As difficult as it may be to solve The New York Times crossword puzzle on Sunday, it would probably be much more challenging to design it.
Not so for 17-year-old Kyle Mahowald, however, who is the youngest person ever to create a Sunday crossword puzzle for the newspaper.
“The fact that this clever puzzle was done by someone so young is astonishing,” said Will Shortz, the Times’puzzle editor.
The Sea Ranch Lakes, Fla., teenager said he has always had a passion for solving crosswords. “After a while,” he said, “I started making them for my high school newspaper.”
A lot of students at the private, 1,650-student Pine Crest School engage in solving not only the crossword puzzles published in the school newspaper, but also those published in other newspapers offered in the library, he said.
“The interest for young people in puzzles in the past 10 years has increased,” Mr. Shortz confirmed. “The language of crossword is more modern, and less old-fashioned, and there is less obscurity for the younger crowd.”
The theme of the crossword puzzle Mr. Mahowald published in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, Sept. 19, was “IE not I.” People solving the puzzle had to think about words with “IE,” and eliminate the “I.”
One clue was “DNA sample for lab analysis,” and the answer was “gene in a bottle.”
“People were saying they like the theme,” Mr. Mahowald said. “I think that having someone younger building the puzzle can be an advantage, because it brings a new perspective, and a different vocabulary.”
Mr. Mahowald has also published his crossword puzzles in such major papers as the Los Angeles Times and TheWall Street Journal, and through Syndicated Puzzles.
A daily newspaper pays him about $100 per puzzle, but the Times paid $350.
Making crossword puzzles is not Mr. Mahowald’s only after-school interest. The high school senior, who scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT, plays on the Pine Crest tennis team.
Mr. Mahowald can solve the Monday puzzles in the Times in less than five minutes. Saturday’s puzzle, which is the most difficult of the week, takes him no more than an hour.
His trick: “I always solve everything. If there is something I missed, I make sure to look it up.”
Despite his success, the teenager says he isn’t contemplating a career as a puzzle maker. He may study law or journalism. “I enjoy being published,” he said.