Published On: Sun, Nov 19th, 2023

A conversation with Nov. 19 crossword creator Kate Chin Park

A conversation with Nov. 19 crossword creator Kate Chin Park
A conversation with Nov. 19 crossword creator Kate Chin Park

Evan Birnholz is out on paternity leave until early next year, but we interviewed guest constructor Kate Chin Park, who created our Sunday crossword, “Take a Hike.” The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I live in Oakland, Calif., and I work on the Puzzles & Games team at the New Yorker, editing our daily crossword. My own crosswords have been published in the usual newspapers, as well as in crossword subscription outlets such as the Inkubator and AVCX.

Q: How did you think of this puzzle’s theme? Did you start from thinking of the phrase SOCIAL CLIMBER, or did you start from wanting a puzzle where some answers would need to be entered in an unconventional way?

A: The latter. I haven’t seen a ton of puzzles of that type lately — I think maybe they’ve fallen out of fashion a bit — but I always enjoy solving them, and I’d never actually made one myself. I started by thinking of ascent-related words, and then phrases that include those words; I landed on SOCIAL CLIMBER pretty quickly, both because it’s evocative on its own, and because SOCIAL is used in a lot of other phrases.

Q: Do you have a particular style of puzzle that you enjoy creating the most?

A: I love making hard themeless (or freestyle, as they’re sometimes called) crosswords. The emphasis being on the clues rather than the theme makes it feel almost akin to creative writing.

Q: What about a favorite clue you’ve written, whether in this puzzle or a different one?

A: I love getting to use a clue to share something that I find funny or delightful, like this puzzle’s clues for OGDEN [Nash who wrote “Parsley / Is gharsley”] and EGGO [Brand that makes Brunch in a Jar Sippin’ Cream liqueur]. My favorite clue I’ve ever written is probably this tricky, punny one for POPEMOBILE: [See one’s way out?]

Q: Last week, Rebecca Goldstein mentioned that you were co-directors of the Westwords crossword tournament in the Bay Area. How are you enjoying that process of planning a puzzle tournament?

A: Yes! The inaugural Westwords will be held in Berkeley, Calif., on June 23. As someone who has never been able to attend a crossword tournament in person, because they are largely on the East Coast and time-consuming/expensive to travel to, I am hugely excited about helping to create an event for West Coasters (and others; it’ll be held virtually as well). Existing and recent tournaments, both in-person and virtual, are fantastic models for us to be inspired by, and it’s so fun to consider how we can carve out a niche for ourselves. For example, Westwords will be unique in having themed and themeless puzzles that are both offered at a variety of difficulty levels.

Q: Any other puzzle projects you want to talk about?

A: I was recently involved in creating a puzzle zine for people incarcerated in New York prisons and jails, a project run by the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s incredibly hard for incarcerated people to access books of all sorts, which is a travesty, and it was amazing to contribute to a project serving that population. The zine is not widely available, but it’s possible to send puzzle books (and other books) to people in prison through nonprofits that specialize in this, and as we head into the holiday season, I’d encourage anyone reading this to consider doing so. Check out the Prison Book Program for a list of nonprofits across the United States.

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