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The Ups and Downs of Puzzle Peddling

Photo by John Davis
When Johns Hopkins sophomore Michael Shteyman moved to the United States from his native Russia at age 13, he brought with him a keen love for constructing crossword puzzles-- and very little knowledge of English.

Undaunted, he set to work mastering the language and the American crossword puzzle format, different from (and more difficult than) the Russian format, which has crossings at every other letter. Before long, Shteyman felt ready for a shot at the big leagues, so he sent off a submission to crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz at the New York Times.

Shortz (who, Shteyman points out, is the only person in the world with a degree in enigmatology, or the study of puzzles), turned down the teen's first few submissions but encouraged him to keep at it. "He helped me progress, telling me about what's 'in the language' and what's esoteric and obscure, wordwise," says Shteyman. Shortz accepted Shteyman's first puzzle in late 2000. Since then, the neuroscience major has had 10 more puzzles appear in the Times -- most recently on Friday, September 27, and Tuesday, October 1. "I now have had a puzzle published on every day of the week except Sunday," says the 18-year-old proudly. "One of these days...."

Shteyman, who has studied piano and composition at Peabody, intends to go to medical school. But whatever his future holds in the way of science and medicine, Shteyman says he'll keep his hand in word play. Not for the money, certainly; at $90 a pop, the Times does not pay handsomely. But there's something he finds irresistible about testing the mental mettle of millions of Americans across the country--before they've even had time for their first cup of coffee. --Sue De Pasquale

Return to November 2002 Table of Contents

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