An Interview with Jared Goudsmit, Winner of the 2021 Crossword Scholarship

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After the most  competitive year yet, we connected with Jared Goudsmit, the Tulane University sophomore who won the 2021 Crossword Hobbyist Scholarship. Visit our 2021 Scholarship Winners page to see all finalists and semi-finalists.

Read on for more about his experience with crosswords, filmmaking, and advice for aspiring cruciverbalists.

Can you tell us a little bit about your winning puzzle Director’s Cut?

I wish I could say the theme idea for Director’s Cut came in a great flash of original inspiration, but the truth is, like so many creative works, it’s a rehashing of something I saw––the April 4, 2021 NYT Sunday puzzle Game Changers. The NYT reveal was EXTRA INNINGS, with each of the seven letters in “innings” inserted in a real-world phrase to create silly baseball terms, like “BUNT SERIOUSLY” and “LABOR OF GLOVE.”

When I realized INSERT SHOT was a valid revealer for the same trick, I wanted to see if I could pull the theme off with well-known filmmaking terms. I used OneLook and XWordInfo (both invaluable sites for crossword constructors) to assemble my theme. After sifting through a lot of stuff that wouldn’t work for my punny puzzle, I got a set of words with potential: POOL to SPOOL, TAR to STAR, etc. Then, I plugged “*pool*” into XWordInfo and started writing down options I liked.

Placing the black squares and filling the grid was a combination of past experience and technology. To be honest, my word list does the heavy lifting. I’m proud of my 2020 scholarship submission, Into the Words, but if you can see there’s tons of gunk that made solving unfun: PEGU, -ICAL, ETCH-A, SLEY, and HASP.

You were a finalist last year, too. Can you tell us about your experience with the scholarship contest over the years?

I’ve received very warm feedback both years I submitted to this contest, and My Crossword Maker’s 2017 post outlining the vast array of publications accepting puzzles opened my eyes to the wide world outside the New York Times. Last summer, I sent in lots of work and received plenty of polite rejections (with thoughtful criticism, which was a welcome surprise!) and improved with each submission. What really kicked things off wasn’t a big publisher, but my college newspaper, the Tulane Hullabaloo. I’d guest constructed a few times previously. During my sophomore year, I made them two puzzles a month. I got in the groove of working under strict deadlines. Before long, I was capable of devising a theme, filling a grid, and writing clues all within one afternoon! With commitment, it’s a muscle anyone can build.

What kind of crossword puzzles do you like to solve?

It’s taken me longer to learn to solve than construct. I’m an impatient solver, especially when the grid is name-heavy or otherwise unguessable. I admire the insane ambition of folks like Joe Krozel, but the idea of solving his puzzles makes me nauseated. What I really want is a puzzle with a devilish Wednesday-Thursday theme, accompanied by Monday-Tuesday clues. And no obscurities! I can take a partial phrase or a common prefix, but I cannot abide another ASEA. It’s always a relief to see Jeff Chen’s name in the byline: He innovates, but never at the expense of his 3- and 4-letter entries. I definitely recommend Newsday for any newbie solvers––Stanley Newman keeps his grids clean.

How often do you write your own crosswords?

I’ve made a lot of puzzles in 2021––some for friends, some commissions, and many submitted to papers. I debuted in the LA Times in February, and have puzzles approved for future publication in Universal, Newsday, Simon & Schuster, and even (as of May 30) the glorious NYT.  I’d really like to hold myself to schedule, the same way I do for the Hullabaloo. My goal is to make one 15×15 puzzle a week!

Can you tell us more about your experience with film?

I’ve been making movies since middle school. In eighth grade, we had a film festival encouraging people to send stuff about 5-10 minutes long. I created The Ethicist, a 47-minute ensemble-cast narrative drama shot entirely on school iPads––truly my opus. Once I learned how to properly format a script so the final product isn’t 5x its intended length, I started shooting short films with my friends and submitting them to festivals. I do love theater for how ephemeral it is––when the show is over, that’s really it––but I love having a film, a keepsake of where our minds were in that moment, what made us laugh, what we felt was worth recording.

I’ve made a lot of goofy comedies: Diluted Fear, in which a gang of inept Halloween murderers learns the importance of teamwork; The Goddaughter, in which a Machiavellian kindergartner rises to power in her elementary-school student government; and Potluck, which involves me playing an assortment of opulent suburbanite women.

Outside of crosswords and film, what do you like to do?

I enjoy theater––playwriting, directing, acting, watching. I’m a double-major in Theater and Political Science. I enjoy being a big ol’ nerd in the honors fraternity. I love to camp and hike. Spotify has had my back in recent months as I try to figure out what kind of music I’m into. It recently introduced me to Maggot Brain by Funkadelic, and I was transported. I have specific interests, but strive to be a Renaissance man!

Who is your favorite director and/or actor and why?

I don’t have a concrete favorite, but in this moment, I want to mention the legendary Coen brothers. Fargo is amazing, The Big Lebowski has some of the best dialogue. What I really like about them is that I firmly believe they’d still make movies regardless of success. They don’t have critics in mind when creating stories and they certainly aren’t trying to please the audience. I really think they do it for their own enjoyment, pleasantly surprised that we go along for the ride. I also adore Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Hoodwinked!, two films that have no right to be as entertaining and smart as they are. And I’ve only recently seen a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, but I’ve learned the hype is justified (even if he scares me a little).

What achievement are you most proud of?

I’m an Eagle Scout!

Who was your favorite teacher or professor and why?

In middle school, Mrs. Shadburne started every class by handing us each a sheet of paper with the same bizarre scribble and asking us to draw something––no wrong answers, five minutes only. Then, we’d have to explain what we drew. It challenged a side of our minds that tends to sit dormant in modern education. I still appreciate how she took the time to do it. She also gave us tons of logic puzzles––look at that, we’ve gone full circle!

Do you have any advice for people who are writing or submitting crosswords?

Solid word lists are a must. Practice is key when adding black squares. With enough time, it becomes intuitive. With all the resources at a modern constructor’s disposal, a high-quality theme separates the good puzzles from the great. A good theme requires patience and persistence. You want to feel 100% sure your theme is as good as you can get it before moving on to your grid. Sometimes a theme idea pops into your head, but often, sites like OneLook and XWordInfo are going to give you the answers you need. Learn how to use them! Solve lots of puzzles. Read crossword reviews. See what other people are making, and riff on their ideas. Great artists steal––in crosswords, just as in filmmaking.

Oh, and don’t go it alone! I’m always open to giving feedback and/or co-constructing, no matter your level of experience! You can contact me through my crossword page.

Do you have any shout-outs or people you’d like to thank?

I’ve already emphasized XWordInfo and the incredible Jeff Chen, so I’d like to give a shout-out to Erik Agard and Will Nediger, the admins of the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory Facebook group. It’s a great resource for joining this crazy community, with a particular focus on supporting constructors from underrepresented groups. All are welcome, it’s the perfect place for aspiring constructors to start!

Thank you, Jared for your thoughtful answers and congratulations on your win!

Did Jared’s answers inspire you to make your own puzzle?
Visit My Crossword Maker to start building today.

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