Autumn 2007: Register

The Professional Puzzler

Trip Payne 90C has earned national renown—and a movie role—as a crossword creator

By Paige P. Parvin 96G

Trip Payne 90C in the movie Wordplay.

Courtesy IFC Films

When Dr. Seuss’s Grinch failed to steal Christmas, he “puzzled and puzzled ’til his puzzler was sore.” This quirky phrase could as easily describe Trip Payne 90C, who has been singularly devoted to crossword puzzles since he was a kid.

As an English major at Emory, Payne spent every summer working at Games magazine, then the best-known puzzle magazine in the country. Now a freelance crossword creator, Payne has constructed literally thousands of puzzles for publications including the New York Times and has some fifteen books to his credit (see

Success has brought Payne modest fame in the world of crosswords. Last year, he was featured in the documentary movie Wordplay, in which director Patrick Creadon shone a spotlight on the tight-knit puzzling community that gathers each year at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Payne has won the renowned tournament three times and in 1993 was the youngest person at the time to have won.

“It was amazing,” he says. “Just being up on stage next to other top solvers and having all these people watch you like it’s a sports competition—that’s a feeling I don’t usually get.”

For the film, Creadon flew down to Boca Raton, Florida, to interview Payne and his partner, Brian Dominy, in their home, where they are shown goofing off together over a game of mini-basketball.

Indigo Girls Emily Saliers 85C and Amy Ray 86C, whose lyrics were once featured in the Times puzzle, also make a cameo appearance.

Despite his brush with fame, Payne is probably happiest in front of his computer, designing a puzzle to stump even the most seasoned solver.

“I get to entertain millions of people a year,” he says. “That’s a good feeling.”