An Edina man's crossword puzzle, which debuted in the New York Times last month, is available for solving Monday in the print edition of the Star Tribune.
Warning to crossword puzzlers: Better do the New York Times puzzle in Monday's paper now, before reading this story, which is about the puzzle and the local guy who constructed it. We wouldn't want a clue, or an answer, to slip out. No hurry; we'll wait.
... Oh, good, you're back. Wasn't that a hoot, especially the answer for 62 Across? Not a phrase you'd expect to find in a New York Times puzzle, given the lofty standards of the revered puzzle editor, Will Shortz.
"He said it made him laugh," said Tom Pepper, an Edina man who created Monday's puzzle, his first to be published in the Times. "I'm pretty excited about it."
Pepper's achievement came with the fourth puzzle he'd submitted for consideration, but that final version was the result of perhaps 50 incarnations, he said. His take-home pay? $200.
"Coming up with the theme is the hardest part," said Pepper, 56, whose day job is as Eagan's chief financial officer. He began constructing puzzles about a year ago.
"Making puzzles is a puzzle in itself and I love trying to solve puzzles," he said. "I'm always trying to think of a fun or interesting phrase, an action verb that might make you smile."
Pepper's puzzle ran in the Times on Feb. 6, and runs in syndicated newspapers Monday. From various blogposts and comments in the crossword puzzle community, he's learned that his was considered unexpectedly -- and delightfully -- amusing, thanks to the five answers he devised for his theme of "GO ahead."
He was most thrilled by comments from Andrea Carla Michaels, whom Pepper said is considered by many to be the "queen of Monday puzzle constructors." On the popular puzzle blog by Rex Parker (bit.ly/ym8uR4) Michaels raved about the puzzle, calling it "so Scrabbly and bubbly."
"I was amazed -- and humbled -- to read such kind words coming from a pro like her," Pepper said. "For me, it's all about making people smile."
Pepper's grandmother was a crossword fan, and he did them for a while in his teens, but had set them aside until about 15 years ago. Pepper said he's since learned that "there's a whole world out there of people who live for the crossword puzzle every day. People do it as a way to sort of be in their own space for 15 or 20 minutes."