It was at a breakfast table at Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) in Mumbai that investment banker Mangesh Ghogre started his relationship with crossword puzzles. He was an 18-year-old engineering student at the institute. What started as a vocabulary building exercise to prepare for the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) exam has now turned into a passion. Ghogre, now 32, is the first Indian to have constructed crosswords for LA Times and The Wall Street Journal. This year, he also became the first Indian to judge The New York Times Crossword Puzzle tournament.
“All my friends who started along with me left the hobby, but I kept at it,” says Ghogre, a resident of Panvel, on the outer reaches of Mumbai. “I used to attempt the crossword in The Times of India, which is basically the LA Times crossword. There were many clues in it that I didn’t get, as they were too American. And I had never been to America [till this year, when I judged the NYT competition]. But I used to keep a dictionary and note things down every day. I kept at it for almost 10 years and that’s how I became better. On my 28th birthday, I wanted to make a crossword and gift it to myself.”
He mailed the crossword to LA Times’ editor, who even responded to his initiative. “I am so glad he did that,” says Ghogre. “I got a crossword in LA Times and also published stuff in American magazines like Games and World of Puzzles. There is a whole community of crossword enthusiasts who got to know me.”
The trick to solving a crossword is twofold, says Ghogre. You need patience to crack the answers and dedication to check solutions the next day, till the day you get all the answers on the grid. To make a crossword is a different ballgame. “Crosswords need to have a theme, which is like a longer solution to the puzzle. If you get the theme, you can solve the crossword. For example, in one of my crosswords, the two main answers were ‘strawberry jelly’ and ‘apple butter crème’. The theme? The Middle Age Spread. If you have too much of these spreads, you will suffer from Middle Age Spread. I know it’s confusing,” he laughs.
Ghogre is hoping his next crossword will get the nod of NYT’s crossword editor, Will Shortz. “When I was in New York, I told Shortz that it was my Oscar moment. To get a crossword in NYT will be the next best thing.”