Meet the Comics Pages
Friday, March 30, 2007; 1:00 PM
Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin was joined by Scrabblegram writer Joe Edley and Stickelers creator Terry Stickels to discuss the Comics page puzzles.
Edley, winner of the 1980 National Scrabble Championship, has been crafting Scrabblegrams for the past four years and is currently working on creating more game projects, including a non-word oriented abstract/strategy computer game. Stickels' syndicated puzzles are designed to improve mental flexibility and boost creative problem solving skills. Stickels is also the author of several books, calendars and columns reach a 48 million-strong audience each week. You may also see his puzzles on the back of Kellogg's Raisin Bran or on the Universal Studios "A Beautiful Mind" Web site.
Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics page fans, to another edition of our chat. Recently, we redesigned our pages to, among other things, allow us to run Scrabble Grams and Stickelers six days a week. Today, I'm excited to hos the authors of those two puzzles Live Online. Welcome and thanks for joining us Live Online.
Hermosa Beach, CA: There's a broken link on your comics page. Click on "Fred Bassett" and you get "Dick Tracy"
Suzanne Tobin: Hi,
Washingtonpost.com has just started a new e-mail you can write when you have problems with the comics on their site:
I'm on the print side, so I'm sorry I can't help you.
Baltimore: To Joe: Thanks for taking my question. How did you originally get involved in Scrabble? Did your parents tell you to study something more practical for you to "fall back on"?
Joe Edley: You asked the $64 k question. I can't answer it fully. I got a BA in Math and Philosophy back in 69 and went to SF to gather my thoughts. I didn't get into SCRABBLE til 1978, right after seeing that there was a NS championship and an official dictionary. WHen I was 30. I had big dreams that I was lucky enuf to manifest.
Suzanne Tobin: I'm sorry to report that we've been unable to reach Terry Stickels, who hasn't turned up, but we hope we will be able to reschedule him. So, Joe, the platform is all yours!
Philadelphia, Pa.: How did you both get to work on puzzles? Did either of you create puzzles for school newspaper or for your friends when you were kids?
Joe Edley: I've been creating puzzles since I was a kid. When I got into SCRABBLE I used my abilities to try to improve people's anagramming abilities. I've been creating word puzzles for the SCRABBLE game community for nearly 20 years. Having added SCRABBLEgrams to my resume is a recent thing, and I was happy to be at the National SCRABBLE Association when they asked us to do it.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Great work, both of you. I am sure you never make mistakes, but I am wondering: has there even been a mistake (which I am sure wasn't your fault) in printing a puzzle? Is so, what was the mistake?
Joe Edley: Boy, you're a true optimist! Nice to think that, but the reality is that I make mistakes from time to time. I do the SCRABBLEgrams in batches of 6 months at a time, and once in a while there is a mistaken addition.
Southwest DC: This is a question for both of you...can you really support yourselves doing this?
Joe Edley: Not at all. It's a part time job. I'm the National SCRABBLE association Director for clubs and tournaments. But I am trying to branch out to create other new puzzles. Please stay tuned.
Waterfront: Joe: How exactly do you come up with the puzzles? Do you randomly flip to a page in the dictionary?
Joe Edley: I created a list for myself of all the potential "common" words that I would want to see used, over time. Then xerox it, then cross them off as I use them. Pretty basic, really.
Eugene, Or: I'm a regular reader of the comics page ( news too!) and have often wondered why some panels can be paged back a day by one click, while others require you to set the date from a column and then click to confirm. I agree it's not a big hassle, but it is distracting. I'd also like to propose that Sunday's panel of Sherman's Lagoon be upsized. Currently, it displays much smaller than the other comics and is hard to read.
Suzanne Tobin: Hi, Did you see my note to Hermosa Beach earlier in the chat? Hopefully the folks there can help you. I'm just an ink-stained wretch in the print newsroom.
Gaithersburg: I've noticed quite a few anagram jokes in comics like "Opus" lately. Is this a new trend I've missed?
Joe Edley: Interesting you should notice that. I've noticed quite a few SCRABBLE scenes and wordplay in the media over the last several years. I'd like to say there IS a trend to make anagramming more mainstream. Why? Because it seems to be popular. But more importantly (duh, redundancy alert), I think more people are enjoying them, so its like a snowball effect.
Suzanne Tobin: Woo-hoo! Terry has just joined us from Fort Worth. Seems there was a little mixup about the time. Sorry, folks, but now you can fire away with your questions for him.
Bethesda, MD: Hi Terry--
I am curious if there is sometimes more than one answer to your word puzzles where you start with one word and change one letter each time to create a totally different word? (Sorry, I can't remember what you call them.)
Terry Stickels: Yes. (They are called Trickledowns) Occasionally, there will be more than one word that will work but there is seldom enough room to list multiple answers. You can always contact me at my website and I can either help you or confirm your answer.
Charlottesville: I noticed in your bio that you won the Scrabble championship back in '80. Can you tell us about the qualifying process and when this year's will be held. Is it something we could follow on a Web site?
Joe Edley: There won't be one this year, unfortunately. There will be one next year when Hasbro celebrates the 60th anniversary of the game in its current form. Yes, go to www.scrabble-assoc.com for a really cool website on our SCRABBLE game. During National Championships the public can actually see games on Board 1 as they are happening! Very exciting for those who can't be there.
Rockville, Md.: While not a puzzle, I just wanted to let someone know that I really like the Poker column, and would love to see that become a more frequent feature.
Suzanne Tobin: Unfortunately, the Poker column is only offered once a week. But I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying it.
Bladensburg: Can you tell us a little about the "non-word oriented abstract/strategy computer game" it mentioned you are developing without giving too much away to your competition. It sounds interesting.
Joe Edley: All I can say is that a Games Magazine contest back in 1996 used the idea and to everyone I've shown it to it's been very well liked. But I'm still looking for a programmer to develop it fully. It's one of those ideas that has an endless, infinite number of possibilities, only limited by the imagination. Really simple idea, but I've been developing it for quite a few years. I've just had too much on my plate to complete this project. Sorry, but if I ever get time to do my own website I'll put it on there. If you want to pursue this further, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bethesda, Md.: This is a question for Ms. Tobin that I hope she will consider. I subscribe to The Post but prefer to print puzzles off washingtonpost.com because computer paper can take more erasures than regular newsprint! Some time ago, however, it the Saturday Acrostic disappeared from the Web site. If I'm missing it, can you please tell me where to find it? If not, can you please bring it back? Thank you very much.
Suzanne Tobin: Once again, I have to refer you to the Web site folks: e-mail email@example.com.
Bethesda, Md.: Hi,
Any puzzles out there that could be the next Sudoku? I know The Post is now running Kakuro on a weekly basis but I'm not sure if it will catch on.
Joe Edley: I create puzzles. That's one of my real joys in life. I've been working on some new puzzles that I'd love to see get a wider market. CUrrently only the National SCRABBLE Association players have seen some of these new puzzles. Then there are some nonword puzzles I've been working on as well. But it's a little early to talk about them.
As far as catching on though, I do like the kakuro puzzles, as well as the Killer Sudoku, and think they'll both catch on at some point.
Terry Stickels: Kakuro is really the same puzzle you probably knew as Cross-Sums. It's been around for many years but seems to have been reenergized by the Sudoku craze. I agree, it will probably not be as popular but there have been some articles in the press within the last week suggesting there might be a new wave of digital puzzles coming to America. I've seen most of them and don't find them very impressive. To me, a puzzle has to be both challenging and fun. It also makes it better if there is an element of critical thinking involved. I'm not sure that many of the newer puzzles offer this.
Comment for the editor: Not sure if anyone has mentioned this or not, but the redesign of the Sunday comics has a MAJOR flaw. The large Sudoku puzzle should not be spanning the fold! Why not move up Heloise or just do something so that we don't have to awkwardly fold the paper to do the puzzle? Thanks.
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks for pointing this out. You're the first to do it. I will definitely take a look at that.
NW DC: Hi, Terry. Love the Stickelers puzzle. What is your favorite type of puzzle to create: the math or the word ones?
Terry Stickels: Actually, my favorite puzzles are spatial/visual puzzles. They require no academic training of any kind, are fun, and offer a broad spectrum of critical thinking skills. When I was younger, I had a hard time speaking because I thought in spatial/visual terms. Later, I found out that most great physicists also think the same way and are rewarded for doing so. So, while I learned to speak better as I got older, I never lost my love of thinking in dimensionality. Secondly, I enjoy the math brain teasers that don't involve any higher mathematics. I love any type of puzzle or game that offers a challenge ... and a good laugh at the end of it.
Word Freak: Joe, I have your Everything Scrabble book and do its exercises frequently. Congrats on that book!
What's your opinion of Word Freak by Stephan Fatsis? I thought his portrayal of you as kind of a Zen master of Scrabble was very sympathetic, for the most part. What was your impression?
Also, do you ever play at www.isc.ro? Don't suppose you'd give your handle, would you?
Joe Edley: You're very kind! THanks on ES. I tried to make it both entertaining and informative and also show nonSCRABBLErs what's so great about our game.
On WF: Stefan is a good friend of mine. He may have overblown my reputation a bit in several ways, but I've only received positive vibes from people who've read it, so I can't complain. It sort of sets the tone for my place in the history of the game.
Fairfax, Va.: I have not understood the explosion of puzzles in the comics section. Is there evidence that many people actually have time to work on the puzzles? Do working people have time for it? I know I don't. I also don't get the Sudoku craze. Sign me -- Comics-only Grouch!
Terry Stickels: The Sudoku craze that started two years ago has spawned a puzzle frenzy for both adults and kids. Interestingly, there is ample evidence that doing puzzles will help increase your mental flexibility and actually help to ward off dementia. It is not unusual to see people solving puzzles in cabs, busses, planes, etc. Also, schools are now using my puzzles as ancillary aids for mathematics classes. I could go on and on but you get my point.
Suzanne Tobin: I see an awful lot of people doing the puzzles on their commute on the subway, and I know I love to do them on my way home to sort of wind down.
Fort Bragg, Ca: How come Sherman's Lagoon, Zippy, Piranha Club no longer are available to me?
Suzanne Tobin: I imagine you're talking about their availability on the Web site. I'm the old-fashioned print comics person. I hate to sound like a broken record, buttry this e-mail to see if they can help you.
Curious Calverton: Hi, I run an afterschool program and want to know more about the Scrabble Association school program. What ages is it appropriate for? Is there a fee?
Joe Edley: Glad you asked. Our School SCRABBLE program is targeted for 5-8th graders, though we know of 4th graders also taking part. Our National School SCRABBLE Championship, held each year in April/May, includes only teams of two kids only from 5-8th grades.
It's a win-win-win situation. The kids love it. The teaChers love it, and the parents love it. Kids are seen using the dictionar FAR more, and on their own, WITH EXCITEMENT. We're very proud of what we're doing with the kids. And Hasbro is 100% committed to continuing their support in that direction.
Suzanne Tobin: Can you describe how you started getting published? Did you start with books and then generate interest from a syndicate, or vice versa?
Joe Edley: I first was published putting together a puzzle magazine call the TILE RACK. I did it on my own back in the mid-80s. From there I got my job at the National SCRABBLE Association, where I write most of the SCRABBLE News, including all kinds of word-related puzzles. A few years later I wrote Everything SCRABBLE, and the Official SCRABBLE Puzzle book, followed by getting the SCRABBLEgrams puzzles.
Terry Stickels: I started by writing a column in a Rochester, New York newspaper that became popular fairly quickly. Sterling Publishing in New York City saw the column and offered me a contract over the phone...so I had a lot of luck in getting my first book published.
Courthouse: Do either of you have any idea how many papers carry your puzzles? Are they only in the United States?
Terry Stickels: I think my STICKELERS column is published internationally in over 100 papers and my USA Weekend Magazine column called Frame Games is in over 600 newspapers every week.
Joe Edley: Sorry, I do not
Federal Triangle cubicle: This is a question for either of you: How often do you get folks challenging your answers? And have any of them ever been right?
Terry Stickels: I have people challenge my answers all the time. Fortunately, and thanks to a great team of people who help me edit, we have very few incorrect answers. However, I do make mistakes, as every puzzle writer does, and I actually appreicate someone pointing out my error. The legendary Martin Gardner once told me never to be afraid of making a mistake because people love to correct a puzzle master. He was often accused of making mistakes on purpose to generate interest. I can assure you I'm not that good that I make mistakes on purpose. We try to make the column better and better all the time and that requires extra effort on everyone's part including editing as laborious as that is.
Joe Edley: I occasionally make mistake, but as Terry mentioned, people usually take pleasure in finding them. But I really do try to do it 100% accurately.
Suzanne Tobin: Well, Terry and I have realized that it was the time difference of an hour between here and Fort Worth that caused his delay in joining us.
mp3: what's a broken record?
Suzanne Tobin: It's this flat vinyl thing that I'd like to break over your head right now.
Terry Stickels: Thank you for sending me your questions. I apologize for the time zone confusion. If you have further questions, please email me at my website, www.terrystickels.com. In case you may be interested, my Spider-Man Puzzle Book has just been released in advance of the movie. If you have a child between the ages of 7 and 12 in your family, you may enjoy this book. I also have two WORDOKU books for children that have been released by Harper Collins Publishing. I'll have more books coming out later in the year and you can always find them on my website. Thank you for being puzzles fans and feel free to write me anytime. Best wishes, Terry Stickels.
Joe Edley: It's been a pleasure answering questions here. Anyone interested in finding out more about SCRABBLE, please check out Everything SCRABBLE and go to our website: www.scrabble-assoc.com for lots of information.
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks to you both for joining us. If you have any comments about the PRINT comics pages, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 202-334-4775 or write Comics Feedback, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Remember, that contact information is published every day on the third page of the comics, right under the horoscope column. Look forward to hearing from you.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.