Dead. Merl Reagle, born on January 5, 1950 in Audubon, New Jersey and died August 22, 2015. He made his first crossword when he was six years old and sold a puzzle to The New York Times at age 16, a feat that made him the youngest published Times puzzle constructor at the time.
He first competed in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 1979, its second year, and placed third.
He has submitted a puzzle to the contest since 1980 and, thereafter, had served as a tournament judge and a commentator for the tournament’s finals.
In the early 1980s Reagle began submitting crossword puzzles to Dell crossword magazine, Games magazine, and Margaret Farrar’s Simon & Schuster books.
He regarded crossword-making as more of a hobby, working as a television scriptwriter by day and a film scriptwriter by night. In 1985 he was contracted to produce a regular Sunday crossword for the San Francisco Examiner ’s new Sunday magazine. Three years later, he went into syndication.
In the 1990s he was regarded as one of the top producers of a new type of crossword puzzle: “less stodgy and more hip.” This trend was encouraged by The New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, who sought to appeal to a wider and younger readership with “pop culture references … humorous word play, and … unique and clever themes”
He was noted for making puzzles with pencil and paper, without the aid of a computer. The 2006 documentary Wordplay depicted Reagle’s on-camera construction of a crossword that subsequently was published in The New York Times.
The film then showed various famous crossword enthusiasts, including Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, and Mike Mussina, attempting to solve the puzzle.
On November 16, 2008, Reagle was a “special guest voice” on an episode of The Simpsons called “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words.” In the episode, which featured a New York Times crossword, a cartoon version of Reagle appeared together with Shortz, and Lisa Simpson discovered secret messages embedded in both the clues and the puzzle, which Reagle constructed and Shortz edited.
The actual crossword appearing that same day in the Times had the embedded messages.
Reagle also was featured on CNN, the Today show, Nightline, Oprah, and National Public Radio. In 2013, the Washington Post featured an online interview in its “The Fold” feature.
Crossword maker Merl Reagle died on August 22, 2015 at age 65.