A: I am a research scientist working to discover immunotherapies for cancer. My wife and I moved from NYC to the Bay Area in 2016; we currently live in Albany, a very small city that neighbors Berkeley. My puzzles have been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and many other mainstream and indie venues.
Q: How did you get interested in solving and constructing crosswords?
A: Before becoming a daily New York Times solver in early 2019, I dabbled in crossword solving with the syndicated puzzle that ran in my college newspaper and filling in a few answers on the Sunday New York Times. Early on in the pandemic, like many others, I found myself with a lot (too much, probably) of free time on my hands. My wife, desperate for me to find a hobby, suggested that I try constructing. Along with constructing, I started to solve many more daily puzzles and compete in online crossword tournaments.
Q: How did you think of this puzzle’s theme? Are you a fan of Broadway musicals and, if so, which is your favorite?
A: BREAKS THE FOURTH WALL is such a tantalizing potential crossword revealer. I thought it would be fun for ASIDE to break through the walls of the grid, and tripled down on the theater theme by choosing Broadway musicals as the theme entries, tightening the set by selecting only those that have won BEST MUSICAL. Thanks to the second revealer plus vertical symmetry, I was able to get this puzzle to work.
My wife and I are fans of Broadway musicals. We used to see a few shows every year in New York, and before the pandemic, had season tickets to the touring productions in the Bay Area. “Fun Home” and “The Book of Mormon” are two of my favorites.
Q: Do you have a particular style of puzzle that you enjoy creating the most (themed, themeless, meta, cryptic, variety, others)? What do you like best about it?
A: Most of the puzzles I write are themed, though I’ve published a handful of themelesses. It’s not uncommon for me to hear or learn a phrase and immediately wonder if it could work as a potential theme entry or revealer. Going from the initial idea to a final (symmetric) theme set is incredibly satisfying and can be very preoccupying.
Q: When you write a puzzle, do you have a particular set of interests that you especially aim to include in the answers or clues?
A: I love to include colloquial phrases and food as fill and, where possible, include references to music or TV shows that I enjoy.
Q: Recently, you and Rafael Musa were named the crossword creators for Alta Journal. How did this opportunity arise for you two and are you enjoying it?
A: The editorial director of Alta reached out to me about writing crosswords based on a recommendation from [New York Times crossword editor] Will Shortz. Constructing on demand can be stressful for me, so I invited my frequent collaborator and good friend Rafa to write them together since we both have what we like to call “big puzzle energy.” It’s been very fun to come up with themes related to the issue and include references to literature and the west coast throughout the puzzles.
Q: Are there other puzzle activities or projects that you’d like to promote?
A: Yes! Along with [crossword creator] Kate Chin Park, I’m co-directing Westwords, a crossword tournament that will be held in the Bay Area on June 23, 2024, with online solving also available.