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Wordplay

Prolific puzzle-maker Patrick Merrell lives by his wits

“I’m in the zone, totally absorbed,” Merrell says about the concentration required while constructing on a puzzle. “You’re constantly adjusting. It’s enjoyable, but it’s hard work, too.”

“I’m in the zone, totally absorbed,” Merrell says about the concentration required while constructing on a puzzle. “You’re constantly adjusting. It’s enjoyable, but it’s hard work, too.”

Patrick Merrell swears he’s not trying to drive his legion of followers mad.

With crossword puzzles there is a fine line between entertainment and torment. Merrell should know. He’s a crossword “constructor” who has been composing puzzles for The New York Times (a total of 86 including 20 Sundays) — the world’s leading puzzle institution — since 2001. He also creates puzzles for the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, People, Sports Illustrated, MAD Magazine, Scientific American, Crayola, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the World Puzzle Championship and many more.

Merrell has illustrated, designed, and/or written more than 300 books, including 90 puzzle books, and is one of MAD’s “Usual Gang of Idiots.” Patrick and his wife, Mary Dee, moved from Mount Vernon, New York, to Vero Beach in July 2016 after visiting his wife’s sister, who has a home locally. The couple was intrigued by the small-town lifestyle, the beaches, the parks and cultural scene, and Merrell regularly carves out time for 30-mile bike rides with the Vero Cycling Club.