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Who Creates the Newsday Crossword?

It has been estimated that there are no more than a few hundred people in North America who have the necessary skills to create a top-quality crossword.  That being the case, puzzle authors (often called “constructors”) belong to one of America’s most exclusive occupational groups.

It’s my good fortune to receive puzzles from several dozen talented constructors on a regular basis.  They are men and women from diverse backgrounds and locations and ages.

Solvers often have favorite constructors, or constructors they find easier or harder than others.  Many solvers gain an extra dimension of enjoyment and insight by “getting into the heads” of certain constructors.

Below you will find profiles and photos of many of the constructors whose names appear regularly on the puzzle. I hope you’ll enjoy learning more about them, and that you’ll find the information useful in tackling the Newsday Crossword  -- S.N.

  Merle Baker lives in State College, Pennsylvania, and has a married daughter.  He was a movie projectionist for 40 years.  Merle specializes in the more difficult Thursday through Saturday puzzles, with an occasional Sunday crossword thrown in.  Like many Newsday constructors, his puzzles are known for their interesting and lively non-theme answers.  His first published puzzle appeared in Newsday in 2000.

  Sheldon Benardo, a lifelong New York City resident, has been constructing crosswords professionally since 1998.  He has been a school principal since 1991, and requires his staff to complete his puzzles without a dictionary.  He lives with his wife of 25 years, Carole.  Sheldon's favorite puzzles to create are those with pun themes, and he aspires to have a Saturday Stumper published.

  Adam Cohen is an editor from Brooklyn, New York. He has been constructing crossword puzzles since the age of 15, and sold his first puzzle professionally at 24. In his spare time (such as it exists), his nonpuzzling interests include word games, trivia, reading, movies, travel, swimming, physical fitness, and major league baseball (and the New York Mets).

  Robert Doll was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and graduated from Washington & Lee University in 1974. He headed the family grocery business (Doll's Market in Louisville) until he relocated to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 2005, and began constructing crosswords in 2006. Bob has three daughters, and his other hobbies include reading, golf and hiking.

  Kevin Donovan lives in Calgary, Alberta, with his wife of twenty years, Sheila, and three children.  He works in a retirement home and has been constructing puzzles since 2003.  His interests include cycling, camping, reading, and solving the Newsday puzzle on-line (if he can).

  Gail Grabowski lives in Peru, Illinois, with her husband and a mellow Siamese cat named Max. She is a former junior high school English teacher, currently working at a real estate appraisal company.  GaiI, who started constructing crosswords in 2002, specializes in early-week puzzles.  Her mentoring by constructor Nancy Salomon made it possible to “learn the ropes” relatively quickly.  In her free hours, she likes to sit down with a good book, cook up a new recipe, take a bike ride, or play a little golf. During the summer, Gail tends a vegetable and herb garden.

  Randy Hartman lives in Escondido, California.   He is a civil engineer for a water utility.  His other major hobby besides crossword constructing is officiating college and high school wrestling matches throughout the United States.  Randy, who has been constructing crossword puzzles since 1994, has two grown daughters and one growing three-year-old grandson.

Fred Jackson is a retired sign maker who lives in Michigan. He sold his first crossword in 2002. He enjoys creating puzzles that are fun to solve and have a humorous touch. He and Martha, his wife of more than 35 years, have two sons. To relax, Fred reads science fiction, and listens to an eclectic mix of music. He is a Detroit Tigers baseball fan, and enjoys watching University of Michigan, Michigan State, and professional football.

  Patrick Jordan lives in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he works in the advertising department of the local newspaper. Patrick took up crossword construction as a regular sideline ten years ago, and his puzzles often betray his puckish sense of humor. He is also a highly accomplished crossword solver, often able to complete a daily-size crossword in less than three minutes. His hobbies include reading, tomato gardening, and collecting animation cels.

  Craig Kasper is from Calgary, Alberta.  He had his first published crossword at 26, and specializes in Saturday Stumpers, which are also his favorite puzzles to solve. When he's not puzzling, Craig enjoys reading, movies, games, and spending time outdoors.

  Betty Keller lives in Leesburg, VA, with her husband.  She is a retired Public Librarian and Library Software Consultant.  During her years of business travel she solved crossword puzzles in airports and hotels all over the country.  She started constructing after retirement in 2008 in the hopes that learning a new skill would help keep her brain functioning.  Nancy Salomon's mentoring was invaluable in getting her started.  In her spare time she reads, gardens, volunteers and spends time with her two grandchildren. 

  Donna Levin began constructing crosswords after sailing on Stan Newman's 2004 Crossword Cruise and being inspired by his "how to" lessons.  A retired matrimonial attorney and former Manhattanite, she and her husband Denis now live on a barrier island in Florida.  When she's not constructing puzzles or dodging hurricanes, she works as an environmentalist in behalf of endangered sea turtles and manatees.

  Brendan Quigley is a guitarist for a rock band.  He also enjoys playing bridge, climbing rocks, and doing other such sundry activities most twenty-something Bostonians like doing.

  Joon Pahk is a physics teacher in the Boston area. He has been making crosswords since 2008. Outside of puzzles, his interests include duplicate bridge, European-style board games, literature, mythology, and sports.

  Doug Peterson was born and raised in Montana and now makes his home in sunny Southern California.  He's employed at a small accounting firm in Pasadena and also works part-time tutoring high school students.  He's enjoyed solving puzzles for as long as he can remember and also likes to spend time watching baseball, reading, and listening to European heavy metal music.

  Fred Piscop is from Bellmore, New York.  A graduate of Cornell, he took up puzzling full-time in 1995 after being laid off as a computer tech support specialist for a defense contractor.  When he’s not puzzling, he plays keyboards in a rock band, samples microbrews, and collects spelling errors in comic strips.

  Randolph Ross is a former principal of Great Neck South High School in Long Island, New York.  He and his wife have two grown children.  The first crossword Randy ever created appeared in Newsday in 1988.  

  Barry Silk is a software engineer living in McLean, Virginia.  Inspired to construct crosswords after attending the 2003 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, he had his first crossword published later that year.  Barry specializes in constructing Saturday Stumpers for Newsday, as themeless puzzles are his favorite type of crosswords to solve and construct.  His other recreational interests include 1950s and 1960s music (especially vocal groups), movies, word games such as Banagrams and Scrabble, and following the Phillies and Eagles.

  Richard Silvestri is a professor of mathematics at Nassau County Community College in Garden City, New York.  Rich’s two favorite topics of conversation are beer and the Marx Brothers.

  Daniel Stark lives in a small town near Guadalajara, Mexico, with his wife and puzzle collaborator Roslyn.  Growing up in Chicago, Dan was a computer systems professional before becoming a crossword creator and editor in the early 1990s.  He has collaborated with Stan Newman on The Million Word Crossword Dictionary and The Million Word Crossword Answer Book

Norma Steinberg, formerly from New Jersey, lives in San Francisco.  She has been writing crossword puzzles since the time she first realized that someone must write them.  Retired now from “work” work, she spends her time constructing puzzles, cooking, walking and exploring her adopted city, sharing adventures with the Love of her Life, and gushing over e-mailed pictures of her grandson--the most beautiful child she’s ever seen. (Really!)

  Bruce Venzke lives in what George Carlin called the "3rd Coast"  (Madison, Wisconsin), where he works for a coin-op amusement game company.  He began constructing crosswords in 2002, doing most of his work since in collaboration with Stella Daily.  He and his wife of 40 years, Jeanne, travel the U.S. in their spare time enjoying their hobby of riding roller coasters.  They have daughters Jen in L.A. and Kristen in Austin, and there's always a Golden Retriever lying about the house (right now it's Jetta). 

  Jeffrey Wechsler is the Senior Curator of the art museum at Rutgers University.  He had his first puzzles published in the late 1960s, and then took a constructing hiatus of 40 years, submitting and publishing his newest crosswords in 2009.  As a cruciverbal Rip Van Winkle, he is alternately delighted and dumbstruck by the expansion of the crossword industry – the tournaments, complexity of puzzle themes, increasing skill of constructors, computerized crossword programs, highly opinionated crossword bloggers, etc.  He also awaits (probably in vain) the return of first-class World’s Fairs.

  Brad Wilber is a college librarian living in Allegany County, New York (south of Rochester).  He has been creating puzzles since 1992.  Brad is an avid reader, a movie buff, and an eclectic sports watcher--he helps maintain statistics and content on the preeminent fan site for tennis player Chris Evert.  Brad writes for the blogosphere on the subject of opera, and in 2009 he performed in his college's production of Sondheim's Into the Woods.   Brad spends his remaining downtime potlucking with friends and marveling at the achievements of nephews and nieces--both actual and honorary. 

  Robert H. Wolfe, a veterinarian from North Woodmere, New York, is married and has two grown daughters.  He has been creating crossword puzzles since 1974.  Bob is also a long-distance runner, and writes poetry, screenplays and novels.

If you're wondering why Sally R. Stein and Anna Stiga, two Newsday Crossword regulars, aren't listed above, here's why.