Francis Heaney Talks How the Crossword World has Changed for Constructors

by Carol Lee
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Francis Heaney is working in a field where everyone would love to go.

He is an editor of the Puzzlewright Press and he spends his free time making puzzles for the New York Times, American Values Club Crossword and many other organizations.

How to start a career as a crossword constructor?

puzzle types

For Heaney, it was a slow process. He loved crosswords since childhood and so he tried simple word puzzles.

Luckily, his grandmother got him a subscription to Games magazine at the age of 10.



At that time, solving different word brain game was next to impossible.

When Heaney shifted to New York, he was in dire need of cash.

At that time he submitted some of the self-composed crossword puzzles of mine to Games.

Unfortunately, all of them got rejected. But the editor games him guidance about how to construct a better puzzle so that it gets published.

Every failure brings experience.

If you aren’t prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with something original.-Ken Robinson

From there onwards, he started working as a freelance puzzle proof-reader, tester, and editor at Games.

Also, he kept trying word puzzles for adults side by side.

He was not working full-time for the company, but he had part-time assignments in hand.

Soon, he quit the job as he was hired by ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

He started writing for books, computer games, and side projects.

Well, he was very confused whether something like this would work for the long run or not.

When did “Games” officially hire Francis Heaney?

That was in the year 2000. The complete team was cut loose at the point when everything was oversaturated media and public life with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

The market for which everything was written dried. He spent some time coasting as a freelancer and then hired as a copy editor at Cargo.

I felt I was lucky enough because no one was interested in the artistic writing content regarding shaving cream and MP3 players.

There was not too much fight for word changing rather it complete environment was very calm and I had a lot of freedom.

Freelancing went on side by side always. I wrote for Sterling. For a very long time, Peter Gordon, the entire was the only person in the crossword department.

He started publishing crossword books more than anyone could expect.

People started liking what he wrote and the market was flooded by his buyers.

He eventually got a good amount of budget to hire someone who was crazy at puzzles and Gordon asked Heaney if he wants to make a living by making crosswords? And obviously the reply was positive.

How the online world has changed the crossword industry?

The aspects of making a living by making puzzles entangle around the Internet.

When Heaney was working at “Millionaire”, one of his side gigs was to write for games.

He has already worked for apps. One of the games was “Onion’s AV Club Crossword”.

They later canceled the feature. Heaney always liked making puzzles

To improve his skills, he started practicing free daily word puzzles.

Is the New York Times Best of Best?

The New York Times puzzles are something all the crossword lovers are addicted to.

If you get your crossword published in the New York Times, it is certainly considered as a huge achievement.

It is undoubtedly a milestone and it is something you should try.  But you can’t say it always published bet puzzles.

Some days exceptionally amazing crossword is published while sometimes there are boring puzzles.

Today, there is a diverse range and styles of crosswords than two decades years ago.

If you are someone who has the urge to solving the black and white grid whenever that comes across, you will definitely like Fireball or the AV puzzles.

As a mainstream, The New York Times puzzle meets a quality that the maker should aspire to.

But sometimes it is like, how this kind of clue can even part of the Times puzzle.

It may be possible that some people don’t agree with Heaney.

But he is one of those puzzle makers who will find a fault in a certain corner of puzzles.

This is because constructors have a strong opinion about the crossword design.

How did Heaney groom himself for better puzzle construction?


His initial puzzle was fine but they didn’t have any personality.

He made random puzzles. Some were with themes and others were themeless.

When you understand the standard of the Times puzzles, you know what is it that the Times will buy.

Heaney designed a few crosswords for the Times in the ’90s and at that time he was working for ‘Games’.

He didn’t focus too much on the puzzle design as he had multiple tasks to do.

When he started working, Peter was the one who edited ‘New York Sun’. He is a personal will a sensible submission plan.

Times always accepts finished puzzles that are well-designed. Peter is someone who always guided Heaney.

Every time he walked down the hall, he told his idea to Peter and waited for his response.

Heaney always loved experimenting. If Peter liked it, he would tell him to go ahead else he would say, leave and move on.

Having a self-created crossword gives individuals their own distinctive voice.

Today it is easier to make a living by crossword constructor than it was earlier

Earlier, there were very few newspapers that published puzzles.

Moreover, the puzzle makers were unable to make a good living with the money they got.

With the advent of online technology, the crossword world has completely transformed.

Tools like CrossFire and Crossword Compiler are popular among the constructors as they help in easy construction of digital puzzles.

They give you the option of free crosswords to print. Publishing houses like The New York Times, The Guardian, LA Times and more give an opportunity to every individual to make a living with puzzle and become crossword constructors.

The environment of the puzzle-making world is very welcoming.

Anyone who is crazy about puzzles or has writing talent can start their crossword construction journey.

No one knows, maybe you write a puzzle book someday. If you like solving a crossword, do become a part of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or Indie 500 that is held every year.

Moreover, you can try multiplayer crossword online to measure your ability.

Last but not least, you can also make money by starting your own blog related to crosswords.

Give tips regarding crossword solving and making them. Post one puzzle weekly and ask readers to solve it.

Do you know, there are a lot of people who are doing really well that way as well.

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