For crossword puzzle solvers

By Mike Klocke


Zhouqin Burnikel, a native of China now living in Minneapolis, has a daily blog specifically about the Los Angeles Times Crossword Puzzle that also is published in The Record.


She does the same puzzle each day in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Her blog ( has become popular across the country among crossword solvers.


She moved to the United States in 2001 and began doing crossword puzzles to learn the English language. Zhouqin Burnikel answered some questions from me for a column for the June 14 issue of The Record. Here is the complete text of her answers:


How and when did you first start doing the blog? What were your initial reasons for wanting to do this?

I officially started solving and blogging TMS (Tribune Media Service) Daily puzzle edited by Wayne R. Williams on Jan 21, 2008. But I filled in my first crossword fill SOSA weeks earlier. I received Amy Reynaldo’s “How to Conquer the NYT Crossword Puzzle” as a Christmas gift and learned a lot about the basic crossword “100 Must-Know Words”. But I was confused about many TMS Daily cluing, and Google did not always give me the answers. So I decided to blog and get help from others. I was not aware that the puzzle was a TMS syndication and I had no idea that it was so widely distributed.

Some of our readers were angry when the Williams/Norris switch was made in March. What kind of adjustments did that mean for you? What are your impressions of the “new” puzzle?

Yeah, I received many private complaining emails/comments on the blog as well. I’ve been having difficulty adjusting to the new style myself. The multiple words give me the most trouble. Our previous editor Mr. Williams hardly used any multiple word or he eschewed partial fills. But I love the new puzzles, especially the themes. They are all so creative and tightly knitted. I also find Rich Norris’s clues very intelligent and entertaining. 

We publish Sudoku puzzles and no one seems to be bothered by the graduated difficulty throughout the week. But this was a concern for some crossword solvers when they got to the Thursday, Friday and Saturday crossword puzzles? How do you feel about the puzzles getting more difficult as the week goes on?

The unique thing about the old TMS Daily is its consistent difficulty level. It did not get more difficult as the week goes. It’s always pegged at 2 (on a scale of 1-5), very different from the new LAT format (The level of the difficulty for Monday and Tuesday puzzle is 1, Wednesday is 2, Thursday and Friday 3, Saturday 4 and Sunday 3). So I understand the frustrations of those who feel that the late week puzzles are impossible. Personally I like the increased toughness. I enjoy seeing how Rich Norris changes clues to make the puzzle more difficult rather than testing solvers’ knowledge on some abstract long words or obscure animals like the Asian Sika deer that I’ve never heard of.

You published an interview with Mr. Norris. He seemed very genuine and thoughtful in his answers. Anything surprise you? What have you learned from some of your other interviews with constructors?

The thing that surprises me most is how much work Rich Norris puts into the puzzle every day and how many of the amusing clues are actually his brainwork. Rich changes 1/3 to 1/2 of the clues to adjust its difficulty level and to avoid repeats of the same clues. I’ve never seen Rich uses identical clues on consecutive days. Here are what I’ve learned from my interviews/emails with those constructors: They are extremely nice people; They are passionate word lovers (nobody is getting rich by making grids); They read widely to get inspiration; It can takes them as few as 4 hours or as long as 1 year to make a puzzle; Many of them hate writing clues. 

Stockton is an area rich in cultural diversity. There are many English learners in our community. Do you have any advice from your experience on how crosswords can be of help?

Read your local newspaper, esp the sports/entertainment sections. It’s the most effective way to learn America and American people. And it will help you tremendously in solving crosswords. Also, don’t give up easily and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you visit a crossword blog.

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