And when I rank it Hard, I really mean it.
Anyway, it turns out, David's my new neighbor. He's just wrapped up a stint out west studying math. "Mostly abstract algebra, real/complex analysis, and elliptic curves," he tells me, as if I'm supposed to know what any of that means. Sure, I read books about math written for the math-illiterate like me, but that doesn't mean I understand any of them. Whatever, that's him up above with his dog Roxie. Let's do this interview:
BEQ: What have you been up to lately?
David: For the past two years I've been working on my masters in pure math at the University of Utah in Salt Lake. This is one reason I haven't produced much lately - well, that and I'm finally focusing on having a social life. In August I moved to Boston to work at my dream school: Roxbury Latin, so this keeps me pretty busy now.
BEQ: Is there any link between puzzling and teaching?
David: To do either well requires a from-the-gut love of knowledge.
BEQ: You're predominantly a themeless guy, what's up with that?
David: I'm sure I would have little trouble reproducing one of the fifty or so regularly occurring themes in the New York Times (i.e. one phrase that means three different themes or the ban/ben/bin/bon/bun idea), but these don't excite me. If I ever think of something that's never been done before, then I do it (like my empty square rebus from years ago). I feel like 95% of themed puzzles are rehashes, which I refuse to do, so you should expect me to do these very rarely.
BEQ: What's the problem with crosswords nowadays?
David: The biggest problem in themed puzzles is boring reuse of the same tired ideas. In themeless puzzles, it is the obsession with low word-count grids and stacks of 15-letter entries. These Always Lead To Boring Phrases And Disgusting Crosses. I don't know how many more overly inflected white square chunks (-ER, -ERS, -ANT, -ING, RE-, etc.) I can take. I simply won't solve the puzzles of certain constructors anymore.
BEQ: How'd you get started making puzzles?
David: In college, a roommate and I started solving the NYT as much as we could. After a few years, I had done enough puzzles to see the same themes recur, and one day as a senior, frustrated by yet another cookie-cutter puzzle, I decided I could make one better. My first theme was very strange and too academic to ever be accepted: extending classical composers last names to create wacky anti-musical ideas. The only theme entry I can recall is RACHMANINOFFKEY.
BEQ: I remember years ago when we made a puzzle for the Times, you were hell bent on putting in NHL DRAFT. It didn't make the cut. Like there's anybody who cares about hockey. I guess you do, so: who's winning the Stanley Cup?
David: The Bruins. To say otherwise is sacrilege.