Mud in Your Eye

PlusAmerica'sMostCreativeGrosswords
By the Nation'sTopConstructors

From the BottomUp
MikeShenk
Huret
byMarilynn
CROSSW RD Magazineis pleasedto announcethat
Mike Shenk is the official recipient of the sixth annual
Wynner award as the 1995 CrosswordPuzzle Personof
the Year.
The current editor of and a longtime creative force
behindGamesMagazine,constructorof devilish contest
puzzles (an informal poll taken rlmong top constructors

foTCROSSW RD namedMikethetop gridmakerinthe
business),and an unending source of brilliant variety
puzzles,Mike hasmadehis mark as one of the very best
of all time.
We at CROSSW RD Magazinearehonoredto honor
Mike Shenk for all of his contributions to the world of
crosswords.

a pvzzle, betterthanttrat.His field of studywasmathT T Then askedhow he starts
"I
Mike
Shenkreplies, will rakean ematics."lvlathematics,
eqpeciallygeometry
\N
V Y interestingwordorphraseandslart
appealed
tomy senseoforder."Mikewasalso
attlp bottomof thepageandworkmy wayup a featurewriterfor ttrePennStatedaily paper
by puning somethingelse on top of it, and onthecampusin StateCollege.
Whenthenew
somethingontopof ttrat.Thenhopethatwhen editorannounced
thatshewantedto includea
I getto the top I will be ableto completethe
pattern." Well, Mike, you certainly have
reachedthetop, andthepattemloots good!
Mild manneredand somewhatshy is the
way oneperceivesMike when meetinghim
Amazement:Alter solving,the
for thefirst time.Seatedin his office,whichis
a picture of chaosamidst the hubbuband puzzle
became
a mazeusingonlythe
lettersofthecentralentry;
definitely unbusinesslikeaffnosphereof the
LABYRINTH
NumbercRacketSomeoftheclues
environmentof GamesMagazine,he is
perchedcalmly amidstthe seaof organized contained
thecluenurnber
only:27chaos."It's all here,andI know wheremost Acrosswas misnumbered
as 28everythingis," hesayswittr aboyishsmile,as Acrossfor SORRYWRONGNUMhesurveyshis deskpiled high with themate- BER;l5-DownbecameFIVEAND
rial thatis beingconsideredfor thenextissue. TEN;ard68-Downwas
numbered
as
"This way my mind is
forUPSIDE-DOWN.
unclutteredand can 89-Down
concenEate
on thethingsinside."
ShadyDealtngs:The
answers
requiredcolorsin manyof theboxesto
Far from quiet, an aftemoonspentwith
Mke at the Gamesoffices showedhow desolvetheprzzle.
ceivinglools canbe.A careerasa magazne
Open and Shut Case:A rebus
puzzlewithtle solverinserting
ediOrandreputationas one of the most inaLOCK
novativecreatorsof variety pastimestoday or a KEYwherever
thatponionof a
wasnotonhisagendawhilegrowinguponhis wordappeared
inthegrid.
family's dairy farm in Lancaster,Pennsylvania.Thethird child of an evenlymatchedset puzzlein ttrepaper,heput severalsamplesof
of foursiblings,hewentoff to collegewittr no his work into hermailbox."They werep'robfirm planson hismind.Theonly thinghewas ably theonly enEies,andI becamettreirfirst
sureofwas
thathedidn'twanttostay."Milking puzzleconsurctor."
cowswasnot a high pnority for me. And, I
Theseinitial efforts were Mike's formal
suqpect,
not in theirbestinterestseither," he raining ground.For nearlyfour years,he
stated.A professednight person,the cow constructedfive prrzzlesa week.Thoseearly
thingandMike's habitsdidn't matchup,and, offeringsin the PennStatepapercontained
afterhighschool,he followedhis oldersister many of the no-nos we rrely see today,
andbrotherand left the homestead
to att€nd amongthemthe twoletter wordsandreally
PennStateUnivenity.
obscureabbreviations.
As Mike said,"There
Mke modestlyadmitsbeing a good stu- wasno onetherewho knewanymorethanI
dent,yetwecanstnonglysuspecthewasmuch did. I wasinclinedto look ata puzzle,andrf a

The PuzzleWithin
The Puzzle

Winter1996

CROSSWRD

word fit, I put it in.' The feedbackand
reactionsof the solversand from thepeople
aroundhim helpedto sharpenhis skills and
developthe stylewe recognizetoday.
Mike's creativeness
with wordshadsarted
yeanbefore.Hismotherwouldbuymagazines
of puzzlesandwhenfinishedwith thecrosswords,shewouldhandthemovertohim,and
he would finish the variety types.Whenall
done,hewouldmakeupsomeof hisownand
run themto her or to his sister,or to anyone
elsewho wasaround.'"Theywerevery imprassedwith
thesefirstfew,butlsuspectitgot
abit tiresomeafter5 eachday."Theywerethe
onlyfamily membersatthattimewhoseemed
to beinterested,
butnowhehasthemall doing
puzzlesof onesortor another.He creditshis
momashis biggestfan. "Shestill buysexfia
cqies of the magazrne
to give to friends."
After graduation,Mike took a teaching
positionat a vocationalhigh schoolin rural
Pennsylvania
while hecontinued!o constnrct
the pt:azlefor the daily newqpaperat Penn
State.Hecontinuedto solveaswell,butnever
sentanythingto the magazines,thinkinghis
work was only good enoughfor tlre school
pa,per."Leaming mathematicswas not tlrc
first thingon my student'sminds.Theywere
all eagertolearnhowto stripanengine,butnot
how to find acommondenominatff."
Sirrceit was not muchfun for them,and
certainlynot for him, astlrc endof ttreschool
year approached,he decidedto look elsewherefor a carcerthat would combinehis
mathematicalability and creativealents. In
the late 70's thecompositionof puzzles,especiallycrosswords,
wasbeginningto experiencea hansitionfr,ornthe primarily educational experience developed by Eugene
Maleska,tothemoreentertainingandfamiliar
formatwe seetoday.
(Continuedon Page7)
Page 5

Shenk(from Page5)
Thelate 70's alsosawthedebutof a new
magazine,
Games,which movedcrcsswords
from thenewsprintvarietyo a slickpublication that had puzzles of many types, and
includedstoriesand articlesaboutwhat was
happeningin tlre world of puzzlesand other
assortedpastimes.
Theeditorscreatedaforum
that intoduced many newer and younger
consFuctors,many of whom, neady twenty
yearslater,are,wittr Mike, leadersin ttrefield.
It was Gamesthat provideda vehicle to
launchMke into constructionfull time.It had
announceda crosswordconstructioncontest
and enmuragedreadersto sendtheir work.
Thoughheneverhadenoughnerveto submit
apuzzleforpublication,hefelt thatthisbeing
acontest,it wasdifferent,andhesentseveral
entries.After crossingthis hurdleMike got
enoughcourageto sendsomethingsto Games
sinceit was the magazinetlnt reflect€dhis
interess. This prompteda letter from Will
Shortzttratstated with "WHEW" andended
with,"Whenin thecity, stopin."
Themagazinewasplanningtogomonthly,
wasstartingthe publicationof an all-ptzzle
issuecalled4 -StarPuzzler,andneededaddi-

tional saff. Although Mike didn't ake the
first trainout,hemadearrangements
to travel
to New Yort veryquickly.Up until thispoint
hehadalwaysthought,"Wouldn,t it be great
to makealivingin thepuzzlebusiness,
butit's
impossible."After the secondmeetingwith
then-editorRonnieShushan
andWill, hewas

offeredapositiononthestaffof Gameslvlagazine."WhereelsecanI do a job whereI am
happyto bedoingwhatI amdoing,andis fun,
aswell asajob?Ithas alsogivenmea chance
to meetalot of interestingpeoplewhoarealso
interestedin puzzles."Mike's fint deskwas
justa few feetawayfrom HenryHmk's and
in thoseearlydaysit wasanawakeningasto
who wasdoingwhatin thepuzzlebusiness.

Challengesfacing Mike and ttre strff at
Gamesareto comeupwith differenttwistson
existingpuzzlesaswell asnewpuzzleideas.
Themagazinesinceits beginninghasalways
triedtopresentamixnre of taditionalpryzleg
andtheunusual,in thePencilwisesectionas
well astheglossysection.
Mike's favoriteconstructionlocaleis on
the sofa with the television on and his
referencebookscloseat hand.He finds that
today'spuzzlesaremuchmoreinteresting
andinnovative.He likes theoneswherethe
answersseento be elusiveat first andthen
when it beginsto cometogetherit is like a
bright light shining through to take the
solver to the end. "As long as there are
puzzles,constructorswill try to put new
twists on them." Taking a word or a phrase
and giving it an entirelynew meaninghas
formedthe basisfor manyof his cleverest
creations."Its perfectly fine to be aseducational as you want to be as long aspeople
have a good time doing them [puzzles]."
This iscertainlytrue,for whenyouhearthe
oohsandaahswhena Mike Shenkpuzzleis
announced
at a StamfordTournament,
you
canbe surethat a delicious treat is in store
for all the participants.
tr

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a n dp r o v i d eo n - g o i n g
v i s u aal n ds o u n dt i i n t s ,. , C 6 e c k s - n _ Xalus t, o; m a i i i J f l u
l n o r c a t ewsh t c hc t u e sh a v eb e e ns o l v e dc o r r e c t loyr i n c o r r e c t l vA. " Z O O M i
p!9e ma(esthe puzztemoreviewer-fiienoty.
btl.'erietriej'in.i..ja.]iiiorutic
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(Continuedon Page9)
Winter1996

CROSSWRD

Page 7

Mike'sMindfulMeanderings
On Computers:
On VarietyPuzzles:
Mostofwhatsee
donebycomprterlooks Many arepuzzhesusing
wordplaythat
like it wasdorn by a computer,with fte hasbeendonebefore.EverysooftenI can
excqtion of a very few pmple who have comeup with a new gpe that might not
devotedalotof timeto refiningtheirusage havebeenpossible
beforethewideuseof
andselectionof
appropriafewords.
Thereare elecnonicreference.
An exampleistaking
words,andthenfterc arewordsthatcanbe a groupof wordsandlookingfor a comusedin puzdes.I like to seewordsthatare mon definitionthat couldbe usedto dereflectiveof reallife, notbcauseit merely scribetheseseeminglyunrelatedwords.
appearcd
in a dioionaryandftttre Wale.
Unlesssomeoneis goingto qpendyean
On Construction:
developing
a base,assomehavedone,tre
UrilessI have a deadlineto meet, I
commercialconsftictionprogftunson ihe preferto work on theconsnuctionof one
markettoday
arenotabletoweighttrcquality ptvile at a time from startto finish. My
of thewordsttey select
favoriteplacefor working,besides
herein
Anygoodcrosswordpuzdethatis
done my office, is siuingon the sofawith my
by computercould havebeendoneby a tlree referenceaidsandhavingttre tetepersonwhowantedto takethetime.And, visionon.I havecollectedalotofreference
thecluingstill hasto bedoneindividually booksbuttheyareusedmainlyfor checkto putall theclevercluesintoit thatmakes ing namesandspellings.Thethreethings
apuzzleenjoyable.Thatis whatmakesthe I keepcloseathandwhenconstructingare
differcncebetweena goodpuzzleanda my Franklin,Chambers
Backwordsanda
greatpuzzle.
collegiatedictionary. Fifteenby fifteens

and twenty-oneby twenty-onesseemto
work very well, andis whatmostsolvers
areused!o.A seventeen
isn'tjust abigger
fifteen,nor is a nineteena smallertwentyone.The exceptionis the twenty-nveUy
twenty-fiveomery,the largepuzzlewith
two setsof cluesthat appearsin Games.
Thattakesa differentapproach.
AdviceTo Woutd-BeConstrucfors:
Make asmanyasyou can,asoftenas
you can.And, of course,solvea lot of
puzzles,especiallyin thekind ofpublicationsyouplanto sendyourworkto, so
you can seewhat peoplearedoing and
whatis allowed.That'show I leamed.
ThenewRandomHousePuzzleMaker's
Handbook by Mel Rosen and Stanley
Kurzbanoffers a lot of infonnationon
what editors are looking for, guideline
for different sizesand types of crosswords,aswell aswhereandhow to send
your work.

That'sright,
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Magazine
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Winter1996

CROSSWRD