Puzzle enthusiasts assembled at Campbell Hall last Saturday for a night of stimulation, courtesy of Will Shortz.
As a student at Indiana University, Shortz created his own individualized major to become the world’s only accredited enigmatologist. Dedicated to the study of puzzles, Shortz entertained the crowd for almost two hours with insight on wordplay and brain teasers.
Shortz, who visited UCSB for the first time in 2007, spoke about rules of crossword construction such as symmetry, word choice, clue construction and types of clues.
“I am the sole arbiter of how hard a puzzle is,” Shortz said. “I determine if something is worth knowing or not. You shouldn’t have to know about a 23-mile long river in Romania — that’s not common knowledge.”
In his experiences, Shortz said, simple puzzles are often the most eloquent.
“I like my puzzles to be full of everyday phrases and vocabulary,” Shortz said. “When I see a puzzle so full of fresh and relevant vocabulary, it’s so pretty.”
Shortz ended his talk with an audience participation game called “Beat the Champ,” pitting timed participants against each other in a race to answer questions about word games.
Santa Barbara resident Sandy Kopsick said she enjoyed the collaborative game.
“I especially liked how he played the audience against each other,” Kopsick said. “It was a great time.”
Shortz’s performance drew a diverse crowd of event-goers.
Phil Sherbourne, a visitor from Seattle, WA, said he first heard about Shortz on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Shortz has been the puzzlemaster for NPR since 1987.
“I really enjoy solving them in the morning,” Sherbourne said. “It gives me a chance to use my brain in interesting ways.”
Genevieve Sawicz, a third-year film studies major, said she first became obsessed with Shortz after buying a Sudoku book he designed.
“It was hilarious,” Sawicz said. “The audience was very interactive and a lot of fun.”