CrosSynergy Puzzle Constructors

Alan Arbesfeld is a high school math teacher from Brooklyn, New York. He has been constructing crossword puzzles for over 25 years. His first major success was a 28 by 28 extravaganza in 6th grade, with no symmetry and lots of one- and two-letter entries; his technique has improved just a bit since that time. Alan's puzzles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Sun, Games magazine, and in numerous crossword puzzle compilations.
Martin Ashwood-Smith was born in London, grew up in Berkshire, and moved to Canada in his youth. He is known among puzzle aficionados for his astonishing puzzles with groundbreakingly open grids, including many with multiple consecutively stacked 15-letter entries. He started constructing crosswords when he was attending the University of Victoria in the late '70s (where he earned a degree in English history). He has been contributing crosswords to the New York Times since 1991. He has also contributed puzzles to Games magazine, Dell Champion Crosswords, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Sun, and Newsday. His puzzles have been published in Challenging 30-Minute Crosswords, Take a Break Crosswords, and the forthcoming Easy Rider Crosswords. Martin is a taxi driver for Blue Bird Cabs in Victoria, British Columbia.
Jeff Chen, a West Coaster at heart, manages the website, which maintains a database for the New York Times crossword puzzle. After spending seven years working in product design and mechanical engineering, he went to business school and then cofounded a company developing new drugs for ophthalmic diseases (Acucela Inc.). Jeff is an inventor on eight issued US patents, volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound and Treehouse for Kids, rock climbs, and has a lifetime goal of donating twenty gallons of blood (not all at once). His book, "Bridge Crosswords," is an homage to his favorite game.
Gail Grabowski lives in Peru, Illinois, with her husband and their cat Max. She started constructing puzzles in 2002 thanks to mentoring by Nancy Salomon. When not constructing crosswords, she occupies her time with cooking, gardening, and an occasional round of golf. The former English teacher also enjoys a good read. "I can't say enough about libraries and the important role they play in one's community," she says. "So I serve on my local board as a trustee, and it's my home away from home."
Randall J. Hartman lives in Escondido, California. He has been constructing crossword puzzles since 1994, and he is the author of Crosswords Over Easy. Randy is a civil engineer and manages water projects in Southern California. In his spare time, he teaches engineering classes at a university. Randy has been ranked as one of the top college wrestling referees in the country for several years. During the winter, he travels throughout the United States officiating NCAA wrestling matches.
Patrick Jordan began constructing puzzles after graduating from college in 1984 as a way to earn some pocket money. "I had been solving crosswords since junior high school," he says. "I thought I would give puzzle constructing a try. I built a couple of crosswords the old-fashioned way -- with graph paper for the grid and typing paper for the clues -- and sent them off to Penny Press. Much to my surprise and delight, the puzzles were accepted." Patrick enjoys making puzzles with themes that haven't been seen before or that haven't been overused. When he solves puzzles, he is particularly partial to clever puns and innovative gimmicks. Patrick grew up in Arkansas City and Winfield, Kansas, two neighboring towns about 40 miles south of Wichita. He studied journalism and communication and is the advertising manager at the Ponca City News in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he lives. Patrick collects animation cels, and his collection includes Wile E. Coyote, Ludwig von Drake, and Huckleberry Hound. "I've been told that I do a perfect impression of Goofy laughing," he says. "Hyuk-hyuk!"
Bob Klahn, a native of Buffalo, New York, grew up south of Nashville, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, and majored in mathematics at Princeton, where he discovered computers. A 41-year IT career in Wilmington, Delaware followed. A lifelong love affair with words led Bob into grid-building contests in the early '70s, and into serious constructing in the early '90s. Now as the manager and one of the founding members of CrosSynergy, Bob's computer programming skills have allowed the group to develop a collaborative editorial approach to preparing and reviewing its puzzles. Bob's hundreds of crosswords are renowned for the originality of their clues; The Wrath of Klahn Crosswords: Puzzles from the World's Toughest Clue Writer featues six dozen of them. While such crosswords led one disgruntled solver to issue a fatwa against him, on the gruntled side, solvers have said they can almost see and taste and feel his puzzles. Bob's favorite solver comment? "But he seems so normal!"
Lynn Lempel created some super-easy crosswords for a school-oriented newspaper she worked on in the late 1970s, and she joked that she'd have to do one for the New York Times. When a coworker called her bluff, and not knowing any better, she submitted a 21 x 21 that took countless hours of struggle. But the rejection came with an encouraging note, and her next submission, again for a Sunday, was a yes. Since then she has done freelance editing while teaching reading and composition to community college students. Her puzzles have been published in Games magazine, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the New York Times. She has a grown son and lives in Florida with a husband who never, but never, works crossword puzzles.
Donna Levin hasn't lived in New York for years, but she says "I'll always consider myself a New Yorker at heart." Since 2000, she and her husband Denis have lived in South Florida. Donna studied linguistics at Brown University and then went to Harvard Law School. Since retiring, she has devoted time to volunteer work, most notably to conservation of endangered sea turtles. In 2004, Donna gave her parents passage on a crossword-themed cruise as an anniversary gift. "I accompanied them," she says, "and I found that I genuinely enjoyed the challenge of constructing more than solving. Thus was born my second career." Donna enjoys solving cryptics and other non-standard puzzle forms, such as Rows Gardens, Marching Bands, and Split Decisions puzzles. She is a "killer" cribbage player, and she makes "the world's best butternut squash soup."
Ian Livengood is an editor at Penny Press and former J.A.S.A. crossword class instructor. His work was featured in the crossword collection 20under30 and has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fireball Crosswords, and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He is the author of Sit & Solve Sports Crosswords and was named one of Will Shortz's 10 favorite puzzlemakers. Ian is currently getting his MBA from Drexel and lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Katie.
Todd McClary lives in Aurora, Colorado. He has been writing puzzles and inventing party games for over twenty years. His first book, "Crowd-Pleasing Puzzles" (co-written with Patrick Berry), includes dozens of original parlor games suitable for party-sized groups. His crossword puzzles have appeared in myriad publications, from The New York Times to The Chronicle of Higher Education to the Quarterly Review of Wine. Todd is an active member of the National Puzzlers' League ( and serves on the committee that organizes the game program for the League's annual conventions. Aside from puzzles and games, Todd enjoys cycling, cooking, craft beer, and cheering on the University of Denver Pioneers hockey team. He writes about puzzles and games on his blog "Life as a Puzzle" (
Tony Orbach is a native downtown New Yorker who went to public schools, including the math-and-science-focused Stuyvesant High School, then on to NYU. He spent several years playing saxophone in the band Urban Blight, and has done numerous studio recordings for a wide range of pop artists, from Bob Dylan to the Beastie Boys, as well as a stint in the pit orchestra for "The Full Monty" on Broadway. Tony started making crosswords while on the road -- literally, in the band van -- with time to kill and plenty of graph paper and erasers. A "puns and anagrams" puzzle for a family member came from that stint, but it was enough to hook Tony on crossword construction and by 2004 he had his first acceptance from the New York Times. He has also made puzzles for Mel Rosen's Random House Casual Crosswords, Peter Gordon's New York Sun, Rich Norris's Los Angeles Times and the Crossword Club, and Mike Shenk's Wall Street Journal. Tony makes primarily themed crosswords, and the occasional themeless, and he also enjoys solving acrostics and diagramless crosswords. His favorite themes often involve famous names and he has a weak spot for anthropomorphism in clues and puns, so be on the lookout for elephants having tea or weasels in tuxedos. Tony lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife Martha. They have two mostly-fledged young adult children, Sarah Kate and Peter. Tony is a construction project manager and does residential and commercial contracting in Manhattan and Brooklyn. When not building townhouses or crosswords, Tony still plays his horn and does a bit of recording, most recently with David Yazbek and Kevin Batchelor's Grand Concourse.
Doug Peterson grew up in Montana. "My father and grandmother were both big crossword solvers," he says, "so I started diving into grids at an early age." He began constructing in 2003, and he likes making many kinds of puzzles, "from Monday-level puzzles with easy themes to gnarly, tear-your-hair-out themeless puzzles." He deliberately tries to include in his puzzles at least one entry that's never been used before. Doug is a bachelor living in Southern California. He works at a small accounting firm and tutors high school students. He says his interests are pretty standard: reading, baseball, Batman, and listening to European heavy metal bands.
Randolph Ross has been making crosswords for nearly twenty-five years, appearing frequently in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and a wide array of other puzzle outlets. When he is not constructing or solving, he is spending his time as a high school principal or rooting for the Yankees. In an interview on the NYT Wordplay blog, Randy talks about his philosophy of puzzling and some of his favorite constructions. Being unpredictable, using original themes, and playing with words are what he strives for in each of his puzzles. A recent favorite clue that anchored a themeless Saturday puzzle was "Subway line" (Answer: EAT FRESH). Overall he wants his puzzles to be educational and not taken too seriously ... they're only crosswords.
Patti Varol lives in Long Beach, California, where she makes crossword puzzles and word games instead of finishing her novel. She also roots for the Mets, tries to break video games, writes book reviews, teaches yoga, and cooks gourmet meals instead of finishing her novel. A freelance writer and editor, Patti is the Editor of The Uptown Puzzle Club, Acquisitions Editor for The Crosswords Club/Uptown Puzzle Club, and the Assistant Editor for the LA Times Crossword. One of these days, she will update her website,
Bruce Venzke grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He began constructing puzzles in 2001 and of the nearly 600 puzzles he has made, about 400 have been collaborations with other puzzle creators. "I really enjoy working with other constructors, such as Stella Daily, Vic Fleming, and Gail Grabowski," he says. "I think the back-and-forth process results in a better product." For thirty years, Bruce wrote a monthly column and many stories for two national billiard magazines. Now retired, Bruce lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife Jeanne. They have two daughters and two granddaughters. Together, Bruce and Jeanne have traveled to 32 states and ridden 325 different roller coasters.
Brad Wilber originally hails from Oneida, NY in the Mohawk Valley. He holds a Masters in Library Science from Syracuse University, and since 1997 he has been a reference librarian at his undergraduate alma mater, Houghton College, near Buffalo. After spending most of the 1990s constructing crosswords chiefly for Simon & Schuster and for Dell magazines, Brad expanded his horizons, and at last count, has had over 150 puzzles published in the The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday. In 2014 he became the crossword editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education. One of Brad's librarian specialties is classical music; for fifteen years he maintained a popular blog on future seasons' repertory at the Metropolitan Opera. Brad's other hobbies include book collecting, movies, and watching favorite sports like baseball, golf, and particularly tennis.