What is it like creating puzzles for a living?

WYZA® interviews Australia’s favourite puzzler to share the story behind her success.

Lovatts Crosswords and Puzzles is a family owned and operated business established in 1978 by James and Christine Lovatt. The company has stood the test of time to become a household name and is a genuine Australian success story. A generation of dedicated readers has grown up with Lovatts, and a future audience is following in their footsteps as families pass on their passion for puzzles.

So, how exactly did this sixty-something sensation and former nurse Christine Lovatt make all of this happen?

Q. Tell us a bit about you
My husband James and I are now in our 60s and live in the lovely beach suburb of Terrigal in NSW, just down the road from our oldest child Patrick, who lives further up the hill with his wife and baby daughter Alexis. I’m very lucky to have a gorgeous little granddaughter just up the road, which means I can babysit when necessary. And another little grandchild is on the way - very exciting.

Our other son Dominic lives in Sydney with his fiancée, with a wedding coming up soon, more excitement! And I’ve just spend the weekend in Melbourne visiting our daughter Kitty, who lives and works there. All three children have been involved in the business. Now Dominic and Kitty are trying out different avenues while Patrick is Director and Circulation Manager here at Lovatts.


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The Lovatts family have a passion for puzzles

Q. When did your fascination with puzzles begin?
My father was a Welshman with a great love of language and literature. He loved solving cryptic crosswords, especially in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. He would tackle them on the train on his way home from work.

Q. What is your earliest memory of enjoying doing puzzles?
If my father had finished his crossword, he was quite restless, pacing about the house and driving my mother mad. So we children were dispatched to “occupy your father” while she cooked dinner. My role involved getting him to teach me how to solve cryptic crosswords. I was about 12 at the time. I started making crosswords for him to solve, with homespun cryptic clues about the family etc. In this way, I learned how to make crosswords. I then started making them for the school magazines. My father was very proud of his role in the development of Lovatts Crosswords.

"A variety of puzzles that keep your brain active is recommended to combat the onset of dementia"

Q. Why do you love puzzles so much?
Puzzling is a form of escapism. Not that I have a great deal to escape from, but when you’re deeply immersed in a puzzle, you lose yourself and enter another world. This is apparently a form of meditation and is about getting away from the daily stresses of life. I love the fact that I am always learning. Also there is a great feeling of satisfaction in solving any puzzle – that ‘Aha!’ moment.

Q. What kind of puzzles are your favourites and why?
I love any puzzle that makes me think, and the ones that do that best are probably Cryptics, Skeletons and Acrostics. I also enjoy Killer Sudoku puzzles. Puzzling is a form of problem solving, finding the missing pieces (Skeletons), sometimes working backwards and forwards (Acrostics), and thinking laterally, keeping an open mind (Cryptics).

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Crosswords and other word puzzles use the right side of the brain. While Sudoku and other logic puzzles use the left side of the brain.

Q. It has been shown time and time again that doing puzzles regularly is good for brain health. What do you think of this?
A variety of puzzles that keep your brain active is recommended to combat the onset of dementia. Our Lovatts puzzlers often write in to tell us how much their memories and also word skills have improved since taking up puzzle-solving. Especially if they don’t settle for easy puzzles but tackle the more challenging ones. Crosswords and other word puzzles use the right side of the brain whereas Sudoku or other logic puzzles use the left side. So if you can do both, you are giving your brain a total workout.

Mindfulness is also being hailed as another ‘must have’ as a way to keep our brains healthy in this increasingly frantic world. There is lots of research on the benefits of art therapy in reducing stress and colouring-in allows your mind to get the rest it needs. For this reason we recently launched our new magazine, Inklings, an adult colouring-in title with a unique puzzle element to the beautifully detailed illustrations.

"Solving crosswords improves word skills"

Q. What are other benefits for readers who do puzzles regularly?
Solving crosswords improves word skills. At any age, we find it frustrating to be unable to find the word we need to describe something. Crosswords are also a pastime that you can do alone or with others. They are not an expensive hobby and they are fun! They often bring people together. We hear from our readers via the Lovatts Facebook page, email and snail mail, that they sometimes get on the phone to friends or family to pick their brains or have their own brains picked.

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Art therapy helps reduce stress and colouring-in allows your mind to get the rest it needs

Puzzles are also a great way to pass the time. Many people always take a crossword magazine when going to the doctor or dentist, so that they have something interesting to do in the waiting room. Those who live on their own find puzzle magazines are invaluable companions, and are often well-travelled too. Puzzlers often send us photos of themselves with their Lovatts puzzle magazines in far-off locations, because they are great travel companions. We also offer online tutorials on how to solve different types of puzzles. Those who are learning English as a second language find that solving crosswords helps them to build up their vocabulary.

"We drew up the black and white grid with a felt tip pen, and looked through my well-thumbed old dictionary to find words to fit"

Q. How and why did you decide to create Lovatts Crosswords & Puzzles?
My husband James was working on People magazine in Sydney back in 1978, while I was working in hospital as a nursing sister. He was given the job of finding someone to create a huge crossword to compete with the Post’s Wisdom Whopper (of which I was a fan). When he couldn’t find anyone, he remembered that I had created crosswords, and came home with a bunch of flowers and asked if I’d like a new challenge. It certainly was. He didn’t tell me straight away just how big this crossword had to be!

In those pre-computer days, we drew up the black and white grid with a felt tip pen, and looked through my well-thumbed old dictionary to find words to fit. It all seems very primitive now, but it worked! It took me three weeks of hard slog, late nights and inky fingers, with James giving me a hand typing the clues on our battered old typewriter, when he came home from work.

Finally I made a page-sized diamond-shaped crossword, stained with blood, sweat and tears which was accepted by the magazine and we called it the Colossus. It was then expected weekly, so I had very little sleep for the next few years! Gradually the Colossus gained a reputation among crossword aficionados, so much so that Woman’s Day magazine, Women’s Weekly and others approached us to supply a regular crossword for their magazines.

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Check out WYZA® Puzzles for a variety of  online crossword, sudoku and trivia games

James gave up his job to join me, and eventually we brought out our own Colossus magazine. It was joined later by the Lovatts BIG Crossword magazine. Now we have 23 different titles, and publish more than 170 magazine issues a year!

Q. Please explain exactly how Lovatts Crosswords & Puzzles works for readers? What is available for free and what is subscriber based?
We have 23 magazine titles that are available from newsagencies and supermarkets as well as via subscription. Subscriptions are a great way to save time and money, as the magazines are sent directly to your door.

Our magazines are varied – some contain a mix of crosswords, and puzzles, and others are dedicated to specific types of puzzles. There is something for everyone and we have quite a few puzzle fanatics who get every single magazine and solve the lot!

We also have puzzles you can play on a wide range of devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. These are on our website, on our games website and of course here on WYZA®.

Lovatts has been publishing crosswords and puzzle magazines for over 30 years and I suspect the secret behind our success is that our puzzlers have come to know and expect that every puzzle is created according to Lovatts’ values of consistency, solvability, challenge, and entertainment. We feel very strongly about providing a personal hands-on service to our puzzlers, so we take on board all comments, queries, suggestions and requests.

Just recently, we launched our new Handy Acrostics magazine in response to so many requests for a magazine dedicated to this popular puzzle. Many of our readers write to tell us they feel part of a large extended family of puzzlers.

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You can help improve your memory and word skills by taking up puzzle-solving

Q. How do you come up with the ideas for puzzles?
When we started we found that other crosswords would use quite a few obsolete words that were only ever seen in crosswords, such as inly, anent or clepe. We came up with the concept of cutting out these words altogether and creating crosswords that did not require solutions to be found only in dictionaries but also in encyclopaedias. We introduced general knowledge clues, which weren’t included in crosswords back in the 1970s.

Most of our original puzzles, created by James and myself, have proved popular so we still feature them – really big crosswords like the Colossus crossword, and the BIG crossword. We came up with the coded crossword which we originally called Starhunt, and we have since then introduced many more.

We have terrific fun both coming up with the ideas and actually creating them. We also have a very talented, innovative and dedicated team here at Lovatts and between us all we produce thousands of puzzles for the education and entertainment of our community of loyal puzzlers.

"We call our puzzle makers ‘compilers’. They all think it’s a dream job!"

Q. What does it take to become a professional ‘puzzle maker’?
We call our puzzle makers ‘compilers’, and they all think it’s a dream job! Our compilers are men and women, aged from 25 to 70. They come from all walks of life, but share a love of words and language. When we interview new compilers, we give them a rigorous spelling and grammar test. Nearly all who apply have been crossword solvers for some years. A compiler also understands that puzzles are to educate so they must be accurate and they are also to entertain so they must be interesting.

Q. How have puzzles changed over the past few decades and what do you see as a future trend?
Crosswords used to be more formal and academic, sometimes using Latin and Greek references and requiring a university education to solve them. Now they are more relevant, and we are proud of the part we have played in making them more popular and more doable.

As far as the future goes - if only we could use a crystal ball to tell the future of puzzles, we would have been the first to develop the Sudoku. Some puzzlers love to solve online while others prefer the medium of paper and continue to buy the magazines. Who knows what the next puzzling trend will be? We like to look out for new trends and see how we can add a puzzle element – as we have with our Inklings colouring magazine.


Can you solve this online puzzle?

Q. Are you excited about your partnership with WYZA®?
We’re very excited about our partnership with WYZA®. Just like WYZA®, we are passionate about publishing only the best quality content. We love this chance to tell new readers what makes Lovatts unique.

We are proud to be supplying the online puzzle content for WYZA®. We are also offering readers a chance to ‘get to know’ Lovatts by receiving a free single issue subscription to one of our most popular magazines, Christine’s BIG Crossword (See the WYZA® newsletter for more details).

Visit WYZA's new puzzle section here

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