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Interview with Gary Larson

Interview with Gary Larson


GL: Gary Larson
KM: Kevin McCann

KM: Hi Gary, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Before I start with questions, perhaps you can tell us a bit about yourself.

GL: I'm a retired comedian. My wife (and sometimes puzzle-collaborator), Amy, and I live in a small town on Washington's Puget Sound. I spend my mornings creating puzzles and my afternoons at the beach, making giant bubbles to entertain the locals.


KM: An obvious question to start with: How did you get into crossword puzzle construction?

GL: One evening, while solving a baseball-themed puzzle by Lou Sabin, I came across the clue, "Plastered at a picnic?" The answer, HIGH AND OUTSIDE, really tickled my funny bone. I thought, "Hey, I'm a comedy writer. This is right up my alley. How hard could it be?" Well, many, many rejections later, I discovered it was pretty darn hard. But I really enjoy the process so I kept at it.


KM: I'll assume you are a solver as well as a constructor. As a solver, do you have any favorite constructors?

GL: Oddly enough, I'm a very poor solver -- on the NYT scale, I'm pretty-much Wednesday and below. As for favorite constructors, the list is too long. I constantly run into puzzles that just blow me away. I just scratch my head and think, "How the heck did they come up with that?"


KM: I was adding puzzles into the database recently and I once again noticed a few names appearing regularly. Yours was one of them. I still have about 5 months of Universal puzzles to add, but here are your numbers at this point: Your first published puzzle appeared in the NYT on Dec. 28, 2017 and you've had 3 more NYT puzzles published since then. But you have been far more prolific with other venues:

Wall Street Journal: 67 (including 29 21x21's)
LA Times: 50 (including 19 21x21's)
Universal: 31 (including 8 21x21's} - as of 2021-08-01

That's a lot of puzzles.

How is it that you're so prolific? How can you continually come up with so many usable themes?

GL: I have no idea. I get up every morning, have a cup of coffee and start noodling around on my computer. When a notion pops into my head that seems interesting, I bounce around a few ideas with my wife, Amy. Then, if it starts to look like a theme set, I sort through the most promising entries and work them in a grid.


KM: After having so many puzzles published do you find that editors are changing fewer and fewer of your submitted clues? Or have they been somewhat consistent?

GL: I never really paid much attention to that. I figure my job is creating a puzzle they can work with and their job is tailoring it to their specific audience. For the most part, I write for Amy. If I can entertain her with some of my goofy little puns, it's a good day.


KM: What are your constructing methods and tools? Do you use Crossword Compiler or Crossfire, or are you old-school with paper, pencil and eraser? And how about databases? Do you use any of the databases out there to help you with your grid fills?

GL: I use Crossword compiler and a database that is a conglomeration of what came with the program, a word list I got from Jeff Chen's site and a few words I add from time to time.


KM: How do you keep track of your theme ideas and the development of them? Spreadsheet, notebook and pen, some other method?

GL: I use a spreadsheet. Actually two spreadsheets -- one to track ideas I'm working on and another to keep track of what has been submitted.


KM: Many solvers and constructors are fascinated by words, letter combinations, wordplay and so on. Then there is the trivia aspect. It's nice to learn something by solving a crossword puzzle, and cool to inject some interesting info into cruciverbal creations. Are you more on the wordy side, or are fascinating facts just as important to you?

GL: I'm a wordplay guy. My favorite part of being a standup comic was writing the jokes. When I stopped performing, I missed that part of it most. This gives me an opportunity to work that part of my brain again.


KM: What kind of reactions do you get from people if/when you mention that you make crossword puzzles, get them published regularly, and are paid to do so? The raised eyebrow? The "Suuure you do" nod of doubt?

GL: In general, people seem more interested in my career as a comedian than as a crossword constructor. And I guess that makes sense. Television, nightclubs and cruise ships tend to make for more interesting stories than some guy filling a grid with letters. I have a few close friends that are avid puzzle solvers, however, and I always get a kick out of their reactions when one of my puzzles shows up in the local paper.


KM: Have you ever been to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament? If and when things get back to normal (post Covid-19 restrictions) do you think you might attend?

GL: I have never been but I look forward to going someday. I like people and I think it would be fun to meet some of the folks I've only heard about on the internet.


KM: Some people get into puzzle construction for a very short time. Maybe it's a bucket list thing. Others stay in the game for decades. Do you think that crossword construction is something that you will be doing for a long time to come, or are you more inclined to move on to other life pursuits?

GL: That's hard to say. I'll make puzzles until it stops being fun.


KM: OK, one more question. I have to ask. Are you "that" Gary Larson? The guy who entertained us for years with "The Far Side"? I know you probably get that a lot, so my apologies.

GL: I am not "that" Gary Larson. I remember when I first started working as a comedian, I got a fortune cookie that read, "Your name will be famous in the future." I put that fortune in my wallet and saved it. A few years later, when my name got famous without me, I took it out and burned it.

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