An Interview with Tobias Rocha, Winner of the 2023 Crossword Scholarship

Winner's Interview for Scholarship

After wrapping up another competitive year of competitive crossword submissions, we connected with Tobias Rocha, the winner of the 2023 My Crossword Maker Scholarship. Visit our 2023 Scholarship winner page to see all of this year’s finalists.

Can you tell us a little bit about your crossword creation process?

I always make it a priority to have graphing paper with me at all times, whether at home, in the classroom, or on my backpack. I usually start off with one idea, or one phrase that I think fits the crossword criteria, and build off of it. For example, this crossword was centered around animal group names. 

The difficulty in the creation of this puzzle was twofold: finding apt animal group names and rejecting very interesting and fun animal group names that don’t fit the crossword. I probably had three or four tabs open with lists of animal group names. Even though this was very time consuming, the hardest thing of making this crossword was being unable to use such fun and worthy terminology. Some honorable mentions that I could not use are a conspiracy (group of lemurs), fever (group of manta rays), mob (group of kangaroos) and an intrusion (group of cockroaches).

The exciting aspect of this crossword was the filling. Many times when I am trying to make everything interlock, I am limited to certain words. This crossword was not the case. I had much more of a selection in this puzzle. Most of the time, clues reflect on the creator’s personality. In this crossword, the answers do as well. For example, I was able to have the selection of incorporating SOLOMON (my favorite Old Testament story and who’s pools I visited on a family trip to Bethlehem), DRNO (I am a huge Bond fan), and BOLERO (a Ravel composition that I can listen to endlessly). Even though I had the option of generic fills, these answers made the crossword include more of my personality. 

What kind of crossword puzzles do you like to solve? Anything you don’t like to see in crossword puzzles?

As of now, I am currently an intermediate crossword solver. I solve the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday crosswords of the NYTimes. I build myself up slowly. I really enjoy crosswords with themes and puns. Depending on the theme, I will enjoy solving a rebus puzzle. It is a bit more difficult to understand the pattern, but once you crack it, it gets easier. 

How often do you write your own crosswords?

I write about 2 crosswords a week, but it depends on the structure of the crossword. Some crosswords take more time to fill, while others go by faster. As long as I have graphing paper, a pencil/eraser, and access to the godsend OneLook Dictionary, I’m golden. 

Outside of crosswords, what do you like to do?

Outside of the crossword world, I enjoy reading, mostly Russian literature like “War and Peace”, “Crime and Punishment”, and “Doctor Zhivago”. I also really enjoy watching movies, especially with my brother. I love spending time with my cats: Padme, Eris, Leia, and Dulcinea. I am passionate about politics, and love watching the news, Senate hearings, or debates.

Do you have any advice for people who are new to writing crosswords?

My advice for people who are starting to write crosswords is never give up. Keep on trying, no matter how many times you get an iffy combination of words, or too many black squares, keep on trying. Even if the crossword itself is not good, or the theme itself is not worthy, create it either way. It is the experience that counts. Sooner or later, the perfect theme will come to you. 

I would also recommend doing as many crosswords as possible in order to feel the vibe, and try to imitate that on theirs. I solved hundreds of crosswords, and it has only made my crossword creations better. And OneLook Dictionary is your best friend.

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

I would like to thank my family, even if sometimes they see me going overkill on my crosswords. They support me and keep motivating me to continue submitting new creations. I also specifically want to thank one of my best friends, Sarina, who told me about this scholarship and sent me the information.


Thank you, Tobias, for your thoughtful answers, and congratulations on winning this year’s competition!

Want to try out some of his tips? Visit Crossword Maker to start building today!

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