Public radio listeners are most likely familiar with the name Will Shortz. The Puzzlemaster from NPR’s Weekend Edition on Sunday mornings has been on the air since that program started in 1987. The estimated sixty-four million Americans who work crosswords have probably also encountered the native Hoosier’s name at some point or another. Shortz has been editor of the broadly syndicated New York Times crossword puzzle since 1993. Only the fourth person to have donned that illustrious mantle, Shortz has been a cruciverbalist since childhood. Born in Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1952, and raised on an Arabian horse farm, Shortz sold his first crossword puzzle to a national Sunday school publication at the age of 14.
Within two years, he was contributing regularly to Dell puzzle magazines. After having completed all of the requirements for a major in economics at Indiana University, Shortz discovered the Individualized Major program. He worked with professors to create a specialized curriculum that resulted in his 1974 B.A. in Enigmatology—still the only such degree awarded at any institution in the world. Although he subsequently completed a law degree at the University of Virginia, he stopped short of taking the bar exam, choosing instead to accept an editorship at Games magazine, where he spent 15 years before joining the Times.
In 2005, Shortz solved a different sort of puzzle, whose answer lay in the Hoosier State. As the Sudoku fad took hold, Shortz sought out the origin of the magic square with the Japanese name. Its prototype existed in a brainteaser known as “Number Place”, which had appeared twenty-five years earlier in a Dell publication (incidentally the same publishers to whom Shortz made submissions in his youth). Comparing the list of contributors with the issues containing “Number Place”, Shortz deduced that the puzzle’s author was Howard Garns, an Indianapolis architect.
In addition to his duties for the Times and NPR, Shortz also works with the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the World Puzzle Championship, both of which he founded. For the latter, he captains the U.S. Puzzle Team. Will Shortz’ personal library of enigmatological literature is considered to be the world’s largest private collection of its type.