COURIER readers are a passionate bunch. When a story strikes a chord‚ÄĒthe doomed water company takeover, moving the Renwick House to make way for Pomona College‚Äôs new museum, or most recently the failed police station bond measure‚ÄĒour readers don‚Äôt hold back: they let us know how they feel.
But passions aren‚Äôt reserved solely for big money, long-term, high-impact topics. A couple of weeks ago, the COURIER had to withhold one of our most popular features, the crossword puzzle, for two consecutive issues. And you‚Äôd have thought we‚Äôd somehow cut the city‚Äôs air conditioning, or shut off its water.
Early Monday morning, three subscribers called to ask for the answer grid. After the second week it went missing from the COURIER, one gentleman left an exasperated voicemail to say he was prepared to cancel his subscription.¬†
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the strangest phenomenon,‚ÄĚ said COURIER puzzle writer Myles Mellor. ‚ÄúOn a national level, I had that happen with a major paper and hundreds of people called me, hundreds of people called the paper, and I got like 200 emails over a weekend. I called the editor on the Monday after and said, ‚ÄėYou‚Äôd think people might be more interested in healthcare, and all the articles you publish, but no, the real thing is if they get their crossword puzzle!‚Äô‚ÄĚ
The ebullient Mr. Mellor, 67, is one of the world‚Äôs most successful puzzle writers. He‚Äôs also a genuine innovator in the specialized world of puzzle creation, having pioneered individualized theme puzzles for virtually any audience.
The COURIER was among the first to run his puzzles a decade ago. He‚Äôs now syndicated in about 100 newspapers and is published regularly in some 100 magazines. He‚Äôs written puzzles for more than 600 magazines and published 45 puzzle books. He‚Äôs also the main contributor in the top crossword app on Google Play.¬†
His story is a classic all-American (via Britain) pull yourself up by your wits and ingenuity tale, complete with a heart-wrenching genesis and a kindly, selfless mentor.
Mr. Mellor was born in Oxford, England. He immigrated to the US in 1984, settling in Los Angeles.
‚ÄúI came for the weather,‚ÄĚ he said with a laugh. ‚ÄúI was tired of the cold in England.‚ÄĚ He now lives in Carlsbad, California. He‚Äôs been married to his second wife, Debbie, for 13 years. They each have two grown children from their respective previous marriages.
Mr. Mellor‚Äôs dad was a puzzle-loving school headmaster. Father and son bonded over the brain-teasing test of solving puzzles from English newspapers.
Sixteen years after Mr. Mellor immigrated to the US, the family suffered one of the most painful of losses when his mother died in 2000.
‚ÄúMy dad was really lonely and depressed, and I was over here so there was not a lot I could do,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor recalled. ‚ÄúBut I thought I had to cheer him up somehow, and I knew he really loved crossword puzzles.‚ÄĚ
So, with a piece of paper and a black felt tip pen he made some rough drawings, colored in some black squares and created his first puzzles.
‚ÄúI sent them over to him and he just loved them,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúHe was so appreciative that I would sit down and do that for him. And he was funny; he would write back and say, ‚ÄėI loved the puzzle, but you made a spelling mistake!‚Äô like a true solver!‚ÄĚ
Encouraged, he kept at it. ‚ÄúI felt I‚Äôd done something for him to help him through the grief of my mom dying,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThey were together for 50 years, and never went anywhere without each other.‚ÄĚ
After solving several of the increasingly enjoyable puzzles, his dad had a suggestion. ‚ÄúHe said, ‚ÄėYou know, some of these are pretty good. Why don‚Äôt you try to publish them?‚Äô And that is how this all started. Because after that I thought, ‚ÄėLet me try this out, it can‚Äôt do any harm.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
He sent out a few puzzles to about 100 syndicates, newspapers and magazines. ‚ÄúAnd just absolutely nothing happened for six months,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúMy wife was really funny, she said ‚ÄėMyles, don‚Äôt quit your day job.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
But the tide was about to turn in a most fortuitous way.
One morning, while walking to work in Glendale, he passed a newspaper rack selling the Orange County Register and thought he‚Äôd take a look at the puzzle section.
‚ÄúAnd I saw these little puzzles that weren‚Äôt crossword puzzles,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúThey were kind of word searches, and all these little tiny puzzles.‚ÄĚ Beneath them was an email address for David Hoyt.
‚ÄúSo I thought, ‚ÄėHe got published, maybe I should just write to him and get some tips,‚Äô‚ÄĚ?Mr. Mellor recalled, ‚Äúbecause I need something. This is going nowhere.‚ÄĚ
Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Hoyt was one of the top inventors of new types of puzzles in the world. He created the popular ‚ÄúJumble‚ÄĚ puzzles and is now involved in creating word game apps. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs just a genius,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúHe probably has 40 or 50 puzzle trademarks.‚ÄĚ
Mr. Hoyt asked what Mr. Mellor had in mind. He told him about a new idea he had to create entire crossword puzzles based on specific themes.
‚ÄúLet‚Äôs say you have a travel magazine, you‚Äôve got to write a crossword about travel, because that‚Äôs what they‚Äôre interested in,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúAnd [Mr. Hoyt] said, ‚ÄėYou know Myles, this is not a bad idea.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Mr. Mellor was still creating his puzzles free hand, with a felt tip pen. Mr. Hoyt guided him toward a computer software-based platform, made some other suggestions and asked him to call him back in a couple of months with a progress report.
‚ÄúSo I did,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúI did everything he said. Then I finally wrote emails to some editors and publishers, and one person replied and said ‚ÄėI‚Äôd like to see one of these.‚Äô‚ÄĚ That spark came from 9-1-1 Magazine, a niche publication for emergency responders, which published Mr. Mellor‚Äôs first themed crossword in 2002.
By the end of that year Mr. Mellor had published about 50 crosswords, and had made a respectable amount of money. The next year his income doubled, and the next year it doubled again. By 2006 he was making as much writing crosswords as he was in his day job as the CEO of a company that sold and serviced laser printers and cartridges.
Most crossword writers end up in a day job, making puzzles in their spare time for a little money. ‚ÄúWhich is fine, but I didn‚Äôt want to do that,‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said. ‚ÄúI went the other way because I found other ways of doing it.‚ÄĚ
Indeed he has. He quit his day job a decade ago, and his puzzle business continues to grow today.
‚ÄúWhen I first talked to Myles I was like, ‚ÄėThis guy is awesome, he is serious about this,‚Äô‚ÄĚ said Mr. Hoyt. ‚ÄúI was thrilled to help him. He has worked his butt off to get where he is. He truly has. It‚Äôs very difficult to become a puzzle maker today, but Myles has truly put in the time and effort. His puzzles are getting better and better and better. He has become successful through hard work, and I could not be happier for him.‚ÄĚ
Mr. Mellor‚Äôs infectious laugh and good natured manner have no doubt helped him along on his journey from upstart to kingpin.
‚ÄúI get emails from people all the time, every day, wanting my advice and to do what I do or to submit puzzle ideas,‚ÄĚ Mr. Hoyt said. ‚ÄúBut Myles was so nice and patient and polite. Once I talked to him, I was just like, ‚ÄėI can‚Äôt believe this person has any natural enemy in the whole world.‚Äô He‚Äôs that nice of a guy.‚ÄĚ
With his career continuing to blossom, and with it his profile, I had to ask: are there crossword puzzle groupies?
‚ÄúNo. Never!‚ÄĚ Mr. Mellor said with a genial laugh. ‚ÄúYou know, it‚Äôs very funny you should ask that. Puzzle writers, they‚Äôre kind of like naughty children: they‚Äôre best seen and not heard. They may be seen very fleetingly on the top of the crossword puzzle, and then people move on.‚ÄĚ
He‚Äôs currently at work on a new series of books. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve written thousands of puzzles by now, so I‚Äôm going to make 20 or 30 books of my own, and I‚Äôm going to start promoting those.‚ÄĚ¬†
‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure a lot of people know who I am, fans, but they don‚Äôt come up to me in the street,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThey don‚Äôt know who I am. I‚Äôm not on CNN. Ha!‚ÄĚ