Will Shortz has served as the crossword puzzle editor for the New York Times since 1993. The only known person to hold a degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles, he has been the puzzle master for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday since the program's inception in 1987. In 1978 he founded the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a competition which became the subject of the 2006 documentary Wordplay. In that film, aficionados such as Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton attest to their love of Shortz's puzzles, which are in fact only partly his. Each crossword is drawn from a pool of freelance submissions—roughly 75 to 100 per week—with the accepted puzzles edited and often heavily revised by Shortz. Accepted puzzles are arranged in ascending difficulty throughout the week, with the Saturday puzzle the most daunting and the Sunday edition the largest. Here Shortz shares a submission from Elizabeth Gorski, along with his edits and his thoughts on what makes a good puzzle.
Every crossword in the Times is a collaboration between the puzzle-maker and the puzzle editor. On average, about half the clues are mine. I may edit as few as five or ten percent of the clues, or as many as 95 percent for someone who does a great puzzle but not great clues. Why accept a puzzle when I'm going to edit 95 percent of the clues? Well, if someone sends me a great puzzle with an excellent theme and construction—you want fresh, interesting, familiar vocabulary throughout the grid—I feel it would be a shame to reject it on account of the clues, because I can always change them myself.