How do ya like that? I didn't even have to write a puzzle this week and I still barely have the post up before 2 in the morning. Ladies and gents, today's Cross Nerd puzzle is an offering from Mr. Erik Agard. As welcome an addition to the cruciverse as you could ask for, 18-year-old Erik came into prominence earlier this year by snagging the B Division bronze at the ACPT and has since solidified his place in puzzledom by demonstrating his formidable construction chops. For starters, you may remember him from week 4 of Guest Constructor Month over at MGWCC. Furthermore, his Anoa Place mini-series of 14 witty puzzles is not to be missed. The themes are tight and amusing and the grids ably filled, but the hilarious clues are the piece de resistance, IMO. But what do I know? Let's hear a little from the man himself:
Peter: What got you into puzzles, and how long have you been at it?
Erik: My math teacher from high school, David Stein, is a puzzle genius and ACPT-goer. I’ve kind of been doing puzzles my whole life, but it was his class - about 4 years ago now - that got me really hooked.
P: Aside from (American-style) crosswords, which other sorts of puzzles do you solve?
E: I do the occasional Rows Garden (Andrew Ries is amazing). My grandfather is big into acrostics, so I try those. But I’m a bit of an idiot savant, even within the puzzle world - really only good at the one thing.
P: Where have you been published?
E: One LAT puzzle. One Week 4 puzzle at Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. More to come.
P: After such an impressive debut showing at the 2012 ACPT I’m willing to bet you’ll be back for 2013. Improving on this year’s performance would be tough; how do you think your chances look? Got any other tournaments/prizes in your sights?
E: Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. Well, they could, really, but I’m not anticipating that being a huge problem. I’ve gotten a bit faster since March, but also a bit stupider, so if (big if) I can manage to stay error-free, I like my chances.
P: Do you do any sort of training for solving (recording your times, purposely filling in knowledge gaps, etc.)?
E: I have a spreadsheet of my LAT times. But I don’t really do anything with it, so I haven’t quite figured out how it actually helps. As for the latter, I would never do anything like that. That sounds too much like studying. Ask any one of my classmates how I am about studying.
P: I really enjoyed the Anoa Place mini-series, and it sounds like I’m not alone. Can we expect another installment any time soon?
E: Appreciate that. And I like the term “mini-series,” I may just have to steal that in future. A lot of the puzzles on Anoa Place started out as NYT/LAT rejects; at the moment, I’m working on getting more puzzles rejected so I’ll have stock for a sequel.
P: Whose work do you admire as a constructor and enjoy as a solver?
E: Not sure I can separate my constructing, solving, and editing perspectives anymore. I got a lot of love for a lot of constructors in the game, but my top 5: Gaffney, BEQ, Norris, Gordon, Tausig.
P: What are your thoughts on eye-catching/wide-open grids, convention-shirking themes/gimmicks, etc.? Is it all about the solver, or do you think that grids and gimmicks that push the boundaries and challenge constructors are important as well?
E: It is vitally important for the evolution of crosswords that people keep doing new, cool shit. Convention is made to be shirked. But - with the odd exception - not in the newspaper. Put it in a book or something.
P: Tell me about your approach to construction. What tools do you use, what do you do with a deadline and a lack of ideas, what qualities do you look for in a seed entry or long fill, etc?
E: I am very, very dependent on autofill. It is my life support system. But I write my own clues wherever possible. I’m not really a deadline-meeting kind of guy, but in the vein of one of my favorite writers, a bath always helps.
P: What sorts of crosswords do you wish you saw more of in the cruciverse? Less of?
E: More indie constructors. Less Oreo centennial puzzles. I’ve done at least 5.
Thanks for the thoughts and the puzzle, Erik. But especially the puzzle; my weekend was gloriously free of clue-writing. It was Folk Fest in Regina, to which I have obligations as a volunteer, beer- and music-consumer, and soaker-up of sun.
More words, crossed and otherwise, next Tuesday.
Puzzle: Not Now...