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1 Across: A Sarnia cruciverbalist makes his debut

George Mathewson Within the small world of clever people who create crossword puzzles it’s called your ‘debut.
Sarnia’s David Dekker, 39, has joined the rarified ranks of professional crossword constructors after having an extremely difficult Saturday puzzle published in the New York Times. Glenn Ogilvie

George Mathewson

Within the small world of clever people who create crossword puzzles it’s called your ‘debut.’

And for Sarnia’s David Dekker it came last Saturday - March 7 - and occurred on the biggest and most prestigious stage of them all – the New York Times.

Getting a crossword puzzle published in the Times is an achievement, akin to a fiction writer having a novel accepted by a major publisher.

It opens doors. It says you’ve arrived.

“The competition is quite large for constructors to get in,” Dekker said with some understatement.

“I’m only getting paid $300, but the publicity is priceless.”

New York Times crosswords are designed to be increasingly challenging through the week, with Monday's the easiest and Saturday's the most difficult.

A brain-scrambler like the one Dekker had published takes about 40 hours of research, cross-referencing and editing, he said.

“But those are the ones I like, because they are the most difficult. To evolve your skills to that point does take some time.”

Dekker, 39, discovered crosswords as a teen and within a few years was crafting his own. About three years ago he came across Xwordinfo, a website devoted to fun facts about New York Times crosswords.

It’s popular among puzzle designers and aficionados – known as cruciverbalists - because it archives things like 15-letter words listed in alphabetical order. The site also has “baseball cards” of constructors featuring their photos, stats and scores.

“It got me really interested,” said Dekker, a SCITS grad.

He had his first submission accepted a year later and it has taken two more years for it to finally appear in print.

“They actually have a waiting list of over two years,” he said.

“I’ve had two others accepted by the New York Times, and also one by the Los Angeles Times. No dates yet, but the L.A. Times said it would most likely be going in in the spring.”

Like all artists, constructors are recognizable for their personal styles. One of Dekker’s passions is the pangram, a puzzle in which every letter of the alphabet is used at least once inside the grid.

Dekker is also working on two crossword books, one aimed at younger readers and a second that combines crosswords and with a different puzzle and mixes them together

“I’m trying to focus on making this a career,” he said.

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