Puzzlemakers for the 41st American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
Patrick Berry of Athens, Ga., is the second-most-published living crossword contributor to the New York Times, with 227 puzzles — behind only Manny Nosowsky, with 254. He started making puzzles for Games magazine back in the day and became a full-time puzzlemaker in 1997. He is the author of the "Crossword Constructor's Handbook," the best book on how to make and sell American crosswords. In the National Puzzlers' League his nom de plume is Trick, which is both a contraction of his given name and a hint to his puzzling mind.
Zhouqin Burnikel grew up in Xi'an, China, and moved to the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park in 2001. She started making crosswords in 2010, partly as a way to learn English, and since then has become one of the most prolific — and best-liked — crossword constructors in the country. Zhouqin (pronounced something like "ZHOH-chin") became a U.S. citizen in June 2010. She says, "Taking the oath of citizenship with more than 500 people from over 70 countries was one of the emotional days of my life."
Sam Ezersky sold his first crossword to the New York Times when he was 17. After graduating last May with degrees in mechanical engineering and economics from the University of Virginia, he turned down a lucrative job offer from an aerospace company to became the assistant puzzles editor at the Times. Smart career move! Sam describes himself as obsessed with Pink Floyd, Kendrick Lamar, and sports in general.
Joel Fagliano is the digital crosswords editor at the New York Times, creating the Times's daily 5x5-square mini puzzle and helping to produce packs of puzzles for sale on the app. He also works as Will Shortz's assistant on the Times's regular crosswords. He first began making crosswords as a distraction in high school chemistry class and hasn't looked back since. In his free time he plays intramural soccer, reads about politics to an unhealthy degree, and roots on his beloved Philadelphia 76ers.
Tracy Gray lives in Sparks, Md., near Baltimore, where she and her husband own and operate a lawn/landscaping business. She was a Horticulture major at Delaware Valley College. Tracy credits her love of crosswords to her mother and late stepfather, who always made the Sunday New York Times crossword a family affair while vacationing at the Jersey shore. With the help of mentor Nancy Salomon, she had her first puzzle published in the Times in 2010, and she has had 22 more in the paper since then. This year will mark her debut at the ACPT.
Damon Gulczynski, who describes himself as "65% math nerd, 35% super-stud," lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two sons. He started making crosswords in the late 1990s, during slow periods while working in the math center at Western Washington University. In addition to math and crosswords, he enjoys Scrabble, trivia, reading, and writing. He’s also an avid sports fan and has recently taken up the military self-defense fighting system Krav Maga.
Lynn Lempel figures she's an anomaly in the crossword world. She rarely watches TV besides PBS, listens only to NPR, is "a pop culture ignoramus," and doesn’t talk American slang. She reads a lot and is masochistic enough to consume a steady diet of news. Her puzzle career started in the 1970s ("no computers! no Google!"), but took off much later, when she stopped teaching Reading and Composition to community college students. She lives with her husband in Daytona Beach, Fla., where this past year they survived Hurricane Irma and — far worse, she says — house remodeling.
Mike Shenk has been the crossword editor of the Wall Street Journal since 1998. Formerly he was a senior editor at Games magazine. As a student at Penn State University in the 1970s, Mike created a daily crossword for the school newspaper, all the while, incredibly, maintaining a straight-A average. He has had a crossword in nearly every ACPT since 1982.
Will Shortz is the crossword editor of the New York Times and puzzlemaster for NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” He founded the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 1978 and has directed it every year. In 1980 he competed in the second and last World-Class Crossword Puzzle Marathon, held at Hemming-Hulburt Booksellers in Beachwood, Ohio. In this pre-internet, 24-hour event, solvers could use all the books in the store to solve one large, extremely difficult puzzle. Will finished it in 9-1/2 hours, won the first prize of $1,000 — and has never competed in a crossword contest since.