A Tribute to Merl Reagle (Guest Post from The Beard)

I've been a long-time lover of crossword puzzles, and the puzzles of Merl Reagle in particular. I keep a book of his puzzles by my bed for the nights when I can't sleep or can't stop stressing about whatever it is that day has thrown at me, and the sheer delight I take in his wordplay can pull me out of most any funk. I couldn't quite find my own words to sum up how very sad I am following his unexpected death, but my ever-eloquent husband said all I would have said if I could have found the words. Only better. --Kerry

While I realize this might sound very silly to some people, a man I genuinely admire has died, and I just had a few thoughts. Merl Reagle, who remains my all-time favorite crossword puzzle writer has died. Merl was syndicated in the Hartford Courant, and so his puzzle was inside my home every Sunday. I've been solving his puzzles for almost 15 years. His puzzles were clever, witty, punny, and sometimes downright zany. He was warm, inviting, unbelievably clever (I know I already said clever, but it bears repeating), and had a genuine, honest, almost child-like appreciation for all things involving puzzles or wordplay.

To someone who is not a regular cruciverbalist, it might seem odd that I might feel this way or know so much about his personality without ever having met him. The truth is, solving a puzzle that someone has laid out for you is an exceptionally clear look into how they think, especially if you do it regularly. You become familiar with their sense of humor, you know what they seem to think is common knowledge and what they think is esoteric. You know, as soon as you read a clue, whether the author is being straight with you or throwing you a curveball, even if you don't know the answer to the clue yet. More than any other crossword author I've encountered, Merl's personality came through in his puzzles. There are authors and puzzles where you know the person is being esoteric just for the sake of making the puzzle more difficult, or even intentionally stonewalling you. Merl's puzzles were jocular, inviting, and characterized by that same silly, eager little excitement a friend has when they have a great joke they want to let you in on, but you have to guess the punchline.

His puzzles have been a source of bonding and laughter for my family, and for that I will remain very much in his debt. I'm sharing a YouTube video of him and his simultaneously infuriatingly clever and groan-inducing puns. It would mean very much to me indeed if you, whoever you are, would watch it. You don't even have to watch all 8 minutes of it, but I have a suspicion that if you start watching it, you will.


His puzzles were equally infectious. Many of them are online at www.sundaycrosswords.com [editor's note: you can also buy print copies of his books there], if you'd like to solve them. I think you'll really enjoy getting to know him. I did.

Here also are Will Shortz' and Rex Parker's tributes to him, which I found very touching. FAIR WARNING: Rex Parker's website includes the answers to the New York Times puzzles.


Addendum: Sorry, everyone. I thought I was finished writing about this, but it appears that I'm not. Merl was featured quite prominently in the 2006 movie Wordplay, of which one particular scene has always stayed with me. It's a scene where Merl is driving, and while driving, he's making anagrams of the signs and banners passing by. The one that I remember in particular is him driving buy a store called "NOAH'S ARK" and remarked, "or spelled differently, 'NO, A SHARK!'" I don't believe that he would have said about himself that he was funnier or cleverer or more intelligent than most--although I'm saying it now, and know it to be true--I think instead, words and puzzles just opened themselves up to him naturally. If he ever wondered about the fact that most people didn't seem to see the world in the same way as he, which I imagine he did, I also imagine he found it more amusing than perplexing. As to what my Sundays will be like without his particular view of the world, to that I can say only...I'm puzzled.

[known more commonly to followers here as "The Beard"]

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