Inside the mind of New York Times Mini maker Joel Fagliano

February 25, 2024
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Joel Fagliano has always thought about puzzles. His father was an avid solver of the famed New York Times Crossword and would photocopy it every weekday for his son to solve on the train to school. When Joel was in 10th grade he started designing his own puzzles, submitting them to the NYT’s crossword editor, Will Shortz. “They were… quite bad,” he jokes. But Shortz offered him feedback and when Joel was 17, he had his first puzzle published in the paper. Later, when Joel was at college, Shortz took him on as a summer intern and the two started working on the crossword together, the master sharing his knowledge on the arcane intricacies of puzzle authorship.

In August 2014, the NYT’s product director Matt Hural started an experiment – a small, five by five word puzzle to go alongside the main crossword on the paper’s new digital platform. Joel was given the job of writing it, and he’s been in charge of the Mini ever since. At first the Mini was controversial with NYT puzzle purists, but under his careful tenure, it has become a huge success on the paper’s app, bringing in millions of solvers a day, attracted by its brevity, topicality and sly misdirections. But how does Joel keep the concept so fresh, and what does it take to make a puzzle a day?

Eurogamer: So you interned with Will Shortz for three summers. What was it like to work with this NYT puzzling legend as a young fan?

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