I recently had a chance to speak with Debbie Manber Kupfer, a freelance Puzzle Constructor who creates puzzles for Penny Press magazines and the Paws 4 Puzzles website. She told me a bit about the ins and outs of being a pro puzzler, including some of the best (and worst) parts of the job. Here’s what she had to say!
Can you give us a brief explanation of your job?
I write all kinds of puzzles that are published in the various Penny Press titles that you can find in the newsstand or grocery store. My editor sends me requests on the kinds of puzzles she currently needs and I write them. There are word puzzles and logic puzzles of all kinds. There are some, like Frameworks and Double Trouble crosswords, that I create regularly, while others I only make occasionally. I also frequently write puzzles that require quotations and trivia and am always on the look out for a good quote, pun or interesting snippet.
In addition to the puzzles I send to Penny Press I also write custom puzzles for books, newsletters or presents and maintain my website, Paws 4 Puzzles.
What made you choose this job?
I’ve always loved puzzles ever since I was a child and rarely a day goes past when I don’t either solve or create one.
How long have you been working in this field?
20 years! I started off as a Puzzle Editor at Penny Press in Connecticut and then when I moved to St. Louis I continued working for them as a freelance constructor.
Did you need any specific college degree to get this job?
I have a BA degree and a background in editing. But the main thing you need for this work is a love of puzzles and words.
How would you describe a typical workday?
Send kiddo off to school. Make large mug of tea. Sit down with my current wishlist and decide which puzzle(s) I’m going to work on that day. Print out any grids I need and sometimes check my supply of puzzle books and test solve a similar puzzle, if this is not a regular puzzle I write all the time. Then I write the first puzzle – I usually start with the solutions, fitting them into the grid, and then write the clues. Then I test solve and for some tricky puzzles I’ll send the puzzle off to my trusty secret group on Facebook of puzzle enthusiasts who love to check my puzzles. Finally when they’re all done and typed up I email the finished puzzles to my editor at Penny Press.
What do you like most about your job?
I adore that I’m being paid for something I love and enjoy the flexibility of the work. I make my own hours, which was a godsend when the kids were small.
What do you like least about your job?
Occasionally I’ll get a request for a really boring kind of puzzle!
What personal qualities are most valuable for this kind of work?
Tenacity – sometimes you hit a really tough corner and you think that it’s impossible to fix, but you have to keep going in this line of work.
Any advice for students interested in this kind of work?
Solve, solve, solve – you can’t create puzzles until you understand how they work. Also, don’t give up if your puzzles are rejected at the beginning. Listen to the editors and follow their guidelines to the letter.
Anything else you’d like to add?
In addition to the puzzles I have in Penny Press magazines and on my website I also published a book of logic problems, Paws 4 Logic, together with my son Joey. The puzzles range from simple to diabolical, and the book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or directly from me at Paws 4 Puzzles.