How I got into the crossword puzzle business

It was in the early 1990s. I always hated spending my time at a 9-to-5 job, and was always looking for ways to start my own business.

I am not sure where the original idea came from, but I thought about creating puzzles for newspapers. I thought that it would be a good task for a computer; I am amazed that cruciverbalists (crossword designers) are able to create puzzles without a computer!

I was (and still am) very good about writing computer programs, so I set about writing a crossword puzzle generator. I found some ideas about how to go about doing this by reading a paper from a college in Turkey. At that time, I had an Amiga 500. It was only 2 MB of RAM, 7 mHz (400x slower than the computer I am using now), but it did have a 40 mHz accelerator. I wrote the program in AMOS, a third-party high-level BASIC interpretor and compiler. But it was way too slow, so I decided to write the time-intensive part in assembler code. Assembler code is the lowest-level programming language, but it is also the fastest running.

It was almost working, but there was a glitch it the assembly routine that I could not figure out. I stayed up all night working on it. I remember clearly, it was around 4:00 am. My computer desk was on the east side of my living room at 1021½ East Second Street in Michigan City, Indiana. From the window to my left I could see it getting light out. At that time, I was a member of GEnie, an online service from General Electric. I was on one of the forums there, messaging with Jim Butterfield(!) about the issues I was having, and he helped my fix the problem. Jim Butterfield was a Big Deal in the Commodore and Amiga worlds back then. It is kind of like working on a Mac and messaging with Steve Wozniak.

Anyway, the program worked. It generated text files, and I used the desktop publishing (DTP) program Pagestream to create layouts. I would print them out on my $1000 300dpi laser printer, and mail the printouts to the newspaper publishers.

To this day, my crossword puzzles #001 through #365 are the original results of those efforts.

With Amiga long gone, I switched to Mac computers. Since I needed more puzzles past #365, I had to rewrite the program using the Mac. I use REALbasic, a high-level language. I created puzzles #366 through #999 using a PowerMac 1.8GHz dual CPU, 4 GB of memory. It generates puzzles at about the same rate as the 40mHz Amiga did; it took about a week to generate the 600+ puzzles. I now lay the puzzles out using QuarkXPress 9. Now, instead of printing the puzzles out to the newspaper publishers, I email them the puzzles.

My puzzle business is at: