Will Shortz is a puzzling fellow.

He has a law degree but has never used it. He has never practiced law, never even taken a bar exam.

Shortz says he got the law degree from the University of Virginia because he couldn't imagine making a living making puzzles.

He was wrong.

Shortz, 55, who will be in town this weekend to host The Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship, has managed to build his whole professional life around puzzles. His business card, adorned with a color drawing of a pencil, says it all: Will Shortz, Puzzlemaster.

Shortz's principal work is editing the New York Times crossword puzzle, a gig that has made him a deity in certain zip codes.

He also is the puzzlemaster for a seven- to eight-minute Sunday morning segment on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Puzzles have been a lifelong passion. Shortz created his first brain teasers as a boy of 8 or 9 on the horse farm where he grew up in Crawfordsville, Ind. He sold his first puzzle at age 14 to Venture, a Presbyterian Sunday school magazine.

At Indiana University, Shortz used the school's individualized major program to fashion a curriculum for himself in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He says he has the world's only degree in the subject.

After graduating from IU in 1974, Shortz headed to Charlottesville, Va., for law school.

"I thought puzzles would be a life of poverty," he says. "I thought I would practice law long enough to make money, and then retire to do puzzles."

But after interning for a summer at a crossword magazine company in Connecticut, Shortz realized he could make a living from puzzles, after all.

Warmed by the glow of that epiphany, Shortz wanted to drop out of law school, but his parents persuaded him to finish the program.

With his law degree in hand, he began filling in his own grid.

He went to work for Penny Press Magazines for seven months, then moved to Games Magazine.

In 1978, Shortz founded the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, an annual competition that became the subject of a documentary movie, Wordplay (2006).

Shortz also started his association with NPR in '87, and in October 1993 was named editor of the Times crossword.

Sudoku National Championship

Where: Convention Center, 12th and Arch Streets.

When: Saturday at 11 a.m.

Registration: Online, until noon Thursday. There is an extra $15 fee for on-site championship registration, which will be available between 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday.

Fees: For competition only, $10 or $50 ($8 or $40 for Inquirer and Daily News subscribers who register before Saturday), depending on age. A variety of packages, also depending on age, are available for events connected with the championship, including a reception Friday night and a post-championship meal Saturday.

Admission: Spectators are welcome, $8 for Inquirer and Daily News subscribers and $10 for nonsubscribers.

Information: Check online at www.philly.com/sudoku, e-mail sudoku@phillynews.com, or call 215-854-5221.

The documentary
Wordplay,
featuring Will Shortz, will be shown on WLVT (Channel 39) at 4 a.m. Thursday and Sunday, and on WHYY TV12 on Sunday at 12:30 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m.