2004-01-07 / Front Page

Metuchen crossword creator keeps at it

Despite success,
84-year-old resident still considers it a hobby
Staff Writer

Despite success,
84-year-old resident still considers it a hobby

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Metuchen resident Frances Hansen creates crossword puzzles for national publications.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Metuchen resident Frances Hansen creates crossword puzzles for national publications.


Staff Writer

Most people consider it enough of a challenge to complete a crossword puzzle.

Frances Hansen goes one better — she creates them. It doesn’t take all that long, either.

"Oh, it usually takes me about five days from beginning ’til end," she said. "Two days figuring out what words to use, two days for definitions and one day pulling everything together. Of course, that doesn’t include drawing the diagram. And Sunday puzzles take a little longer because they have to be a bit bigger on the page."

Hansen, 84, had no interest in crossword puzzles until she starting solving them on a casual basis in the late ’50s. The more she did them, the more she got hooked until, in 1964 after a year of hard work, she constructed her very own puzzle and sent it to The New York Times.

It was summarily rejected and returned to her with a set of rules and a list of mistakes she had made, according to Hansen.

Not one to get discouraged, Hansen spent the next eight months learning her craft and perfecting her puzzle. When she was done, she sent the puzzle back to the Times.

This time, it made the paper.

When Hansen received her check for $35, a professional crossword puzzle creator was born.

Hansen’s talent is a natural one.

The lifelong Metuchen resident did not attend college or take any special courses.

"I was always good in English," she said. "And I always liked to write. I’ve had a couple of pieces of verse published in Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan over the years."

The use of verse is one of the tricks of Hansen’s trade.

"Verse gives a puzzle a particular form," she said. "You know, the rhyme scheme is something people are comfortable with, and I like that kind of writing."

The most recent bit of verse appeared as The New York Times’ Christmas puzzle.

Hansen, who married in 1941, is the mother of two sons. She doesn’t consider her talent anything special.

"After all these years, I still consider it a hobby," she said. "It’s a nice way to make a little added income."

Although she makes a lot more than $35 per puzzle these days, Hansen politely refused to disclose just how much the rate has increased.

"Let’s just say it’s up in the hundreds," she said.

While she’s cut back on her puzzle constructing these days, Hansen is still quite productive.

When she gets the urge to sit down and create, she’ll call various newspaper syndicates and see what they need.

But she’s put enough time in so publishers will come to her, too.

"I get calls from Dell and Simon and Schuster for those crossword puzzle books you see at newsstands," she said.

Hansen has a few tips for any would-be crossword constructors.

"Get a list of rules from the crossword editor of the publication you want to write for," she says. "Each publication has their own little preferences. Use lots of reference books because if you refer to a person, you better be right. You don’t want his or her family members angry with you."

Hansen also recommends taking on most of the responsibility for the success of a puzzle.

"You can use your editor as a safety net, but try to get the job done on your own," she said.

Hansen may downplay her ability, but it’s clear she appreciates it, too.

"I get a great feeling of accomplish­ment when I see a puzzle of mine in print," she said. "Constructing puzzles is something to get up for."

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