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Keeping the crosswords puzzling

Talk about your late bloomer: one of Canada’s foremost crossword writers only started doing crossword puzzles in her 50s.

Talk about your late bloomer: one of Canada’s foremost crossword writers only started doing crossword puzzles in her 50s.

“I always loved words and had a big vocabulary and was a big reader from an early age,” says Kathleen Hamilton, now 67. The Montrealer was born in Saskatchewan and majored in French at the University of Saskatchewan. She ended up in Toronto, where she lived for 20 years, working as an editor.

But around the time she got into puzzles, chronic fatigue syndrome made working full-time a challenge. So she moved out to Victoria in 1997 to become a freelance writer.

Not long after the move, she read an article about how to write your own crosswords. Hamilton grabbed a piece of paper and gave it a try.

“I loved it. It was so engrossing, it was wonderful.”

She bought crossword-making software and decided to produce four pamphlets of puzzles a year.

Realizing this plan would take far too much work, Hamilton soon created a larger annual book, put a big maple leaf on the cover, and hauled it to Toronto for the fall 1998 Word on the Street book and magazines fair.

When the publisher of the Toronto Star, John Honderich, walked by, she gave him a book. The following February, the Star called — readers were demanding more Canadian content in their puzzles.

Hamilton’s North of 49 puzzle has been running on Saturdays ever since. It’s now syndicated and appears in papers across the country. One week a month, she creates a batch of four new puzzles to run in the newspaper.

Hamilton starts by creating four different word lists of 100 words each. She tries to make most of the long words Canadian.

She selects some grids and lets her computer program generate several possible puzzles for each list. She picks the ones that look the best, then it’s on to the task of creating clues.

Armed with a dictionary, she writes clues that are accurate and fun without being too hard or abstract. She keeps a record of all the clues she’s written — she now has thousands — so she can reuse an old one if she likes, but avoids repeating them too often.

She then looks over the crossword to make sure it’s entertaining and not too hard, and double checks for mistakes.

When she’s not crossword creating, Hamilton works on her business — she’s currently self-publishing an annual collection — or spends time with her grandson.

Does she still love puzzles? She’s actually tired of regular crosswords: she’s now into Sudoku and cryptic crosswords.

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