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Collaboration | The Nation

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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Click here for Kosman and Picciotto’s tips on how to work their puzzles116.49 KB

Collaboration

[First, three links:

• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints.]

Many people have asked us how we organize our collaboration. This question is not surprising when it comes from fellow cryptic constructors, but it has come from all sorts of people, most of whom will never be part of a cryptic collaboration, so perhaps the topic of collaboration is intrinsically interesting. Since there is nothing secret about our arrangement, we will explain it in this post.

Instead of creating one puzzle a week, we create two puzzles every two weeks, which gives us the illusion of a slower pace.

• Each of us constructs a diagram. Typically, we seed it with a few words that are imposed by the theme or that we think would be fun to clue. Then, we fill the rest of the diagram with the help of electronic resources. One key tool is the Crossword Compiler software, which has forced us to run Windows on our respective Macs, because there is no comparable software for the Mac OS. When Crossword Compiler fails to find a word for us in a given spot, we might use the National Puzzlers’ League word lists, or just redo that part of the diagram.

• The person who created the diagram writes clues for the seed words, and then passes the puzzle on to the other member of the team, who proceeds to write clues for one half the entries.

• The puzzle goes back to the original constructor, who has to clue the remaining entries. Those are most likely the toughest ones, but fair is fair: he is the one who put them in the diagram in the first place.

• We talk on the phone about both puzzles and agree on clues for the test version of the puzzles. We send the puzzles to our test solvers. 

• The test solvers give us their feedback, which we discuss and incorporate in a second phone call. During that call, or soon thereafter, we finalize the clues, and finally we send the puzzles off to The Nation.

Along the way, we edit each other’s clues, sometimes rejecting an idea that is too far-fetched or too obvious, other times refining a clue to improve its surface reading or its cryptic syntax. The end result of this process is, we hope, a puzzle that is far better than what each of us might have created on his own.

In a future post, we’ll discuss collaboration among solvers.

Please share your thoughts on collaboration—your own or anyone else’s—along with comments, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle.

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