared the tradition.

During long trips from his childhood home in Holland, Mich., his family would pass a Times puzzle book around the car. As the middle school kid, Reynolds would fill in all the clues about pop culture and the Simpsons.

He first tried his hand at making them during high school, but his standards weren’t terribly high. He even put in two-letter words.

When he got to college, he never thought about approaching The Miami Student. But it just so happened that he lived on the same floor in Elliott as the guy who became the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. They got to talking, and the editor suggested he submit one of his puzzles sometime. Reynolds went on to make about 40 for the Student.

Not long before the chemical engineering major graduated from Miami, he decided to send his material to the Times. The editors said no to his first seven attempts but gave helpful feedback. The clues were too obscure or the theme wasn’t exciting enough or was too similar to another they’d run in the past three years.

“Once you start getting some rejections, you start upping your own standards,” Reynolds said.

No more two-letter words. Plus, a Times puzzle has to pass the “breakfast test.” Don’t use any word you wouldn’t be comfortable discussing with your family at the breakfast table. And no serious medical conditions or profanity.

Then one day, the rejections sent out by an assistant editor on behalf of Will Shortz, the Times’ longtime crossword puzzle editor, became an email from Shortz himself accepting Reynolds’ puzzle — with several suggestions for improvements.

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Article originally published in the Miamian and written by Donna Boen. Read more to find Andrew's puzzle designed especially for Miamian readers.