Gustie Owens ’18 wins Crosswords in NYT Fellowship

Lucy Peck, Staff Writer

Gustie Owens ’18 recalls working on the New York Times (NYT) crossword in history class when history teacher Barry Bienstock suddenly said from across the room, “12 across is alligator.” She realized that the crossword had been reflected in her glasses, she said.

Last week, Owens joined the NYT inaugural Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship, a three month long program which offers opportunities to a diverse range of crossword creators. The program will run from April 18 to July 18.

Owens has always enjoyed word games, she said. She first began to solve crosswords when she was in middle school, and in high school it became an integral part of her daily routine, she said. “I find a lot of ways to procrastinate, and crosswords are one of those ways.” She began to create crosswords in high school when she was EIC for The Record and made them for family and friends as gifts, she said.

When she was 16 years old, Owens submitted her first crossword to the NYT, but it was rejected, she said. However, she continued to submit crosswords to publications like the NYT and the Los Angeles Times. 

To construct crosswords, Owens makes clues that are relevant to the current times, she said. For example, she used Kylie Jenner’s daughter, Stormi Webster as an answer for one of her clues. “I love the idea that my dad will learn who Stormi Webster is.”

As a part of the NYT application, Owens created a crossword and questions about her passion for the puzzles, she said. She included a list of words she wanted to publish in her crosswords and how she would define them, she said. Owens found “red flag” to be especially funny because it can be interpreted in different ways by different generations, she said. 

The NYT program aims to increase diversity in the crossword world and offers opportunities to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, which is important because it makes the puzzles more engaging to a wider range of people, Owens said. In the program, she hopes to make crosswords more accessible to younger generations by omitting clues about obscure subjects or older celebrities whom they may not know. 

Over the three months in the program, she will attend seminars led by professional NYT crossword constructors about puzzle development and work with a mentor, Owens said. She is excited to receive feedback on her crosswords and collaborate with other puzzle enthusiasts. “Creating crosswords will be more fun the better I am at it.”