It was another here-you-are-in-New-York treats this afternoon to see New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz in the flesh on stage at the CUNY Graduate Center in the shadow of the ESB. His name has been atop the daily puzzles ever since I started attempting them, with a big dose of help from my mom at first, and later on my own. To kick off the event, he showed us some clips from Wordplay, the documentary due out later this month about Shortz, his daily product, and his fans, both famous and otherwise. We got to see interview clips with Jon Stewart as well as Bill Clinton, who could probably be pretty competitive in those speed-completion crossword races according to Shortz. Stewart, in classic fashion, had the room roaring. He admitted that he does occasionally do the USA Today crossword if he happens to be in a hotel. "But I don't feel good about myself," he added. Clinton, meanwhile, spoke about the amazingly creative puzzle that appeared in the newspaper on Election Day 1996. One of the clues was supposed to be the winner of the presidential election, and the puzzle constructor created seven "down" clues that allowed either CLINTON or BOBDOLE to work as answers, which produced a lot of puzzled calls and letters from NYT readers. Shortz said that puzzle was one of his all-time favorites.
During the Q&A, Shortz also told the audience that the people who create the puzzles are paid a mere $135 for a weekday puzzle and $700 for the Sunday, but he claims to be constantly lobbying to increase that rate. The second half of the event resembled a live, in-person version of the Sunday Puzzle segment he does on NPR's Weekend Edition. I have to say the event attracted some pretty quick minds, because I was left in the dust on a lot of the quick-response questions, but I did manage to offer one or two answers for our side (it was the Across team vs. the Down team). Good times, good times.
Tomorrow night, with any luck, I'll get to see another childhood media hero of mine, Garrison Keillor, who'll be appearing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. The question on my mind: Will he attract as big a crowd as David Sedaris or Tom Wolfe did, or no?