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A passion to fit words together

For more than 25 years, Marilynn Huret has created and edited crossword puzzles.

Marilynn Huret, competing in a spelling bee at the Neshaminy Mall, spells "hippopotamus." Emcee Rob Baldi holds the microphone.
Marilynn Huret, competing in a spelling bee at the Neshaminy Mall, spells "hippopotamus." Emcee Rob Baldi holds the microphone.Read more

It is the feeling that anyone addicted to crossword puzzles knows well. The last letter, or number, or word gets figured out and penciled in.

Ahhhhh, completion. And then, next one.

When Marilynn Huret of Lower Makefield isn't scribbling in a puzzle and seeking that feeling herself, she is creating the brainteasers that are the welcome adversaries of the puzzle crowd.

Huret specializes in crosswords. She creates them, edits them, and uploads them to the Garfield Games Web site for which she is the puzzle editor. In more than 25 years as a puzzle creator, she has edited puzzles and provided them for newspapers, magazines and Web sites.

Today, Huret is hosting a crossword puzzle tournament at the Lower Makefield Township Building. She will bring the clock and the crosswords (courtesy of Will Shortz of the New York Times), and will serve as emcee.

"I always liked the idea of things fitting together," said Huret, who declined to reveal her age (records show she's 67). "I feel like it tests me. Sometimes I can't go to sleep until I finish."

That craving to solve the puzzle is familiar to millions of enthusiasts. About 10.3 percent of people in the United States work on at least one crossword puzzle a month - 22.36 million people overall - according to a 2006 study by Mediamark Research Inc.

"The audiences for puzzles has broadened over the last 10 to 15 years," said Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and National Public Radio's "puzzlemaster."

"It used to be geared toward older people. Now it's for everybody including teens on up."

One explanation is the incorporation of everyday language into crosswords, Shortz said. Another is the popularity of the 2006 documentary Wordplay.

The film features Shortz and others who love crosswords. Parts of the movie were filmed at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the contest Shortz directs each year in Stamford, Conn.

Huret is in a small scene about a third of the way through the movie, inviting a tournament newbie to dine with a group of veterans.

"They filmed me going, 'She's new!' " Huret said. The tournament had a record attendance of more than 700 last month, and was won for the third consecutive year by 22-year-old Tyler Hinman.

"There is no stereotypical puzzler," said Ken Stern, president of the National Puzzlers League, which is devoted to the pursuit of word puzzles. "There are people who are all ages, backgrounds and skills."

But they do have a common love of words and language, Shortz said, and "good crossword people know a little about everything."

For Huret, the infatuation with puzzles started when she was young. Her sisters played with dolls; Huret played games.

"I was always trying to get people to play Monopoly, Sorry, jigsaw puzzles, and then I got hooked on word puzzles," Huret said. "I was the oldest of four. I had to find things to do while my mother took care of the others. And we didn't have a television."

Huret earned a degree in mathematics from Adelphi University in New York. Her path to puzzle creation began in the late 1970s when she discovered Games magazine (Shortz is a former editor). She began to construct puzzles and submit them for publication.

When she moved to Bucks County, she met an editor who needed 160 word puzzles in three weeks. Huret supplied them, and they were published in 1982's The Great Puzzle Catalogue.

Since then, Huret has edited and constructed puzzles for 101 Crossword Puzzles for Dummies, volumes one through five. She creates the Sudoku numbers puzzles for a local newspaper, and edits and creates word puzzles for

"She loves to solve things," husband Barry Huret said, "whether it's the puzzles, or taking apart a microwave, a washing machine or a computer."

Marilynn Huret's puzzle sanctuary is an upstairs room in her home where there are hundreds of reference books for everything from anagrams to quotations. There are dictionaries for insults, and books about puns and advertising slogans. And, she is surrounded by everything Garfield.

Huret, whose puzzle nickname is Asobi (Japanese for "play"), starts to construct the crosswords on paper or by using scrabble letters. She then creates the clues. She could use the computer to help, but Huret says computers can't provide the nuance of a human.

Her life with puzzles has included wearing puzzle pajamas, playing Puzzles the clown at children's hospitals, and creating word brainteasers in Hebrew.

As a constructor, she winces at tournaments when she sees someone solve in six minutes a crossword that it might have taken 100 painstakingly creative hours to produce.

"It's like a slap in the face," Huret said. "It's like being in the Louvre and somebody rides a motorcycle through it."

If You Go

A crossword puzzle tournament to benefit the Makefield Area branch of the American Association of University Women will be held at 12:30 p.m. today at the Lower Makefield Township Building, 1100 Edgewood Rd. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door. Proceeds will benefit association projects, including scholarships.