Tasman, naish and anadem earned literary fist bumps from comment writers on The New York Times crossword blog. One person was gobsmacked at the success of the day’s puzzle featuring those obscure words.
It was created by David Steinberg of Edmonds.
He is 14 years old.
“Phenomenal,” read one comment. “This rookie threw in everything but the kitchen sink. A Dutch explorer and a Catalonian architect. A Jersey rock star and a NYC-born folk legend. Russian chicken, Detroit pizza, tropical fruit, soup from the East, wine. Was it an impressive debut from a sharp young constructor? I’d say so.”
David just finished eighth grade at Lakeside School in Seattle.
“I’ve always been interested in letters and words,” David said. “According to my parents, I knew all the letters of the alphabet when I was 1.”
Before getting into crosswords, he loved Jumble puzzles and Scrabblegrams.
“I started trying to solve crossword puzzles when I was 12,” he said. “At first, I couldn’t even solve Monday puzzles, but now I can sometimes solve a Thursday puzzle.”
The New York Times crossword puzzles get more difficult as each week progresses.
“I spent a lot of time this year doing crosswords at lunch in my school’s library,” he said. “The librarians there were very interested in crosswords, too, and often photocopied The New York Times puzzle so students could work on them.”
His parents bought him an online subscription to The New York Times crossword so he could keep up to date.
His father, Paul Steinberg, is a communications analyst and his mother, Karen Steinberg, is a psychologist.
“In terms of constructing a puzzle, I first build a grid in Crossword Compiler based on the theme entries I want to use. I have to make sure that each grid I make fits within the requirements. There can be only 78 words and 42 blocks.”
He works through what is called “autofills” in Crossword Compiler until he find one he likes. The only way he rejects a word for a puzzle, David said, is if it’s too big for the grid.
“I try to avoid abbreviations, foreign words and obscurities,” David said. “I use Crossword Compiler to help me fill grids because there are so many words I don’t know and people who were before my time.”
Deb Amlen, a puzzle constructor, wrote in The New York Times Wordplay blog that David is the third youngest published crossword builder in the newspaper’s history.
Amlen wrote that she was impressed with the fun, fun puzzle.
David’s published creation was no fluke. He’s since had two more puzzles accepted to run on Mondays.
His family, including a Keeshond named Skipper, is moving to California this week, David said.
He will attend Palos Verdes Peninsula High School this fall and said he will miss Lakeside.
“I got to learn four years of Latin and do a lot with robotics in middle school,” David said. “Math was also really great there.”
David said he has no college plans yet, but thinks he would like to study computer science, engineering and robotics.
One person who commented on The New York Times blog about the young constructor said we should hope David uses his amazing brain for good, not evil.
“Otherwise, we should all be scared to death.”
Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, email@example.com.