University of Delaware
Alex Vratsanos has written the 11-11-11 crossword puzzle that will appear in Friday's New York Times.

Lucky eleven

Freshman crafts special Times crossword puzzle to celebrate the date 11-11-11


8:33 a.m., Nov. 8, 2011--This Friday morning, some people will get up and start getting ready for weddings later in the day, while more superstitious folks might wake up with a sense of uneasiness about what 11-11-11 will bring. But University of Delaware freshman Alex Vratsanos will head for the Newark Newsstand to buy a keepsake copy of The New York Times.

Friday’s crossword puzzle, a special tribute to the number 11, was crafted by the chemical engineering major and Honors Program student from Slatington, Pa. But 11 is apparently not Vratsanos’s only lucky number. He had his first New York Times crossword puzzle published on a date most people consider unlucky—the 13th. That coincided with his high school graduation in June 2011.

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Vratsanos originally wanted to celebrate 10-10-10 with a special puzzle, but the idea didn’t come to him until late July of that year, and he quickly realized that he wouldn’t have enough time to complete it and get it through the review process by the deadline. So he set his sights on 11-11-11.

Vratsanos submitted the 11 puzzle to the Times in January. “I heard back from crossword editor Will Shortz in June, saying that I should revise the puzzle—he liked the idea a lot, but he thought the grid needed work.”

Following another round of revisions, the puzzle was accepted. By then, Vratsanos was on a first-name basis with Shortz.

The young puzzle writer is no stranger to rejections and requests for revisions. He began creating puzzles in 2006, when he was just 13 years old.  “I sent in my first one in 2009,” he says. “It was rejected, but I kept on going. I got rejected five times before my first one was published.”

Is he tempted to do another date-celebrating puzzle next year, on 12-12-12?

“I’m thinking about it,” he says, “but it would be similar to many movie sequels—they often aren't as good as the originals.”

Besides, Dec. 12 falls on a Wednesday next year, and Vratsanos says a Wednesday puzzle would probably not be as much fun to construct. He likes Friday because that’s the second-hardest puzzle of the week—only Saturday’s is more difficult.

For now, he just wants people to pick up the Times on 11-11-11 and try to solve his puzzle.  “Remember,” he says, “that date won’t come again for 100 years.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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