For BUA sophomore Owen Bergstein ‘26, crossword puzzles are a way of life. Always an avid puzzler – like many BUAers – Owen does the New York Times crossword every day and estimates that he’s solved close to 1,000 puzzles since starting at BUA. But about two years ago, Owen took the leap from solver to creator and began to teach himself how to design his own puzzles. Tapping into a network of online and in-person crossword constructors, Owen found mentorship and guidance, and began to refine his puzzle-building technique.
Reflecting on his process, Owen said: “ I started out constructing pencil-on-paper, but soon learned that there is helpful software that the pros use. Every crossword is either themed or themeless. For themed puzzles, you build a theme, generally based around what’s called a ‘revealer,’ an answer in the grid that explains the gimmick going on in other answers. Then you put that theme into a grid, and build words around it, cohering to 180 degree rotational symmetry of the black squares.”
Once he felt confident in his crosswords, Owen started submitting his puzzles for publication to a wide array of outlets. By his estimate, he has “a whopping 20 rejections to date.” But Owen’s persistence paid off, and earlier this month, Owen published his first puzzle in The Modern, the crossword feature on the Puzzle Society website.
When asked about how he approached the creation of his first published puzzle, Owen shared (CROSSWORD SPOILERS AHEAD!):
“Themeless puzzles, like the one published in The Modern, begin with some number of ‘seed entries,’ words that seem particularly fun or interesting and have never appeared in a crossword before. For my Modern puzzle, there were three: SLAY QUEEN, HEARTSTOPPER, and DENIM ON DENIM (I refer to entries in all caps, cohering to crossword customs). I generally try to put queer representation into my puzzles, since it’s often lacking in crosswords, hence HEARTSTOPPER and SLAY QUEEN. I built this particular puzzle over two days in August. It was rejected at two other venues, including the New York Times, before finding its home at the Modern— just one example of the many instances by which crosswording has taught me resilience. The published puzzle is almost entirely my own creation. The grid is fully my work, other than an asymmetrical black square at the bottom of the grid that my editor Kelsey Dixon asked me to put in. The clues are mostly my own, but some were tweaked by Kelsey and the proofreader.”
Think your skills are up to the task of solving Owen’s crossword? Subscribers to Puzzle Society can try their hand at this link.