BEQ: What are South African crosswords like?
Gareth: Well I grew up with the "You" magazine Blockbuster crossword, which is probably the most popular, at least most people I come across who solve crosswords solve that. [I did it] with the help of my grandfather and a yellow crossword dictionary ca. 1969 of which only about 1 in 20 words would be considered remotely fair. But, I digress. The style is assymetric, with two-letter words and unches and lots of one-word synonym clues and obscure stuff that frequently likes to be unchecked. I've yet to see the popular word REDE in a US puzzle, but I'm sure I will eventually. A different crossword-making ethos, though not far from the NYT pre-Shortz. The long words were often delightful though, and I presume still are.
It was enough for me to get hooked on solving. and by about 13 trying to emulate them and then chase various family members around the house with them trying in vain to get them to solve them. I digress again.
Most newspapers run UK cryptics but I don't think too many people actually do them.
BEQ: So how'd you get into U.S. puzzles?
Gareth: Was bored in the summer holidays and did a search for crosswords to solve. Found bestcrosswords.com whose puzzles I quickly ate up. They're in the US style, sort of, no themes and more words/blocks and simpler clues. They also have puzzles by "guest" constructors (about the only really well-known one would be Ben Tausig), and I quickly added my name to that list.
Via the "email constructor" function, I got a couple of suggestions to look at Cruciverb, and got blown away by the huge difference in quality of grid and the themes in the L.A. Times, N.Y. Sun and CrossSynergy puzzles. I quickly started solving them and immediately tried making my own. Took a few months before I sold one to Timothy Parker, then things slowly took off from there. Learned a lot about constructing initially from following Amy Reynaldo's blog, cruciverb-l and of course the constructive feedback I got from Rich Norris!
BEQ: Do you notice a massive cultural difference while solving U.S. puzzles? I do when I try my hand at the odd British puzzle.
Gareth: Just not spelling things "ou" or "ise" was difficult, at first. Honestly, American culture is pervasive enough that a lot of stuff I have heard, from somewhere or other. But puzzles laden with US sportsmen and politicians can be my downfall. I usually have to work around the former category in your puzzles.Though having said that, I've yet to convince any of my puzzle-loving friends/relatives that U.S. crosswords are actually awesome. They keep saying they're too difficult, even when I drop a Monday LAT in their lap. I suspect the major mind shift is from synonym-based clues to the more playful style favored in most U.S. crosswords. Possibly also that many more names are featured and that multi-word phrases don't have their lengths indicated.
BEQ: Just wondering: how do you construct puzzles with vuvuzelas droning on in the background?
Gareth: The main problem is actually having to keep the lions at bay with my assegai.