Inside the mind of a puzzle master: Sam Belloto Jr.

© carla castagno /

SAM BELLOTO JR. sold his first crossword in 1979 to Eugene T. Maleska for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Since then, he has published over 1,000 puzzles. Currently he is a regular contributor to the Simon & Schuster Crossword books, has weekly crosswords in various publications, and contributes to all of the other major crossword puzzle markets. The prolific puzzle constructor also runs an online word puzzle program and has recently completed a series of Game On! Crosswords books for PPP.

We asked Sam a few questions to get to know him a little better:

If you could invite any five people to dinner, whom would you choose?
Takashi Miike, Ray Bradbury, Stanley Kubrick, Rod Serling, and Helen Mirren.

If you could live in (or visit) any other country, where would you go?
Easy. Russia because I studied Russian in school. Or Japan because I like Japanese cinema.  Italy in the winter because of my heritage. But I do not like warm climates.

Favorite drink?
Orange soda. Sunkist is the best.

What book did you “fake” reading in school?
Not applicable. I don't mean to brag, but I was always way ahead of everybody else. I'd finish a book before the rest of the class got past the first page. That always landed me in trouble as “not paying attention.”

Who are your favorite authors?
Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov, and Lewis Carroll, for starters.

If you had a time machine and could travel to the past or future, what time period would you visit?
The 1950s, to give myself as a child lots of good advice. Then maybe far enough into the future to actually see and talk to some real visitors from other planets.   

What do you worry about at night when you’re trying to sleep?
I don't sleep at night. I am nocturnal. I nap during the day, at which time I worry if I will be able to get a good nap undisturbed.

What inspires your writing?
The bizarre and illogical things that happen in real life. Politics. Mythology.  Dumb TV shows. The culture of celebrity.  But there are good things, too. Like scientific advancements. Secular humanism. Dogs.

What exotic pet would you like to have?
A dinosaur. Does that count?

Sam created 75 crosswords for PPP's "Game On! Crosswords" 3-book set.





We asked Sam to share a little more about his background:
As far back as I can recall, I’ve been passionate about science and writing. All through high school I won numerous science fairs and gotten dozens of rejections for my science fiction stories. When not blowing up the basement (or imaginary planets), I did crossword puzzles. My greatest ambition was to be a science writer. For that, I went to Long Island University, which had a renowned Journalism Department (google Polk Awards), was located in New York City (a hotbed of science fiction), and an impressive science department (with nary a computer in sight).

During my final college years, I edited and self-published an amateur sci-fi magazine which drew contributions from artists and writers who are big names today. An issue of that magazine, Perihelion Science Fiction, was recently been listed on e-Bay for $500! I wanted the magazine to include a crossword. Not being able to find someone to contribute a sci-fi puzzle for cheap, I constructed one myself.

My science fiction writing never panned out. But I did find a modicum of success writing for and editing trade publications. Because of my background, I was the go-to guy for technical articles about calculators, copiers, computers, and other office machines that did not begin with “c.” IBM and I were on a first name basis.

For relaxation, I took a stab at constructing crosswords. After several encouraging rejections from then New York Times Crossword Editor Eugene T. Maleska, I sold and published my first puzzle in the Times’Sunday Magazine.

Then came the Great Convergence. Kaypro released an affordable personal computer. Trade magazines got into compiling databases. The economy soured. I discovered I could make good money by maintaining databases on computer with dBase. Fiddling around with my Kaypro-II, I also wrote several routines in Turbo Pascal that would help me with my puzzle endeavors. But I couldn’t do a lot with them commercially until MS-DOS emerged.

Fast forward. I still write occasionally. I don’t do databases anymore. Crosswords and crossword software are way too much fun.