Wordplay was the order of the day when Merl Reagle, syndicated crossword puzzle constructor, visited Loyola Marymount University.
To the delight of the crowd of students, faculty and staff in a packed Ahmanson Auditorium, Reagle gave a brief history of crossword puzzles, told stories of his career in puzzle constructing and posed questions for the audience to solve. He is the author of many crossword puzzle books and constructor of the Sunday puzzles that appear in 60 newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the guest of LMU’s Honors Program.
From the first puzzle in 1913 a daily newspaper, crosswords have been an enduring national pastime. The 2006 documentary “Wordplay,” which features Reagle constructing a puzzle, shows how widespread the word game habit is, occupying the time and energies of presidents, athletes and millions of Americans.
Many of the audience could count themselves among those devotees. Reagle would pose a question to the audience, followed by a hush as the crowd thought through it. The silence was often broken by a lone burst of laughter from the first person to solve the puzzle.
Reagle takes a light-hearted approach to his puzzles, on the advice of his first editor. He told how he was admonished after submitting a couple of puzzles with serious themes. “Death, disease, war and taxes are all over the paper,” Reagle was told. “The puzzle needs to be an entertainment.”
Every year Reagle helps run the National Brain Game Challenge, a crossword puzzle contest that raises money for Alzheimer’s disease research. Recent studies have shown that increasing mental activity, such as solving crossword puzzles, can help in slowing the progress of the degenerative disease. Reagle takes quickly to the exercise analogy, calling his puzzles “a Thighmaster for the brain.”