An Interview with Daniel Noenickx, the 2020 Crossword Scholarship Winner

After an especially competitive year, we had a chance to connect with Daniel Noenickx, the Hamilton College sophomore who won the 2020 Crossword Hobbyist Scholarship. We learned more about this sailing and crossword enthusiast in the following interview:

It’s clear from your winning puzzle Naut Applicable that you love sailing. What do you like about it?

There’s always more to learn. I can spend my days teaching novices, but easily revert to a student when I race in the evenings against sailors who have been at it decades longer than I’ve been alive.

Everyone who sails has a passion for it, and it’s great to share that passion. I’ve loved sailing since I first tried it at summer camp. Since then I’ve raced, taught, and have had a lot of fun exploring Boston Harbor and its islands.

Can you tell us about your crossword creation process?

With the prompt “something you’re passionate about,” choosing a theme was a no brainer. From there, I came up with a long list of homophones for nautical terms and phrases that use those terms. Then, I selected phrases from the list that were equal length and made sense for creating clues.

Answers like “tongue tide” or “knot guilty” are examples of potential terms for which I couldn’t reasonably create a clue. I was excited to find phrases that made sense, were the same length, and had a good clue. Filling the grid, especially placing the black squares, was rather difficult, but writing the clues was fun.

How often do you create your own crosswords?

Creating crosswords is rather time consuming, so I’ve only done it a few times. I hope to do it more though!

Editor’s note: He’s not wrong! Making a crossword is fun, but challenging. Check out our crossword creation guide for tips on getting started. It includes guidance on how to make your own newspaper-style crosswords and where to submit crossword puzzles for publication.

What kind of crossword puzzles do you like to solve?

My favorite puzzles are ones that leave me stunned by how difficult it must have been to construct. For example, David Kwong was able to put some “hidden things,” referenced in 7-down, in his puzzle (opens as PDF) Also, as mentioned in 65-across, Wren Schultz did something cool with every other letter of this puzzle (NYT subscription required). I just think these two puzzles are unusually creative.

With Covid-19, a lot has changed for students. How is quarantine treating you?

Like other students, I finished my semester online. Stuck at home, I’ve found some ways to keep busy, like coding a web app and kayaking. I’m looking forward to starting an online internship soon.

Do you have any plans for after graduation?

It’s two years away, so I can’t say for sure. However, I think I’d like to be a software developer or something of the sort.

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

I’d like to thank my sister, Allyson, and my friends Jeremy, Graham, and Philip for writing and solving crosswords with me.

Thanks, Daniel, for taking the time to tell us more about yourself and your crossword hobby. Congratulations on winning the 2020 Crossword Hobbyist Scholarship and best of luck in the future!

Note: Some interview answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Inspired to make your own puzzle? Try it out today:


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