PROGRAM: [Across Lite]
I managed to get Andrea to answer a few questions just before boarding a plane to Boston (yeah, there's plans for a beer/lunch summit today with her and a certain "Jeopardy!" champion). Let's see how it went down:
BEQ: Give us a little background of how you came into puzzles.
Andrea: Usual way, I think. Youngest of three sisters, not a doll kind of gal. Liked playing boardgames, doing jigsaw puzzles, playing chess with my dad, gin with my grandfather. Neither of them ever let me win. Wasn't very physical, but loved to read. Subscribed to "Jack and Jill" magazine and they probably had puzzles. Somewhere along the line i started making puzzles for friends, and made crosswords for "TV Guide" for years. I did lots of word games, though never crosswords, for "Games" right after college in the early 80s. That's when I met Will Shortz and Peter Gordon and Mike Shenk and a bunch of folks.
Submitted my first puzzle to the NYT in 2001 on a whim. I've never actually considered myself a constructor. I'm a solver who has ideas now and then for a puzzle. Somehow I've become "Miss Monday."
BEQ: I know you're a big Scrabble nut. I am not a Scrabble nut, because I can't separate the crossword construction element from the game. Convince me why I should become a Scrabble junkie.
Andrea: I've been in shock how little overlap there is between the crossword world and Scrabble! I love Scrabble because every rack is this mini problem to solve. What word can I make out of these seven letters? How many words can I make? What is preventing me from making a seven letter word? Where can I place this? There is a crossword construction element now and then, you think, "how can I add a letter underneath each of the letters already on the board and form a new word across while making three or four shorter words?"
Scrabble doesn't have one "right" answer and you are competing with someone. I don't compete in crosswords, but in Scrabble I want to do better than the other person, pointwise, but really, I just love creating new words.
There shouldn't be this weird disconnect between Scrabble and crosswords, they can both be about words words words and having fun with them and being clever, just in different ways.
BEQ: Talk to me about your naming business.
Andrea: I was living in LA. In the '80s and early '90s I was a standup comic and writing for TV shows that I never really watched. I grew up in Minneapolis, but wanted to move back to San Francisco and be sort of a free spirit, living on a barter system. A friend in new product development was always calling me, asking me to help her come up with new names for salad dressings, etc. I asked her if there was such a thing as a "namer" where I could sit in a corner and dream up names. Branding ( not to be confused with Brending, which is doing an interview for BEQ's site) was just starting and San Francisco was the epicenter.
I wrote to this naming company and said "you don't know me, but I'd be perfect for this and you can try me out for free." And they did! After all, it's all part of playing with words, whether I'm doing standup, writing for gameshows, learning a new language, making a crossword, etc.There is actually a litle documentary about my naming, (suitable one day for my memorial, I hope not too soon) called "Business with Passion." A total stranger at the ACPT, Michael Goodman, recommended me as a subject. He's part of the wonderful community I've only recently found thru the crossworld and Rex [Parker]'s blog.
BEQ: So let's say I give you a series of fictional businesses (like a coffee shop owned by two former Jesuit priests) or products (like a talking doormat), would you be able to come with names on the spot?
Andrea: You are too funny! Sorry you'd have to pay me the big bucks to do this! (Kidding, I barter at least half my services; I just want everything to have a good name!)
By the way, I'm very proud of having named the crossword award, the Oryx. Maybe one day I'll even be nominated for one and my two worlds will have collided!