PROGRAM: [Across Lite]
If the question is how manly are puzzlemakers? Then the answer is on display in the above photograph. That sexy heap of testosterone is none other than Andrew J. Ries of Saint Cloud, Minnesota. He decided to take a quick break from his own Aries Puzzles to contribute to the BEQ.com guest column. I've mentioned his site before, but it bears repeating: Andrew offers up a free Rows Garden each Tuesday. It was a form originated by Patrick Berry, and like the master, Andrew crams his grids with some eye-popping freshness. You know, kind of like the crossword he let me run. So thanks, Andrew. Let's do this interview.
BEQ: A new Rows Garden a week? What are you, batshit crazy?
Andrew: Maybe not batshit crazy, but certainly in the cave-dwelling category of craziness. There's not much out there as far as construction software for Rows Gardens (I don't use construction software when constructing standard crosswords, either, for that matter), so it's pencil and paper, with some online word databases to help me along. It's definitely a different beast to construct, as you've really got one "seed" entry, and the rest of the Rows are basically built around the letters that you've been given. In a standard themeless, you have the luxury of a couple of seeds, plus those 3- and 4-letter words act like "glue" for the longer entries. With Rows Gardens, it's mostly 6 letters and up, so that keeps it fun. It definitely isn't easy and certainly is time consuming, but it's a labor of love.
BEQ: You've written three books of crosswords: Minnesota Crosswords, Michigan Crosswords, and Wisconsin Crosswords. And you've begun work on Texas Crosswords. Who do you think you are anyway, Sufjan Stevens?
Andrew: I do plan on doing all 50 states, even if it takes me half my life. As far as the Stevens comparison, I'd like to say that I've out-Sufjaned Sufjan, as he only made it two states deep, if I can recall correctly. If he ever does resume that project, I'd like to say that he'll be pulling an Andrew J. Ries, but somehow I doubt it. Alas, he can play the guitar, which confirms that he gets more ass than me. Crossword groupies are too few and far between, unfortunately.
BEQ: On your website bio, you call yourself a sports fan. How does one find pleasure in rooting for the teams based in the Twin Cities?
Andrew: There's certainly a schadenfreude-y allure to Minnesota sports, especially the Vikings, and in more recent years the Twins. What makes it unique is that we fans seem to *enjoy* the heartache. You put the Twins on the East Coast, and there's no way that guys like Ron Gardenhire keep their jobs after two straight first-round playoff exits, much less getting a contract extension after losing twelve straight playoff games. My frustration was so strong a few years ago that I blogged every game under the pseudonym Eisenhower McSteele at a site called the Minnesota Twins Re-Education Center (google away, the archives are still up). The concept of "Minnesota Nice" is true, and it extends to the sports teams. We're real content with mediocrity, embrace a lovable loser, and get surprised with success. Don't even get me started with the Vikes [cough...'98...cough..'09..ahem].
BEQ: I hear you're a competitive cribbage club. Tell me about it.
Andrew: Pub cribbage, two-on-two, five games a week, culminating in a season-ending tournament. My playing partner Jesse would like to remind me regularly that it was because of me that I cost our team the Winter '10 championship, but hey, it's a team game, right? With four-handed crib, it's all about the pegging. The hands are usually a wash, so the real strategy comes on the go.