Dr. Gareth Moore (UK) is shining out with his puzzle and brain training books and magazines, as well as his efforts in British puzzle events. He is also the editor of several puzzle websites.
Interview: Serkan Yürekli
I live in the UK but I’ve spent long periods of time in both Australia and the US. My educational background is in machine intelligence, and in that area I’ve worked for two major worldwide software companies. I’ve always been creative, however, so in 2003 I changed industry and co-ran a production film company for a couple of years, until I left to work full-time on puzzle authoring. I’m also very musical and play the piano almost every day.
- Does your “Dr.” title come from an educational background, or do you define yourself as a “Puzzle Doctor”? :)
I have a Ph.D from Cambridge University, UK – so I’m a real academic doctor. My thesis was on dynamic conversational topic adaptation in computer speech recognition. This isn’t much use for puzzle creation, except that as a result I know a lot about automated text analysis which I do sometimes use to help me find content for word puzzles. I’ve also since done a lot of research into brain training for my various books on the topic.
- Do you have any favourite types of puzzles?
I particularly like loop or shading puzzles, since I tend to prefer puzzles where you can at least to some extent visualise the solution. One of my favourite puzzles is Yajilin, combining both shading and loops, but I’m also a big fan of Tapa. Both these puzzles work well at a range of sizes because you can usually get a good idea at a glance where the next move might be, rather than having to spend ages searching lots of clues for somewhere to make progress. I also really enjoy Suraromu, but unfortunately they are usually too easy to solve by using uniqueness of the solution as a deductive technique, which spoils them. Generally I prefer smaller-size puzzles where you can ensure a tighter focus on a particular piece of logic or design.
- I know you have authored and published many books so far. How is the creation process, do you work with other authors as well?
I’ve written over 35 commissioned books for a range of big publishers, such as Penguin and Simon & Schuster. In all of these books I’ve made every puzzle myself. I love to challenge myself to constantly do something new, so I like to make new puzzle types rather than carry on producing the same content over and over. Because I make such a range of puzzles I don’t need to work with other authors. Another reason is that it generally takes me longer to check someone else’s puzzles than it does to make my own – you have to be absolutely certain of a puzzle’s accuracy (and unique solution) before you publish it in a book that could be on the shelves for many years. The only exception to this is my self-published magazine, Sudoku Xtra, in which I have a special section where I include contributions from many great puzzle makers, including some who also contribute to Akıl Oyunları.
The creation process varies enormously from book to book. Sometimes I have a ridiculously short amount of time to write a book in (I had a week and a half for my first book!) and it takes over your life completely for that time. I also recently wrote a book of 101 cryptic crosswords in under three weeks, which I think must surely be a world record! For these books I have to be very disciplined on how I am going to work. On other books, such as mixed-puzzle brain training books, the content tends to develop as I work on the book and I continue to have new ideas. I’m working on a book of Sudoku variants right now, and every day I continue to expand the range of variants from that in my initial proposal.
Most puzzle books are aimed at the mainstream so I’m sometimes forced to be quite conservative in my choice of puzzle, but whenever I can I like to introduce new variants to these readers. I also try to do this on my online puzzle site at www.PuzzleMix.com.
- You have been publishing puzzle magazines as well as the books. I know they are available as pdf files or hard copies in several online shops. Can you give some information to our readers about how they can get these magazines? And are these magazines also available as hard copies in UK newsstands?
I’ve supplied puzzles for many magazines over the past several years, but a couple of years ago I also began self-publishing my own magazine, Sudoku Xtra. I publish this online as a downloadable PDF and also pre-printed via Amazon. These are the only places it is available. Most issues have 130 or more puzzles, usually of over 50 different types. In fact, I don’t make any money from it because it takes such a very long time to prepare all of the content for each issue! I do it because I like to contribute to the puzzle community and hopefully attract new people to all the wonderful types of language-neutral logic puzzle there are. As I’ve mentioned, many of my readers come from a more mainstream puzzle background and aren’t aware of the World Puzzle Championship, online contests and so on.
- I wonder what led you to work in the field of puzzles. Have you accomplished your goals (if any), what kind of projects are waiting for you to realize them?
I ended up making puzzles almost by accident. I set up an early Kakuro site and shortly afterwards a publisher got in touch asking if I could supply puzzles. I thought it sounded like an interesting challenge, and the rest is history.
In terms of goals, I believe I reached the pinnacle of my puzzle career last year with the publication of what I honestly think is one of the best mainstream puzzle books ever published. The Mammoth Book of Fun Brain Training (published by Constable & Robinson in the UK, and Running Press in the US) is really a compendium of all of my favourite types of logic, word, number, memory, observation and ‘creative’ thinking puzzles. It’s a 352-page full-colour book and for the first time I was given free rein to do whatever I wanted, so I filled it from cover to cover with colour puzzles of a huge range of types, including many that readers of this magazine would recognise. I don’t think I’ll ever better that book.
- Are you running puzzle-related works in the field of education, for instance do you have any projects in order to make children embrace the puzzle culture?
Yes, I’ve written many children’s books, and worked on various schools-based projects, including several for big multinationals – these tend to be labelled as brain training, but really they are actually varied collections of puzzles. Children are far more adventurous than most adults, and so with a child’s book you can pack it full of different types of logic puzzle and they will try them all. Adults will often give up when faced with “too much new stuff”! In my best-selling Kids’ 10-minute Brain Workout (published as Sudoku Makes you Smarter! in the US) I introduced children to Slitherlink, Nurikabe, Masyu, Hashi and many more logic puzzles. Hopefully some of these readers will grow up to be the WPC puzzlers of the future.
- I am a big fan of Doctor Who. I always see it as a puzzle-solving practice. I feel the same way about the latest Sherlock series - I am waiting eagerly to find out what kind of logic was set for the final scene in the latest episode. I wonder if having such shows that are elaborated with subtle wit are helping to enhance the puzzle culture. Do British people really love puzzles, as is the general impression? Not to mention puzzle gurus and logicians like Henry Dudeney, Lewis Carroll and Bertrand Russell.
We have several big UK newspapers and they publish a wide range of puzzles every day, and tend to be relatively conservative in their selection. Because they publish so many, however, this tends to discourage people from needing to look further afield for puzzles, so I think this “puzzle culture” as you put it actually makes it harder to introduce new types in the UK. And although there are literally hundreds of different puzzle magazines in the UK, nearly all of them simply contain basic wordsearches, crosswords, sudoku and the like. After the big commercial success of sudoku in 2005 or thereabouts, UK book stores and publishers tried lots of new puzzles – most of these had little or no financial success, and the result is that most companies are now afraid to take a risk on new puzzles in the UK.
In my opinion it’s the US which has been driving the mainstream puzzle market recently, although the recent demise of Borders (a major chain of bookstores) has sadly made several publishers reduce their puzzle book catalogue. Puzzle books and magazines are impulse purchases for most readers, so the reduction in physical stores is a real issue.
- I have been following UK puzzle community for a while and I suppose giant steps were taken over the past two years. Were you totally involved in this process, and can you share your thoughts about it?
The UK Puzzle Association was set up thanks to the hard work of Alan O’Donnell and Mike Colloby, following discussion and a democratic vote on a mailing list for past WPC/WSC UK team members. In less than two years there have been over 5,000 posts (7.5% of them mine!) on the UKPA discussion forums alone, which is an incredible achievement, and we’ve run several tournaments. There’ve been more than 2,000 forum posts in the dedicated area for members only, which shows how successful the UKPA has been at increasing interest in the UK. The achievement of Neil Zussman in reaching the final 10 at the WPC last year is just one example of how this interest has already led to concrete results.
I’m personally now busy planning a major puzzle and sudoku contest for the UKPA, the UK Open, which will be taking place at the end of April 2012. It involves over 6 hours of puzzle solving, and it will be run both on-site in Manchester, UK, and also online for worldwide competitors too. It’s going to be one of the biggest tournaments of its kind outside the WPC/WSC, and a wide range of famous puzzle authors from around the world have very kindly contributed to it.
- What do you think about today’s online puzzle community? Are you a follower of online contests, and are there any puzzle makers’ blogs or websites that you follow regularly?
I think Logic Masters India have made a phenomenal difference in the past couple of years. Deb Mohanty and others at LMI have created a real community of puzzle authors and players which they run in an incredibly professional way, and in so doing I think they’ve done a huge amount to further the cause of logic puzzles in general and to bring them to an expanded audience. There have been regular tournaments before, but these are presented in a very clear format that any English speaker can understand and get involved with. I would recommend them to anyone.
In terms of blogs I follow many different puzzle authors. Those I always look at include Palmer Mebane, David Millar, Thomas Snyder and Grant Fikes, thanks to the sheer invention, variety and quality of the puzzles they post. I also make sure to regularly follow the UKPA forums because almost all puzzle competitions are announced there.
And last but not least, if anyone reading this is interested in trying out some of my own puzzles, they’re welcome to download a free copy of Sudoku Xtra from www.sudokuxtra.com/sx16aug.php