Many of us have tried to solve a crossword puzzle, but how often do you meet someone who has created one?
Carnegie Mellon computer science student Lucas Gaviotis Whitestone (CS '12) did exactly that — and his puzzle was featured in a recent issue of The New York Times. "It's just a hobby of mine that escalated far greater than I'd ever imagined," Whitestone said.
The computer science major became enamored with algorithms during his first year of high school, and soon thereafter, his affinity for puzzle-solving — as well as Carnegie Mellon — kicked in.
"As soon as I was introduced to the programming language Java, I was fascinated with the idea of being able to get computers to do what I wanted for me," he explained. "Computer science is deeply connected with puzzle-solving, so I naturally gravitated towards it. And Carnegie Mellon is, of course, one of the best places to study computer science, so when I learned I was accepted ... it wasn't too hard of a decision!"
Making crosswords gives Whitestone an opportunity to express his creativity, he said.
"The overarching theme is the primary place where you can show your creativity when making crosswords, and clues are the second-best place to show your creativity, and can be really fun to make," said Whitestone, although he admits he has no method for coming up with them.
"I just try and make clues interesting, somewhat challenging and yet still what I would judge as 'fair' clues that would keep the solver guessing, but not frustrated," he said. "This is, as you might imagine, a delicate balance, and what makes cluing hard — yet really fun at the same time."
In cluing, he said, there's potential for wordplay, pop culture and misdirection, which he explained is a frustrating yet satisfying form of clue where the solver is purposely misled by the clue to think something else. "But don't worry, these kind of clues are often signaled with a question mark at the end to help you out a little," he said.
His aim is to combine all different kinds of clues to make a colorful puzzle.
"The basis of many crosswords is the theme, the overarching pattern that unifies different parts of the puzzle. This is what I start with when I'm thinking up puzzles," he said.
He said he usually thinks of a whole bunch of themes, writes them down and tries them out in the grid.
"By 'try them out,' I mean I place a set of themed phrases in an empty grid, and see if I can manipulate the black spaces around them to make the phrases fit," he explained. "If the phrases I picked out do, in fact, work in the grid, I begin to try to fit non-theme fill words around them. This takes, by far, the longest in the construction of the puzzle."
The puzzle that was accepted by The New York Times was his fourth submission to the popular newspaper and was printed Sept. 10, 2008.
"On each submission, [Crossword Editor] Will Shortz gave me some feedback on the puzzle. I could see that I was getting closer and closer with each try. And when I finally got it after working very hard on that one puzzle, I was definitely thrilled. And my family and my friends were certainly all equally happy about it," he said.
Family and friends will be reunited with Whitestone when he returns to the Big Apple to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them. "Some time to relax after a work-filled, yet enjoyable, few months at Carnegie Mellon will be great."
USA Today has also published two creations by the New York City native.
"Making puzzles is something I enjoy doing, and I definitely will continue it," he said.