Today we continue our Puzzler’s Wednesday series with founder of Puzzazz, Roy Leban.
- How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
Some people say I’m a geek; I’m creative, inventive, and passionate about many things.
- When did you start solving and making puzzles?
I’ve been solving and making puzzles of all kinds since I was a kid. I just ran across a photo recently from when I was 3, solving a puzzle with my brother and sister. As kids, my twin brother Bruce and I both competed and collaborated a lot. Puzzles were a great way to do both, whether it was solving them or making them.
- What is your favorite kind of puzzle to solve/create?
Among standard puzzle types, cryptic crosswords are my favorite to solve or create — each clue is a little mini puzzle.
But, what I most like is creating puzzles that are new and unique. These are most prominently featured in puzzle hunts, but they can be elsewhere. Recently, I created The Librarian’s Almanaq, which is sort of a puzzle hunt in book form, where you have to tear apart the book to solve it. Sure, people are a little nervous at first, but it has been getting a fantastic response. There’s a little bit of irony in that the Almanaq is one of the few puzzle books that can’t be an ebook in Puzzazz. I’ve also created some really nice physical puzzles over the last few years, and they’re the first physical puzzles where I went all the way through to getting really nice versions made (in wood and laser-cut plastic).
- Tell us a little bit about Puzzazz?
Puzzazz is the first time I’ve been able to combine two of my passions — puzzles and building great experiences for people, and particularly software-based experiences.
We’ve built the premier experience for finding, buying and solving puzzles of all types (crosswords, cryptics, word search, rows garden, spirals, acrostics, logic puzzles, you name it). It’s currently available for iOS devices. We can support pretty much any puzzle you can print on paper (basically, as long as you don’t need to cut it out). Titles such as The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker with art by Pete Venters, Cryptic All-Stars produced by Roger Woolf and edited by Bob Stigger, and our own The Year of Puzzles are pushing the limits of what puzzles can be, and they’re all supported neatly in Puzzazz. And then we created our own “fingerwriting” recognition technology we call TouchWrite™, which makes puzzles fun to solve on small screens. We’ve got a lot of great content available already, and we’re constantly adding more.
In case it’s not obvious, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve created.
- A cryptic clue that always stayed with you?
Here are a couple favorite clues I’ve written:
Regal kin play! (4, 4)
Lucille Ball has five trains (3)*
These were both used in Puzzazz’s guide to solving cryptic crosswords.
- Favorite constructors?
Patrick Berry’s work is always great. I really liked his Puzzle Masterpieces. Mike Shenk is an amazing constructor. His extravaganza for the NPL convention a few years ago was incredible, and Puzzability’s Variety Show has a great range of interesting puzzles. Both Patrick and Mike did really nice puzzles for Puzzazz’s The Year of Puzzles.
For logic puzzles, I’d have to say Thomas Snyder. I think his United States Sudoku puzzle may be the best Sudoku puzzle ever created. Brilliant!
For cryptic crosswords, I like what Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto are doing with The Nation cryptic. Kevin Wald’s puzzles are generally tour de forces, but harder than I like to solve.
For straight crosswords, I’ll take Liz Gorski, Ian Livengood, Joe Krozel, and, of course, the late Merl Reagle.
Also worth a mention is David Steinberg. Puzzazz had him as a “constructor in residence” for a week when he was 14, and he created a good part of a crossword book, Chromatics, during that week. Back then, you could see he had talent and drive, but it’s been fun to watch him grow into an even better constructor over the last 4 years. It’ll be great to look back when he’s 24 or 34.
You didn’t ask, but my favorite editor is Will Shortz. I’ve learned a ton about both constructing and editing from Will.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing puzzles?
I’m also a photographer and artist. Most of my photographic work these days is montages, where I’ll take up to 200 photos of a place and then select a few of them to make a larger image. I have one I did of photos of Tokyo that sort of has a bento box feel to it. My most recent major piece was made out of black and white keys scavenged from discarded computer keyboards. And I like to write, but I haven’t had time to do any significant writing in years.
- If you could have dinner with one famous person who would you choose?
I’m tempted to say Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi from Top Chef — the food would be amazing. More seriously, for a living person, I’d say Barack Obama.
But this question got me thinking about who I’d invite from history, for a very lively dinner party … Maya Angelou, Isaac Asimov, Shirley Chisholm, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Rosalind Franklin, Mohandas Gandhi, John Lennon, Ada Lovelace, Frances Perkins, William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and my wife — she wouldn’t want to be left out!
- If you had a superpower what would it be?
A superpower would make it too easy. I love challenges.
- What’s your personal motto?
I think everybody is capable of doing great things.
Roy shares with us a rather different puzzle – Check it out!
And remember to visit Puzzazz.
*ANSWERS: King Lear (Anagram &lit), Els (Wordplay)