On the grid

Rozena Brecke is the author of RN&R’s Reno-themed crossword puzzle

Grab a copy of this week’s paper for the crossword puzzle. You’ll find it on page 12.

Ever wonder where our best ideas come from? Sometimes they come from research. Sometimes they come from readers or PR agents. But a lot of the time, the most innovative ideas come from chance encounters. The idea of running a Reno-themed crossword puzzle had been marinating in RN&R Editor Brad Bynum's mind for years. One day, out of the blue, he ran into Rozena Brecke. She's an administrator at the University of Nevada, Reno, and when crossword puzzles came up, she sounded like she knew what she was talking about, so we signed her up for the job.

The theme of this puzzle is “Bygone Reno casinos,” and it contains a few other local references, too. So, if you're new in town, or if you're a visitor, bring this puzzle down to a bar or coffeehouse, and use it as an excuse to strike up a conversation with a long-time local.

Doing this puzzle in a pair or team is fair game—but no cheating. Pretend for the duration that you do not have the entire internet in your pocket. We'll publish the answers next week.

And drop us a line if your chance meeting with a fellow crossword enthusiast turns into a good story. Because—you're aware now—this is how a lot of good ideas materialize.

RN&R: How did you get into writing crosswords?

Rozena Brecke: I got started by just solving them for a long time. I do the New York Times one. I started out with the Monday and kind of progressed. It's just something fun that my partner and I do all the time, and I thought for his birthday, I would write him a crossword puzzle, with the answers being things that are related to us.

I did that in August, and when I ran into Brad around Easter, he said he was looking for someone, and I volunteered. I've enjoyed doing them for the last seven years or so, and I thought, “It can't be that hard.”

RN&R: Do you have a category of question that you’re particularly good at answering?

RB: In college, I studied a lot of different things. I have somewhat of a science background, and that helps a lot in crosswords, because a lot of times there'll be a couple of random questions that are either specific to chemistry or anatomy—nothing really hard, but if you didn't study that, it might not come that easily.

RN&R: How do you actually go about making a crossword? What do you start with? Where do you go from there?

RB: I went online, and I looked, and it said the standard crossword is a 15-by-16 grid. I went and got my son's graph paper and drew it out and just looked at it, and then I read the rules about it. And it had to be symmetrical and all these different things, on a 180 axis, and I followed the directions. When you plan it out, the first thing you want to do is get your theme going. I wrote down “Nevada,” and probably a dozen different themes, and kind of sketched it out, and then I decided on the casinos that are no longer in Reno. … I went and laid them out, the long clues, and filled in the tiny ones.

RN&R: Where did you find those rules?

RB: I saw some videos on how to do it. You can purchase some software, but that seems kind of silly—because I'd never done this before, and I wasn't going to spend money on software. There's an article in the New York Times. … It was an interview with, I think, four different individuals who write crosswords, and they just talked about their process. So, I went from there. They left a few links to some sources that may be helpful, and I went with that.

RN&R: What else makes for a good crossword?

RB: First of all, I like if they're done by the New York Times. And then, secondly, I want to see when they're published. A lot of times you can get nice crossword puzzles, but they were published in 2002, and I think what makes a good crossword is having clues that are fresh and relevant and what's going on now. I think that makes it more fun.