Puzzler’s Wednesday – Nathan Curtis


  1. How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

I’m a recovering mathematician and composer with a nasty habit of solving and writing hard puzzles.

  1. When did you start solving and making puzzles?

I started solving casually by helping my parents finish the Sunday crossword in the Washington Post. Then when I was in college, I saw a link to the MIT Mystery Hunt from a friend’s web page. I had no idea how to solve any of the puzzles, but it looked like the best thing ever. I made it to my first Mystery Hunt in 2003 and got hooked.

As a constructor, I started out writing warm-up puzzles for my Mystery Hunt team in 2006 or so. Again, it was a casual thing for a while, until 2011, when I decided to try to write a puzzle a day for the month of June. After that, I started posting puzzles to my website on a regular basis. I got my first commercially published puzzles in the sadly short-lived Will Shortz’s WordPlay, and when that venture folded, I decided to keep going on my own.

  1. What is your favorite kind of puzzle to solve/create?

Oh, so many possible answers! I love solving puzzle hunts of all types: the MIT Mystery Hunt, DASH, BAPHL, P&A Magazine, and so on. But if I had to pick a single type, I’d probably go with variety cryptics. Or metapuzzles.

In constructing, I have gravitated towards variety crosswords. Pathfinder is probably my go-to puzzle type at this point, but I also love the mind-bending challenge of putting together a Some Assembly Required.

  1. Tell us a little bit about Tortoiseshell Studio?

Well, Tortoiseshell Studio started off as Tortoiseshell Music, when I was working as a freelance composer. As I said earlier, I started posting puzzles to my site in 2011, and soon I realized I was having more enjoyment and success writing puzzles than I was writing music. So, since music was no longer the primary focus of my creative energy, I relaunched the site as Tortoiseshell Studio earlier this year. At the same time, I started offering my puzzles through Patreon, which has been quite rewarding.

The name stems from my nickname “Tortoise,” which is a weak rhyme on my last name. I have adopted this nickname in many different guises: as a math teacher at a summer program, as a composer, and as my nom in the National Puzzlers’ League. I have come to identify with the tortoise in some ways: shy and retiring, apt to retreat into my shell when threatened, but persistently plodding.

  1. A cryptic clue that always stayed with you?

Hidden assassin in Japan! (5)*

  1. Favorite constructor?

I’m a big fan of the folks writing puzzles for the Wall Street Journal: Mike Shenk, Patrick Berry, and Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. I also love Kevin Wald’s ability to write a cryptic for any occasion.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not doing puzzles?

When I’m not doing puzzles? I guess that happens sometimes…I was a musician before I was a puzzler, and that’s still important to me. Primarily contemporary classical and jazz, but lots of other genres too. I don’t perform as often as I used to, but I still enjoy that from time to time; my instruments include bass trombone, piano, and clarinet. I’m eclectic.

  1. If you could have dinner with one famous person who would choose?

If we restrict it to living people, I’d say Stephen Sondheim. I’m a fan of his shows, and I’d love to ask him about his role in the early history of cryptic crosswords and puzzle hunts in America.

  1. If you had a superpower what would it be?

Hmm. If I did have a superpower, it would probably be the ability to learn things quickly. If I could have a superpower, I’d go for the ability to stop time. I always wanted more hours in the day.

  1. What’s your personal motto?

I’m not sure I have a motto, but I strive to be compassionate, and to constantly improve.

*Answer: NINJA. I’m a big sucker good for &lit clues. This one is from “Inner Tube,” a puzzle by Roger Barkan, Dan Katz, and Chris Morse, from the 2000 MIT Mystery Hunt.

You can find a sampling of Nathan’s puzzles at tortoiseshellstudio.com/puzzles, and if you like what you see there, check out www.patreon.com/nathancurtis for his weekly puzzle packs.

About paws4puzzles

I'm a writer and puzzle maker. I am the author of a YA fantasy series, P.A.W.S. and my puzzles have been published in many magazines from Dell and Penny Press and on the walls of the Eltana cafe in Seattle. My most recent release is a book of logic problems, Paws4Logic which I wrote together with my son, Joey.
This entry was posted in Puzzler's Wednesday and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Puzzler’s Wednesday – Nathan Curtis

  1. paws4puzzles says:

    Reblogged this on Paws4Thought and commented:

    Over on my puzzle blog it’s Puzzler’s Wednesday!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s