Eric Berlin posted on Facebook earlier this week that he had heard through the grapevine about the imminent folding of Games Magazine. The post prompted several responses about Games Magazine: fond nostalgia of its glory days and disappointment over its decline in recent years. Several puzzle fans of my generation described the discovery of Games Magazine as life-changing, and that seemingly hyperbolic assessment has a certain validity. In the pre-Internet 1980s Games Magazine was the only way for a puzzler outside the primary distribution area of the New York Times to get a glimpse of the puzzle community. There were other puzzle magazines on newsstands but Games was the only one reporting on National Puzzlers’ League, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, MIT Mystery Hunt and other big gatherings that an agile-minded youngster in flyover country could dream about participating in one day. And the puzzles in Games were better.
I was introduced to Games Magazine by a science teacher in 1983. She photocopied puzzles from the magazine and distributed them as amusements for students who finished classwork early. The initial draws were the logic puzzles and picture puzzles. I had always been interested in cartooning and graphic layout, and the visual puzzles created by masters like Robert Leighton and Don Rubin were eye-opening in their ingenuity. The grid puzzles in the Pencilwise section were a bit intimidating but I eventually decided to test the waters with a 5×5 crossword grid — I figured that a puzzle small in size should be easy to solve. The puzzle turned out to be a warmup cryptic, and once I became acclimated to the wordplay and indicators I became a huge fan of cryptic crosswords without having an established foundation in regular crosswords. The contests in Games were intriguing, not just because of the varied subject matter and unusual prizes (a contest inspired by a puzzle presented at an international competition in Hungary offered as first prize a several pounds of paprika) but because of the implication that the magazine wanted to hear from its readers. Games published an “It’s Your Move” column with reader-submitted puzzles, generally little wordplay and logic baubles. I decided to try submitting cryptic crosswords. My first efforts were lame but the cryptics editor, Fraser Simpson, took a shine to me and helped me refine my grids and clues. Eventually, Fraser introduced me to the National Puzzlers’ League and coaxed me to attend a convention. Another life was changed.
My first published puzzle in Games was not a cryptic but a picture puzzle, inspired by crowded luau I attended on a high-school trip to Hawaii. I submitted a sketch…
…and Games cleaned it up and made a puzzle.
The cryptics printed in Games during the early 1980s were almost all themeless. Even though variety cryptics were running in Atlantic Monthly and Harpers the puzzle type didn’t hit my radar until they started appearing regualry in Games World of Puzzles. I made a few successful efforts in the variety cryptic style.
Aside from picture puzzles and cryptics I also constructed a handful of standard and variety crosswords. Letter Drops is based on a crossword that Will Shortz published in Games. Hopscotch is a grid form that I came up with in the 1990s; a new Hopscotch puzzle appeared in the premiere issue of Will Shortz Presents Wordplay.