Since you’ve gone through all that effort to click the “About” button, I suppose I should give you something here, right? Well, OK.
When I talk about my crossword life, I can’t possibly start anywhere else but with my family. It’s truly in my blood.
My grandparents, three out of four of them, solved crosswords avidly. In fact, the first crossword I ever submitted to any publication (the New York Times, in this case), I gave to my maternal grandfather to test-solve. I wasn’t going to send it in if he didn’t like it. (As it turns out, he did, I submitted it, and it was eventually accepted.)
My parents are the most creative people I know, not to mention the smartest. My mother is the more artistic type; she’s the one I started solving crosswords with. Ya know, the proverbial sitting on the lap, interjecting answers at random intervals kinda thing. My father is the more analytical, scientific type; he’s never really done crosswords at all, but that side of me is just as important to this art (and I truly think that crossword construction is an artistic endeavor as much as technical) as the creative side.
My wife, Christine, has to be the most patient person I know. The reason I say “has to be” is because she supports (abides? puts up with?) me in all the time I spend on the cruciverbal arts. (That sounds like that’s what Harry Potter would call them if he built crosswords.) How many times she’s heard “Does this clue make sense?” “Whaddaya think of this word?” “Can you help me think of something?”, I don’t know. Sometimes I even wake her up when I roll over in the middle of the night to write down an idea or a nice entry on the piece of paper I keep on my nightstand. Often, we watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune together, and it’s gotten to the point where she has asked me to stop shouting out the answers to the Wheel puzzles because she says that I’m never giving her a chance to solve them herself.
I’ve been working crosswords from books and from newspapers since I was young, so I can’t quite pinpoint the moment I got into solving them. But the moment that I got into constructing them was very clear. My junior year in high school, my English teacher started running off the New York Times crossword puzzle for her class every day… for homework credit! I started to notice something very basic that I hadn’t even seen in any of the puzzles I’d been solving in books: the byline. “Puzzle by _____________”. I’d taken it for granted that these were actually people creating these puzzles; I had assumed up to this point that they were just getting spit out by computers and thrown into books. This was a revelation! So, thanks, Mrs. Doyle.
This inspired me to such a degree that my choice for my senior project, which was a requirement for graduation from my high school, was (true to form) a book of puzzles. It was around 100 pages, I recall… I called it “Croce’s Quickies”. (Yup. I know.) Only a dozen or so of them were crossword puzzles; most were other kinds of wordplay, as well as some trivia.
Outside of crosswords (there is such a place?), I am a proud alumnus of the University of Connecticut (2005), where my analytical mind led me to an engineering degree. I was a member there of the marching band for football (where I met the aforementioned Christine) and the pep band for basketball (trombone, in case you’re wondering). I am incredibly lucky enough to own an extra-special “dual championship” ring as a member of the pep band in 2004: that was the first year that my beloved Huskies won the men’s and women’s basketball championships in the same year. I was fortunate enough to have played in the band at all of the men’s and women’s home games that season and to have been in New Orleans with the women’s team for their half of the dual titles. Aside from my avid following of all teams UConn, I am just as energetic in my support for the Red Sox, Patriots, and Boston Bruins. Being a native New Englander — born and raised in Connecticut, living in Pittsfield in the beautiful Berkshires of Massachusetts — I am proud of the sporting heritage of this area. I am an eager follower of baseball and college basketball in general (just ask my wife), but I also follow the NFL pretty closely and NHL somewhat closely. I’ll watch pretty much any sport that’s on TV, though (except for the NBA). I’m not too athletic myself, but I have played golf since I was a wee lad of three years old. I was on my high school golf team, and I was once down to a seven handicap, but I’ve lost a lot since then.
It may surprise you to know that I’m not at all a book reader, especially not fiction. I fully admit that the last book of fiction I read front to back was one that I had to read for my college freshman English class; I don’t even know what it was. (I surmise that this is an unusual trait among crossword constructors.) What I did read, however, is the dictionary and the World Almanac. (Yup. I was always the life of the party.) Every year I’d ask for the World Almanac for Christmas; a few times, I’d ask for the latest edition of a particular dictionary.
I don’t know why I’m telling you these things too. But… I don’t like to get my hair cut more than three times a year. I will use the seat warmer in my car every day, even in 80-degree-plus weather. I will drink hot cocoa any day of the year. And I have never watched, nor will I ever watch, any significant stretch of any “Star Wars” movie. Please… I’m a geek, but I’m not that kind of geek.