Grab a copy of Matt's latest book when you're done with this, okay? Okay. Onto the interview.
BEQ: Seriously, what the hell were you thinking when you made this guest puzzle grid?
Matt: It's a good story: in 1998 I had a puzzle in the NYT where the central entry was TRIPLE PANGRAM, and each letter of the alphabet appeared at least three times in the grid. Then in 2010, Peter Wentz had a puzzle in the Times that had QUADRUPLE PANGRAM as its central entry, and each letter of the alphabet appeared at least four (!) times in the grid. It was a 16x15 to accommodate its central entry, but still that was an amazing feat.
My hypercompetitive side kicked in, and I thought: can I do a QUINTUPLE PANGRAM? It would also have to be a 16x15 of course. It looked impossible, but this summer I spent two full workdays obsessed with making it work. The result of those two days is today's puzzle, which is six letters shy of being a quint pangram (two V's, two Y's, a J and a P). I wound up writing about 8 full grids, and this was the best. Be prepared for some questionable fill and many proper names of Germanic and Eastern European origin. Note also how similar my grid is to Wentz's, and that I was able to work in a tribute to him (a grid entry that's one letter off from his name).
Next week I've got some time set aside for a SEXTUPLE PANGRAM puzzle. Not!
BEQ: How's the site going?
Matt: Swell. In its first four years the main metrics have grown by 35-55% annually (Google Group members, record number of entries, traffic, tip jar haul). Were that rate of growth to continue, then by the time the feature ends in August of 2027 I will count every past, present and future member of the human race as MGWCC solvers. Dave Sullivan's recent changes to the site (he instituted the new system of submissions, which saved my Gmail account) have made negotiating this growth much simpler.
BEQ: What made you decide to go the meta route?
Matt: Around 2007 I started to get kind of bored with writing crosswords. Novel theme ideas grew tougher and tougher to come by, and I'd lost my creative flow; what had been an intellectual passion was turning into just a job. While searching for a solution to this I recalled how much I'd enjoyed solving Eric Albert's contest crosswords in Dell Champion Crossword Puzzles in the early 1990s and Henry Hook's meta-crosswords in his Hooked on Puzzles book series around the same time. I thought this category of puzzle was due for a revival and would be helpful in addressing the "theme crisis." Plus I figured the idea of a contest would up the interactivity quotient on my planned site.
BEQ: Other than Albert and Hook, who were some of your crossword heroes?
Matt: Merl Reagle, A.J. Santora, Mike Shenk, Jordan Lasher and Stan Newman.
BEQ: Was there a time that you thought you'd be a chess master instead of a puzzle god?
Yes, when I was a teenager, but I'm glad that chess didn't work out as a profession for me and that crosswords has. Chess has been completely taken over by computers in the past 20 years -- even Magnus Carlsen is helpless in the face of the silicon monsters, and the gap grows every year. Crosswords is a much safer retreat for the human brain.