Professional Puzzler Will Make You Think

Professional Puzzler Will Make You Think

The following is an excerpt from an article about math faculty member Derrick Niederman in College of Charleston Magazine.


Derrick Niederman, math faculty Photo by: Peter Frank Edwards '93

Derrick Niederman, math faculty
Photo by: Peter Frank Edwards ’93

After a few years of experimentation during graduate school as a means of procrastinating against writing his thesis, at the age of 26, Derrick Niederman had his first triumph, when The New York Times published one of his crossword puzzles. He had been rejected three times before by the crossword puzzle editor at the time, Eugene T. Maleska, who warned him to allow some time to pass before pestering the paper with another attempt. But the bold and relentless Niederman submitted another puzzle just three weeks later. Lo and behold, Maleska accepted, making Niederman a very happy man.

“As soon as I published a puzzle in The Times,” he says, “I felt I wrote the first line of my obituary.”

Unfortunately, crossword puzzles don’t pay the bills, even those published in The New York Times. Niederman recalls earning about $100 for that first published puzzle in 1981, necessitating him to keep his day job as a financial analyst. Despite the meager payout, the puzzle earned him considerable acclaim and attention, as did the themed crossword puzzles he continued to get published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times – about 20 in the last 30 years. Yet his newfound fame also subjected him to a bit of contempt, such as the time a colleague passed Niederman and boasted with an air of derision, “I solved your puzzle.” Niederman was baffled, not so much at his rudeness but for the fact that his rival seemed not to realize that solvability was the point.

“Whoever he was, he continued on his way, pleased at winning the joust, evidently not realizing that most crossword makers want people to solve their puzzles,” writes Niederman in his latest book, The Puzzler’s Dilemma. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t go to all that trouble to make the words intersect.”

Yet for all Niederman’s elation at his accomplishment in puzzledom, there was also uncertainty.

OK, now what? Niederman recalls thinking following the publication of his first crossword puzzle.

Read the rest of the story, originally published in College of Charleston Magazine.