By Prarthana Mitra
Armed with a litany of trivia on the history and geography of an English crossword puzzle, Mumbai-based Mangesh Ghogre has become a household name in the American crossword circuit by the virtue of his vocabulary. He is also the only non-American, born and raised outside the western continent, to have framed the esteemed New York Times crossword in American history, more than once.
So far, the 38-year old investment banker has published 11 crosswords in some of the most prestigious U.S. publications, including The New York Times that receives 100 weekly submissions on an average. He also served as a judge at the 600-participant strong American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for the fifth time this year.
Stuck on a puzzle?
Ghogre’s mastery over a foreign language is indisputable, but the secret to his success does not stop at that.
Will Shortz, the legendary crossword editor at The New York Times, tells Narratively “It is difficult for a non-American to make – or even solve – American crosswords because they’re so full of American culture.” He says, “You would have to understand American life and society and English as Americans speak it in order to master our puzzles.”
It wasn’t until Engineering school when Ghogre was around students who were prepping to study abroad that his interest in crosswords piqued. During the course of preparing for GMAT, he would be furiously solving the Times of India puzzle with his peers. Republished from The Los Angeles Times, its unfamiliar clues led the others to give up soon enough, but Ghogre, determined to learn about the culture that came with the puzzle, fed his curiosity with solving crosswords for long hours, often during lectures. His diaries from the college days reveal extensive notes on the most innocuous things. Soon, the thesaurus had become his new best friend and in no time, he was able to complete crosswords without assistance.
In 2009, he attempted to design his first crossword, his first puzzle was published in The Los Angeles Times in 2010.
A lost and rare art
“Few constructors from outside the U.S. have shown interest in, much less mastered, the art form of American-style crosswords,” Deb Amlen, head writer and editor of The New York Times’s Wordplay column, told Narratively in an email. “Mangesh’s crosswords show that he has an admirable grasp not only of American English colloquialisms but the art of setting the crossword as well.”
Despite family and work commitments, Ghogre still makes time to follow the latest puzzles and themes on online message boards. One of his crosswords themed on the American Independence Day, constructed along with American puzzler Brendan Emmett Quigley, went on to be published last year on the Fourth of July. Ghogre and Quigley had met at the tournament that year and designed the entire puzzle over WhatsApp.
— Mangesh Ghogre (@mangeshgho) July 6, 2017
A few of his crosswords were also displayed at Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, and earlier this year he organised a workshop on the art of solving and constructing an American crossword puzzle at the US embassy in Mumbai.
And the unveiling…Between the Lines..at artist center kala ghoda arts festival @htKGAF pic.twitter.com/4dP20kaaEc
— Mangesh Ghogre (@mangeshgho) February 2, 2014
Ghogre’s passion for crosswords rings like an elegy for the lost generation of Indian quizzers, puzzlers and word unscramblers. As he himself admits, it can be an immersive, introverted and isolating hobby, “like classical dance”, Ghogre tells Narratively. “Very few do it, and it takes years” to master.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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