Although he was brought up in a house full of dictionaries, Étienne Hannequart-Ferron was not destined for a career as a crossword author. The verbicrucist tells how he fell in love with his profession by finding his place in the family business and his pride in perpetuating the name of his father and grandfather.
As a child and adolescent, Mr. Hannequart-Ferron did not do crossword puzzles, any more than he does now that he is an adult. He also does not play Scrabble or other board games.
On the other hand, when he was young, he loved reading, he had an obvious ease for French and he saw his grandfather, then his father, collect, rummage, use and even cut out in dictionaries, all his life.
At 36, the verbicrucist who grew up in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville has already accumulated more than 15 years of experience – and a large collection of dictionaries – in the mysterious world of crosswords.
“There is no school to learn, as it is a very rare profession,” he explains when asked where he learned the basics of verbicrucist.
“I saw my father working and when I decided to put aside my studies in cinema at CEGEP to get into the family business, I learned quite quickly. ”
Love of words
It must be said that his family has always had a penchant for words and the arts; the writer Jacques Ferron and Pierre Renaud (co-founder of the Renaud-Bray bookstores) are part of his clan.
“My grandfather, Maurice Hannequart, arrived from France in the 1950s around the age of 15. He did several jobs and worked a little at Newspaper by touching everything.
“At one point there was no one doing the crossword puzzles anymore and at that time there were really few people doing it. He started doing it and it went so well that it tumbled. He’s been doing this his whole life. ”
“Afterwards, it was my father, Michel, who took over the business, and there it was me. In fact, I replaced my aunt Nicole, who also worked at Journal of Montreal. My mother also quit her job as a lawyer to work with my father and develop the company. “
Concretely, the job of verbicrucist consists in creating the grid by placing the chosen words there and in developing, or modifying, their definitions. This last task is carried out on another platform, using a database which is fortunately now computerized.
These charts fall into three main categories: very easy (intended for beginners and children), intermediate (for regulars) and very difficult for expert cruciverbistes.
In order to create his grids, he first chooses the gallows – made up of one word horizontally and another vertically -, always starting at the top left and ending at the bottom right.
Each grid contains between 20 and 30 words chosen at random by the author when he watches the words in the database scroll in front of him. Inspired by the definitions he finds there, his main working tool remains the good old dictionary.
“In the beginning, there was only one method,” says Hannequart-Ferron. My grandfather sat at his desk with a dictionary, first drew a little 10 x 12 grid and tried to fill it in. The first were made by hand.
“He told me that he drew his stuff, that he colored the black boxes with a small brush and that he brought it all to the Newspaper. “” Over time, it modernized. When my dad started it was pretty much like that, but slowly it became computerized. I have never done grids by hand. I started with our programs and our databases. “
Creating a very difficult grid can take him a full day, each definition needing to be redone, being new.
“A big part of my job is not to say things. The biggest difficulty is not to repeat yourself, because it is daily and it is often the same amateurs who play. ”
What Mr. Hannequart-Ferron finds both the most difficult and the most enjoyable of his job lies in the two extremes: very difficult grids (including creation, word games, riddles and nods to the news) and grids intended for beginners and children.
“It has happened to me to come across a newspaper where I made the grid, to try to do it and to have to search a little, because I did not remember it by heart”, confides the one who loves the creative aspect and the freedom of independent work in one’s profession.
“I have to look, too. “
Still so popular
According to him, it is because crosswords are linked to newspapers, everyday life and a certain routine that they are so popular with Westerners.
“It’s like a friend in the morning, almost someone talking to you, something lighter than anything you see in the news,” he believes. I think that’s why people like it to be the same author, because there is a certain consistency. I see it as a kind of daily gymnastics, a way of waking up. People also like to play and play games, especially in the morning. I imagine it’s also a question of vocabulary. “
Some players do not hesitate, moreover, to write to him if they find an error, but especially when they have a question on a definition or to congratulate him.
As for the best trick to becoming a good player, it is simple: training.
“A lot of times people will start an easy grid, find a few words, but often won’t finish it. However, succeeding in a complete grid for the first time is satisfying and it encourages us to continue, ”says Hannequart-Ferron.
“Practice, and maybe memorize the periodic table. Also, write in the grid all the words you know, which gives you letters for the next words. With one word, you find the letters of several others, because the words cross, it’s a game of deduction. ”
A FEW WORDS LITTLE USED EVERYDAY BUT OFTEN USED IN CROSSWORDS
URI: Swiss canton
INN: european river
NAO: spanish cape
IDE: kind of fish
OC and OIL: ancient French dialects
LAI: kind of poem, in the Middle Ages
PEI: tropical american tree
OBI: traditional japanese belt
ESSE: S-shaped hook
STEM: ski turn
URE or URUS: extinct species of bovidae
SOME OF ÉTIENNE HANNEQUART-FERRON’S FAVORITE WORDS:
Starting February 1
THE NEW GRILLS OF NEWSPAPER
The 8 x 8 for beginners: the easiest one for everyone.
The 12 x 12 intermediate: for people who are used to it, who have already done it. For them it will be a challenge with a small level of difficulty.
The 10 x 10 expert: the goal is to mix people up, set traps and hide letters.
Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my firstname.lastname@example.org 1-800-268-7116