Valley Crossword Puzzle Creator Earns National Title

By: Dave Byknish Email
By: Dave Byknish Email

STAUNTON -- With the rise of the Internet and smartphone apps, crossword puzzle creation is a rapidly expanding field.

Matt Gaffney is one of the top creators. He's been doing it for 15 years. Like most, he started out as a solver.

“I have a competitive personality so, I thought, 'I bet I could write one of these.' I just started sending them in. When I got old enough to have a job, I thought, 'This would be cool if I could make this into a career,' and luckily it's worked out,” said Gaffney.

Worked out is a humble way of saying it. Gaffney has created more than 4,000 puzzles. He has several puzzle books out and even shows up in national papers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He was just crowned the best constructor of 2012.

“The best way to get good at crosswords is to just keep solving a lot of them. The same words come up over and over again. Words like area have a lot of nice vowels. A city like Erie, Pennsylvania, with all it's nice vowels in it, you'll see those over and over again.”

Gaffney moved to Staunton from Washington, D.C. about five years ago. He make his puzzles in local coffee shops and is an active member of the Staunton Downtown Development Association.

He said he sneaks local references to the state and the Valley into most of his puzzles.

“The way I feel about Staunton is, you know, you go to Texas and you see those bumper stickers that say I wasn't born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could. That's how I feel about Staunton.”

Gaffney plans to use his Best Constructor title to start moving the focus from pen and paper puzzles to the more popular digital realm. No matter what direction, he just wants to give people a good time.

“The right result is either the person solves it, and gets everything correct, or they don't solve it, and then afterwards, they say, 'Aw, I should have known that. I did know that. I just couldn't find it in my brain somewhere.'”

Gaffney said he creates at least one new puzzle for his website every week. Finishing it leads to a new puzzle that gives a chance to win prizes.


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