Newsday's Stanley Newman: Meet the man behind the new Birmingham News crossword puzzle

Newsday's Stanley Newman: Meet the man behind the new Birmingham News crossword puzzle

Stanley Newman says a love of crossword puzzles doesn't translate into being able to create them. "I use the music analogy," he says. "Just because you can play the piano doesn't make you able to compose a symphony."1. across: Old timer (7 letters) 4. down: Fine skipper (8 letters) 14. across: They may go up in a plane (8 letters).

Stanley Newman is pleased with what he calls these "mean clues," and he wants you to know it.

"I don't know if you can hear my smile, but when I relate my mean clues, I'm smiling," he says. "Let me tell you this. On a Saturday, you need to be suspicious of everything. Nothing can be taken at face value."

Meet Stanley Newman, world champion crossword puzzle solver and creator of the daily crossword for Newsday in Long Island.

Beginning Monday, The Birmingham News will run Newman's puzzles on its comic pages every day but Sunday.

"On Day 1, people are going to notice the difference right off," he says.

"Monday and perhaps the Tuesday puzzles may be noticeably easier than any they may have done before, and that's no accident. If the puzzles get more difficult as the week goes on, you've got a crossword that's just right for you at least once during the week."

On the days they're too easy for you, Newman suggests either timing yourself or, if you want to really make it challenging, only use the "across" clues; on the more difficult days, he has tips on his Web site ( on how to develop better crossword skills.

Even the most savvy of crossword puzzle workers may need Newman's tips on Saturdays, when he delivers what he calls the "Saturday Stumper."

Unlike the other days of the week, the puzzle has no theme. There are longer answers, and the clues quite often are tricky.

"Chances are there are going to be a lot of readers that aren't going to like that at first," Newman admits. "I am willing, able and ready for that to happen, but in the long term, more people will get into it."

Newman is a life-long puzzle worker, but he didn't get really serious about it until 1981, when he entered the American Crossword Puzzle Challenge. That year, he finished 13th out of about 125 -- and then he went into training.

"The following year, I did about 1,500 crosswords," he says. "Yes, I was a tad obsessive. I checked every answer, looked up every word that was unfamiliar to me and had a big file box with new words in it that I'd review like flash cards."

The next year, he won the tournament, and he also won the United States Open crossword championship against about 10,000 people.

Will Shortz, the guru of game creators who edits The New York Times crossword, ran both tournaments and took Newman under his wing. By 1987, the trained mathematician quit his job on Wall Street and began creating puzzles full-time.

For Newman, crosswords aren't all fun and games.

"I consider it entertainment and education in equal measure," he says. "In the last few years, many scientific studies have proven that mental puzzles of various kinds help ward off mental conditions such as Alzheimer's. Crosswords always seem to be mentioned."

To create his puzzles, Newman draws from his "idea book," which he scribbles in at any time of the day or night.

"I select the theme answers that I know I'm going to use, then one word at a time, I fill in the rest of the blank spaces," he says. "The clues always come last."

Newman mostly solves his own puzzles these days, but on long trips, you'll find him working others.

"The most significant is my annual trip to the World Puzzle Championships each fall," Newman says. "Will Shortz is in the delegation, and we exchange each others' toughest puzzles and do them. It's a lot of fun."

Newman welcomes interaction with his readers via e-mail ( and his Web site, even if that interaction is not so complimentary. Complaints about the puzzles? He'll field them, although he's high-tailing it out of the country the first two weeks his work runs in The Birmingham News. He and his wife are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary with a cruise of the Mediterranean, "a perfect time for me to do some difficult crosswords."

And he knows when he returns, there will be some e-mails -- pro and con -- from Birmingham News readers.

"Many people who do crosswords consider it a battle between them and the author," Newman says. "It's a battle that I really hope the readers will win."

Still, he smiles when he thinks of his "mean clues," but he also serves up the answers and offers one last clue. "Among my favorite clues in general are phrases that look like they mean one thing but don't in this case."

Kind of like the clues at the top of this story. And here are Newman's answers:

1. ACROSS: sundial

4. DOWN: scofflaw

14. ACROSS: armrests

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