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Tech Q&A

Will Shortz

Describe your latest project.
Sudoku: Easy to Hard (Volume 3) is one of my latest collections of 100 sudoku puzzles, the solitaire numbers game that has recently swept the globe. The puzzles range from "Light and Easy" to "Beware! Very Challenging!" The easiest ones can be done by any beginner. The hardest ones pose a severe test of one's concentration and powers of reasoning. Sudoku puzzles have a slightly different audience from crosswords, although, understandably, there is a large overlap. Crosswords test knowledge and vocabulary and connect with the wider world, while sudoku is a purely logical exercise that is wholly self-contained. Both are highly addictive... and I speak from personal experience.

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
If I wanted to be self-deprecating, and if I didn't want anyone actually to read the book, I might title it "Times Square." The second word hints at the fact that I'm a bit old-fashioned — I live in an old English tudor house filled with antique furniture and thousands of rare books — and the first word names my employer. Also, I create and edit things that happen to be square (sudoku, crosswords), so the title has a double meaning.

If you could choose any story to live in, what story would that be? Why?
H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. I'd love to travel into the past and the future.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book/place to start with.
In the world of puzzles, the place to start is The Cyclopedia of 5,000 Puzzles, Tricks, and Conundrums by Sam Loyd (1914), a giant, sprawling collection of the author's best brain testers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. These deal with math, logic, and words. Many of them are presented with amusing stories and illustrations. Loyd was my childhood hero and probably part of the reason I chose my unusual career. The Cyclopedia, of course, is long out of print, but selections from it are available in two collections edited by Martin Gardner for Dover Publications.

What section of the newspaper do you read first?
The front section, of course. But I read just about the whole paper — and not just because I'm making mental notes of names, facts, and lingo to use in future crosswords. I'm genuinely interested in everything happening in the world.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
I'm not sure about my all-time favorite breakfast. However, for years my favorite breakfast cereal has been Post Alpha-Bits. I can't resist the letter shapes.

Why do you write?
I create and edit puzzles partly for the creativity of it and the brain exercise. Puzzles lead into almost every area of human knowledge: They're always challenging, and I'm always learning. Also, puzzle solvers as a group tend to be smart, interesting, and well-read. They have flexible minds. Often they're funny. I love my contact with other puzzle creators and solvers.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Several years ago a lady wrote me that she'd just had brain surgery. The first thing she did upon regaining consciousness was to solve a New York Times crossword. When she found she was still able to do it, she knew she was going to have a complete recovery.

Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
No. But I'm sure I'd come out right near the top.

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