While many people can say they enjoy working out crossword puzzles, Megan Anechiarico is one of the few who can say she also enjoys creating them.
Anechiarico, coordinator of youth and young-adult ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish in Victor, recently had one of her puzzles published in an issue of Catechetical Leader, the magazine of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. Another will be published in the 2006 Youth Ministry Resource Manual.
Two years ago, while Anechiarico was a student at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., a classmate of hers who worked for the NCCL mentioned that the magazine was looking for someone to produce crossword puzzles.
“He knew that I did the crossword puzzle in the paper every day, and he knew I really liked them,” Anechiarico said.
She decided to try her hand at creating a crossword puzzle for the magazine, and Catechetical Leader has been publishing her puzzles regularly ever since. The magazine is published bimonthly, so every other month the magazine’s editor tells Anechiarico what the issue’s theme is and what kinds of articles will be appearing. After reviewing this material, Anechiarico makes a list of relevant words to use in the crossword puzzle and starts laying it out.
“I just really start in one spot and try to find some words that will cross,” Anechiarico said. “I try to do a grid that’s 15 by 15 blocks. I generally have a good sense once I start of how I want things to work out.”
After she’s mapped out the puzzle and determined where all the words will fit, Anechiarico starts working on the puzzle’s clues. It usually takes her between five and 10 hours to produce one crossword puzzle.
There are some computer programs and Internet sites specifically designed to create crossword puzzles, but Anechiarico doesn’t usually use them. She’ll occasionally type some of the words into an Internet crossword-puzzle site to find out if there are any obvious places where they cross, but for the most part her puzzles begin to take shape on paper.
Anechiarico sometimes has to do a bit of research in order to complete her puzzles. She occasionally consults an online thesaurus and dictionary when she’s creating clues, and she sometimes has to research a particular issue’s theme before completing a puzzle. Such was the case with one of her earliest puzzles, which appeared in an issue whose theme was mentoring.
“I went back in church history to find different pairs of people who had been mentors to each other,” she said. “That was actually one of my favorite ones, I think. I liked the theme. I thought it worked out really well.”
The puzzle that will appear in the 2006 Youth Ministry Resource Manual is titled “Catholic to the Core.” She said it is different than most of her previous puzzles because it is geared toward teens rather than adults. When creating this puzzle, Anechiarico tried to include the most important words teens should know and understand about their faith.
Anechiarico is no stranger to working with teens. She’s been at St. Patrick’s since September 2004, but before that she spent four years as a school psychologist and volunteered with youth ministry and religious education at her home parish in Binghamton. Volunteering with the youths at her parish helped her realize she wanted to go back to school and learn more about her faith. She graduated from Washington Theological Union in May 2004 with master’s degrees in divinity and theology.
“I began to sense while I was there that I would want to continue working with young people and sharing my faith with them. It’s been a real gift being able to do that,” Anechiarico said. “I love working with teens. They just have so much enthusiasm and energy. They have a lot of curiosity about their faith, and it’s such an exciting time to be working with them.”
Anechiarico credits her mother with cultivating her interest in crossword puzzles. When Anechiarico was growing up, her mother would often sit down with the newspaper and do the crossword puzzle, occasionally reading particularly tough clues out loud. By the time Anechiarico was in high school, her mom would bring the newspaper to work, make a copy of the crossword puzzle and bring the copy home for Anechiarico to do herself.
“I like doing crossword puzzles myself, and I find that creating them is much more difficult than doing them, ” she said. “I like doing it, and it’s very challenging. It’s fun.”