Sept. 19, 2020
As part of College Confidential's essay series, we're sharing personal essays from students who were admitted during a prior college admissions cycle. The student who wrote this as her essay was accepted to the University of Michigan, and we are sharing it with her permission.
"What's a seven-letter word to describe a specialist in equine hoof care?"
After I typed "farrier" into the answer key, I sat back and surveyed my work. As the final clue in the custom crossword puzzle that I created for my state's equestrian association, it took a bit of coordination to get everything right, but I was able to create enough clues to make a puzzle of intermediate complexity, just as the client had requested.
Having a job creating custom crossword puzzles is one part trivia and one part strategy. Sometimes I get so into the client's request that I'll research a topic for hours, coming up with hundreds of possible clues on the specific subject I've been assigned to cover. But then when the time comes to design the "Across" and "Down" grids, I struggle to line everything up perfectly and have to scrap my well-established intentions and start over.
But that's part of the fun of being a crossword puzzle designer, which is how I describe myself on the business card that I hand out to pretty much everyone I meet. I started out making puzzles for fun, then I offered to make one for my brother's robotics team when I was 14. After that, his teacher asked if I could make one for his bowling league's Christmas party, and word began to spread from there. Before long, I had requests coming in not only from people in my local community, but from those in other states, regarding topics I didn't know existed.
For example, although I'd never considered how asphalt was made in the past, I learned phrases like "hot mix" and "aggregate" after making a crossword for a local paving firm. While pickleball had never been on my radar screen before, I picked up terms like "chop" and "backspin" while designing a crossword for the local seniors' community pickleball team. As my business grew, so did the skepticism from those who seemed to think I was pursuing an odd method of making money. Not only that, but people began offering opinions about how my self-employment would affect my free time.
"If you keep making crosswords for other people, you won't enjoy solving them anymore," my uncle warned me one Sunday as I completed the New York Times' crossword puzzle. But as I entered the phrase "Pick up the Pacer" in response to the clue "Give a ride to an Indiana hoopster," I knew he was incorrect.
For me, creating crosswords is just as fun as solving them – maybe even more so. When I look at an empty crossword grid, it must be the same way a farmer feels when viewing an open field. I see all of the possibilities and potential before me as a challenge and a gift. The world is mine to create, and each word that I put on the page is like a seed planted in the dirt. It doesn't have just one sole purpose. It feeds into the rest of the clues, providing much-needed vowels and consonants to the words that will intersect it.
Although I haven't yet found a way to work "cruciverbalist" into a crossword, I hope to make it happen someday, because that's the word that describes me. I'd like the clue for it to be listed first when I get to design the ultimate puzzle — one for a crossword enthusiast's association. I can see it now: "1 Across: A person who is skilled at solving or creating crossword puzzles."
Certainly the crossword enthusiasts will smile as they complete that clue, content in the fact that someone "gets" them. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
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