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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Mastermind of word puzzles

    Merl Reagle says there are secrets hidden within the English language waiting to be found, and his mind seeks those precious caches out.

    Reagle creates crossword puzzles. He builds enigmas with a unique play of pop culture and linguistic twists.

    Reagle has an episode of “The Simpsons” based on his puzzles. He was also featured in the documentary “Wordplay” and collaborated with Google to create a crossword doodle for the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle. It’s fair to say Reagle is a crossword guy.

    A little over 100 years after the crossword’s invention, Reagle is not only honoring the importance of the puzzle at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend, but he will also showcase the wonders of the patterns and wordplay that he focuses on.

    “Words are funny,” Reagle said. “Language is a playground that never ends.”

    He keeps a small notebook pocketed like an FBI badge that he whips out so he can capture all of the funny words and moments that he encounters every day.

    It takes time to gather all of the tidbits and puns that will fit into the theme of a puzzle, he said.

    Despite the many collections in his notebooks, that alone is not enough to produce a puzzle. There are far more rules to building the puzzle than there are to solving it.

    For example, the black squares within the grid must look the same when turned 180 degrees. That means that the words must also be balanced with their number of letters.

    Reagle offers the example of David Letterman’s Top Ten list. Reagle said that Letterman’s list can be anything he wants, any word length for each answer. In a crossword puzzle the number one answer must have the same number of letters as answer 10; answer two must have the same number of letters as number nine, and so on. It creates symmetry, which outlines the puzzle from the very beginning.
    Most puzzle solvers are unaware of all of the tiny details, but Reagle said he has all of these regulations and many more at the forefront of his mind when he sits down to work.

    Reagle has mastered the rules, so he can bend them at his command. His motto is “twisted but fair.”

    It takes more than time and serendipity for these crosswords to come together. There are extraordinary coincidences that have made Reagle’s work successful. He said that a harmonic convergence takes over, and the puzzles frequently come together with persistence.

    Reagle said these coincidences and patterns are common, but are interesting enough that TED Talks has approached him in hopes of having Reagle give a presentation on the deeper phenomena of puzzles.

    “It’s not just knowledge,” Reagle said. “It’s thinking outside of the box a little bit. This, for some reason, is something the brain likes to do.”

    Reagle will be a panelist at the Arizona Daily Star tent on Sunday from 10-11 a.m. at the Tucson Festival of Books.

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