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Meet Senior Planet’s New Crossword Puzzle Expert: Adrienne Raphel

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For crossword puzzle aficionado Adrienne Raphel, there’s nothing puzzling about her relationship with the black-and-white grid. Launching this Sunday, June 11, Adrienne will be writing a monthly crossword puzzle for Senior Planet readers. Learn about Adrienne’s connection to crossword puzzles and why people around the world are addicted to solving them.

How did you first get involved in creating crossword puzzles?

I started solving puzzles when I was a kid.  My family would have “crossword races.” We’d all go off into different corners of the house and try to solve the fastest. My mom always won! But I didn’t think about how they got made until I was researching my book about the history and culture of crossword puzzles, Thinking Inside the Box.

I started talking to all these incredible crossword constructors. I loved that the term for creating a crossword was a “constructor” or a “setter.”   Making a crossword is an architectural project, since you have to build a grid around letters that all work together.

What about crossword puzzles do you find interesting?

Everybody has a relationship with the crossword puzzle! Whether you love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, the crossword is something that millions of people interact with daily. It’s fascinating that the crossword immediately connects people to family and friends, too. Whenever I ask people about their puzzle experiences, they almost always tell me a story about their grandmother, or uncle, or best friend in school, or some other important figure who got them puzzling.

Are you a crossword junkie yourself?

I love crosswords, but I’m more of a casual consumer – I do them on the train, or winding down at night, or when I’m hanging out with fellow crossword friends. I admire people who have really religious crossword practices and “solve streaks” where they complete a certain puzzle every day or every week in a row. 

Why do people love crossword puzzle?

Crosswords are totally immersive, but they also plug right into the world itself. In a world with lots of messy problems, the crossword gives you the satisfying experience of being able to solve something.

You’ve written a book about crossword puzzles, can you tell us a little about that? 

Yes! My book, Thinking Inside the Box, tells the story of the history of the crossword and the culture around it. I’ve always loved word puzzles and playing with language. As a poet, digging into what letters and sounds can do in lots of combinations has always come naturally to me. The crossword puzzle is a really special language game, because it has so many touchstones in twentieth and twenty-first century culture. The crossword was invented in 1913 in a newspaper called the New York World, and it’s very connected to the history of journalism and book publishing. 

What’s new on the crossword culture scene?

Crossword culture today is super exciting, and becoming really diverse! Lots of amazing innovations are happening within the puzzle itself. More and more constructors of all ages and from all backgrounds are bringing their expertise to the game. In fact, social media is incredibly important to the crossword world. People publish and share puzzles widely on the internet. In Facebook and Twitter communities, more experienced crossword constructors help beginners  enter this world as solvers and creators. 

Adrienne Raphel is the author of the nonfiction book Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them (Penguin Press) and the poetry collections Our Dark Academia (Rescue Press) and What Was It For (Rescue Press). Born in New Jersey and raised in Vermont, Raphel holds a PhD from Harvard and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she lives and works in New York City.

Photo credit for Adrienne’s headshot: Nina Subin.

Suzanne Myklebust is Senior Planet’s Director of Communications. Suzanne is based in New York City and has a background in public relations, marketing, and communications strategy specifically in the field of aging.

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