Nev is sort of new on the scene. He first made his name known among Ryan and Brian's entertaining podcasts. He's had a couple puzzles in the L.A. Times, one in the Chronicle for Higher Education, and one in the pipeline with the Grey Lady. When this Brooklynite isn't puzzling out, he's probably working at JPMorgan, or figuring out where he's going to get his Ph.D. in Mathematics. Anyway, I liked this puzzle so much, I decided to run it. Thank's, Nev. Let's do this interview.
BEQ: How'd you get into puzzling?
Neville: I had had done puzzles of all types for a while growing up, but I was never too good at crosswords until I started trying some of the easy ones in our local paper near the end of high school. I kept at crosswords just for fun throughout my freshman year at college, and then the casting info for "Merv Griffin's Crosswords" came out.
I'm a game show fiend, so I really wanted to try out. I spent about a month in what I now call 'Dan Feyer mode,' essentially nothing but crosswords all day. Of course, I still wasn't very good, but I learned all of the crosswordese staples.
I started reading Amy [Reynaldo]'s blog to learn about the things I didn't know, and that's when I realized there was an awesome community. I kept up with puzzles after the show and thought it would be cool to try to write my own puzzles. I spent my sophomore year constructing puzzles for Washington & Lee University's then semi-semesterly political magazine by hand (that's where I did undergrad).
BEQ: So I think I first heard about you at the Lollapuzzoola this past year. How'd you get involved with that?
Neville: I’ve listened to the Fill Me In podcast that Ryan & Brian put on for about two years now (and I’ve won two contests and not received prizes for; scandalous!), and I competed at Lollapuzzoola 2. I had a blast. I didn’t know where I’d be living when LP3 came along when they started asking for puzzle submissions, so I thought I would give that a shot. I didn’t have to live in the NY area in order to have a puzzle run at the tourney. Turned out I was still jobless and living with my parents in NJ at the time, so I got to help judge the tourney. That puzzle for LP3 underwent about 10 revisions. I had some issues with it, Brian had his share, and the test solvers were brutal on it. I was really happy with how it turned out, though. I think it was worth it.
BEQ: So once again we have another person (you) who is involved in mathematics and music (you sing in a choir) and puzzles. Why is it the case?
Neville: The eternal question of mathematics + music = puzzles! I don’t know that I can explain it any better than anyone else, but I can try. These are three fields where there are well established rules. The math side of that is pretty self-explanatory. When you write or perform music, there are standards that you have to follow if you want it to sound any good (relative term, I know). And in puzzling, if you want to have any success as a creator or solver of puzzles, you need to recognize consistency. In crosswords, you need consistent themes, cluing, and following of conventions.
But at the same time, if you just stick to the rules to the letter and don’t try to push the limits or look at the problem from a different perspective, then you’re left with a bunch of boring dreck. You can’t prove anything exciting and new in mathematics without being clever or taking a new approach to a problem. Do you still have to follow rules? Of course. But maybe if you approach the problem from a different point of view, say, by taking a problem from one field of mathematics to another, then you’ll get something of value. In music, we hear the same chord progressions over and over because they follow the rules. There are tons of songs with the I-vi-IV-V progression but the interesting ones vary the melody or the voicings or what have you. Great crosswords put a new spin on things with a fresh theme or fun entries. Killer clues, too. But like math and music that completely breaks the rules, if you throw all of the rules out of the window, you end up with rubbish.
BEQ: So the name of your blog is "Neville Takes Brooklyn." But if you go elsewhere to get your Ph.D, what are you going to change its name to?
Neville: I don't know about the blog name. Maybe I'll just change the city name? Or maybe I'll change it all together. "Bloomberg Refuses to Remove Snow - Neville Gives Up on Brooklyn." Time will tell.