When Brendan Emmett Quigley of Brookline found he didn’t have the drive to be a rock star, he made what, to him, was a logical career move. He opted for celebrity status among cruciverbalists — crossword puzzle enthusiasts.

When Brendan Emmett Quigley of Brookline found he didn’t have the drive to be a rock star, he made what, to him, was a logical career move. He opted for celebrity status among cruciverbalists — crossword puzzle enthusiasts.

“Music and crosswords are mathematical in the same way that Sudoku puzzles are mathematical,” Quigley, 34, said, because they are about seeing patterns. In the case of crosswords, the patterns are in the black and white squares and in the series of vowels and consonants. Crossword puzzles are about seeing how the different elements interact, he said. 

Quigley has constructed crossword puzzles for The New York Times, The Onion and The Wall Street Journal. At the beginning of December, he began posting three crossword puzzles every week on a blog called “Can I Have a Word With You?” (www.brendanemmettquigley.com).

Though busy building puzzles for his blog, The New York Times and Paste Magazine, Quigley has been helping puzzlemaster Will Shortz plan the 32nd annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament which begins Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Quigley calls the tournament his “other family reunion.”

Building blocks of a puzzle

When Quigley begins creating a new puzzle, he first picks a theme, though usually themes are inspired, rather than selected. If a theme comes to him, he will pull out a Moleskin notebook with a decal of actor Don Cheadle on the cover and write it down. He will also pick themes from popular culture, like the “Twilight” series, or the “25 Random Things About Me” Facebook fad.

Once he has a theme to work with, Quigley comes up with a few entries relating to the theme. For one theme, the “Twilight” series of young adult novels by Stephanie Meyer, he used the book titles: TWILIGHT ZONE, ECLIPSE AWARD, NEW MOON ON MONDAY; he said he threw in character names, BELLA, EDWARD and CULLEN; and author name MEYER for “extra spice.”

Next, Quigley creates the pattern of black and white boxes on the puzzle grid. The American puzzle grid has 15 boxes by 15 boxes. The top half and bottom half of the grid are symmetrical, so that it has the same pattern upside down.

Quigley puts the longest themed entry in the middle, and then adds the other themed entries to form the grid. Quigley usually follows the American format for crossword puzzles. Each entry must have at least three letters. None of the 78 entries can repeat.

Evolution of the crossword

Quigley said The New York Times first defined the American style format to weed through the number of submissions. Between the 1920s and the late 1970s, puzzles were mostly academic, Quigley said. Then a “new wave” of cruciverbalists began emphasizing humor and including contemporary TV and movie references. They also broke the taboo of using brand names.

Quigley said he takes it upon himself to start the next “new wave” of crossword puzzles. Part of the reason for bringing puzzles online, he said, was to make them more interactive and available. Quigley said he wants to bring puzzles to the Internet crowd and to “embrace the next generation.”

Part of appealing to the Internet generation means picking themes that will attract them, such as the “Twilight” series, and using other entries that a younger audience will appreciate.

Making puzzles ‘pop’

Once Quigley has placed the themed entries in the new crossword puzzle, he works to fill the other entries. He tries to come up with unusual entries, especially for those longer than six letters. The availability of slick puzzle-making software has speeded up the process in the past 12 years.

Quigley uses his own database to sort through boring words and find the “good words” — which usually have a lot of consonants in a row — and filler entries with easy vowel-noun-vowel patterns. Quigley will also include unusual letters like X, or uncommon letters like W or J. The crossword software will list possible entries using the letters he has already placed. Quigley tries to find the cleverest one, “every single entry, one-at-a-time,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Quigley said the availability of software has watered down the selection of available crossword puzzles. Finding unique words to fill the puzzle is what “separates the men from the boys,” he said. Novice constructors don’t realize that finding unique, original entries and clues are what give a puzzle “pop,” he wrote.

Clues are the last thing Quigley writes for a new crossword puzzle. He mentioned the “constructor’s constructor,” Bob Klahn. 

“Every inch is brand new,” in Klahn’s puzzles, Quigley said, “We’re all trying to emulate his freshness.”

Brookline TAB