Finn Vigeland, Published Puzzlemaster, Speaks!
Written by Bwog Staff
Today, Finn Vigeland, CC’14, has his crossword puzzle published in the New York Times. He uses a pen, never a pencil, to do puzzles. “If you can’t do it in pen,” he told Bwog, “don’t do the puzzle.” Bwog chatted with Finn about the art of the crossword and how he finally got published.
Every Monday through Friday, Finn picks up a copy of the Times in Lerner during lunch, goes back to his room, and puts a stopwatch on to see how long it takes him to do the puzzle. Columbia is difficult; Finn does not always have time for the Saturday and Sunday puzzles. When Finn times himself, he does not eat or drink. “You lose precious seconds if you take a sip of a drink,” he says.
Finn Vigeland is very good at doing crossword puzzles. Today, he joins the world of published puzzling.
Finn started out doing the Sunday crossword with his parents. “One time I tried to create a puzzle with my mom,” he said, “but we stopped after five minutes because we thought it was, like, brutally difficult.” Finn’s interest in creating puzzles was revived with the documentary Wordplay, and he started trying his hand at writing again in 2008. He sent a puzzle to Master Will Shortz, but it was rejected. “I got probably the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received,” Finn says, “it was really encouraging, and he outlined everything he liked and didn’t like about the puzzle.” Master Shortz invited Finn to the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the rest is crossword lore.
The puzzle published in today’s Times, Finn said, is not his absolute best, though he’s still very proud of it. He follows four crossword puzzle bloggers who analyze the Times crossword each day. Finn checks these blogs immediately after he finishes his puzzle. He knows that one or two of these bloggers will not find Finn’s puzzle their “cup of tea.”
Finn wrote the puzzle a few months ago and sent it to the Times. When he hadn’t heard back, he checked in with Shortz at this year’s Westchester Crossword Tournament. Afterwards, Finn dropped by Shortz’s house and saw his puzzle lying on Shortz’s desk. That was less than three weeks ago; it often takes puzzles a year or more to be published after they are accepted.
The theme of today’s puzzle is “H&M”—an homage not only to the Swedish cheap-scarf emporium but also to his high school, Horace Mann in Riverdale, that part of the Bronx that is not the Bronx. Horace Mann is having a celebration in Finn’s honor, complete with a puzzle contest.
Each day, Finn calculates what he calls the “freshness factor” of that day’s puzzle by calculating how often each word in the puzzle has appeared before in the Times, averaging them, and subtracting that sum from 100. Finn admits it is an arbitrary number. Finn’s puzzle today used 5-6 phrases and words never before used in a Times crossword, including the phrase “Hakuna Matata”.
We asked what he thinks about Sudoku. “It just isn’t the same,” Finn said. He’ll do a Sudoku on an airplane, but prefers KenKen if there’s not a crossword nearby.
Bwog can’t get past Tuesday without asking for help, but Finn is made of tougher stuff. If you Google, you give up. “I only Google when I’m at the end of the road,” he says. If Finn Googles an answer, “I’m essentially saying, ‘okay, I’m done with this puzzle.'” Still: “it’s a lot better to not finish and Google than to just leave a puzzle.”
Onward, Finn! We’re proud of you.