Questions and Answers with Erik Agard '11

by Kennedy Salamat '19 for Silver Quest

Erik Agard was the 2018 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament winner; he is a crossword constructor for the New York Times, the Arizona Daily Star, and the New Yorker (video); a Jeopardy! champion (Bethesda Magazine); and Montgomery Blair Magnet graduate Class of 2011. He provided Silver Quest with a window into his life and shared his advice for Magnet students. Here’s what he had to say:

Erik Agard at ACPT 2018
Q: Could you please describe your current job and what you enjoy most about it?

A: I write and edit crossword puzzles, so basically people pay me money to play with words all day, which is an unbelievable finesse. The flexible hours are a huge perk, as is the Z-list fame, but my absolute favorite part is the satisfaction of coming up with a perfect clue. 

Q: What got you into crossword puzzles? 

A: Mr. Stein used to regale our Stat class with cool stories about crosswords, like the 1996 election day puzzle and the big tournaments he would go to up north. I was at that point a spiritually bereft recently-ex-chess-clubber with no particular interest or aptitude in any of my classes; crosswords filled the void, first becoming something to fidget with in the computer labs, then an outlet for competitive energy, later a means of self-expression.

Q: What crossword puzzle events have you attended?

A: Lollapuzzoola (NY), Indie 500 (DC), Crosswords LA (LA), Bryant Park (NY), ACPT (Stamford). Still on my bucket list: Boswords (Boston), and the cryptic tournament in the UK, once I learn to solve cryptics.

Q: How did you end up on Jeopardy?

A: There's a 50-question online test you can take towards the beginning of every year. After taking it for several years, I was lucky enough this time to get selected for an in-person audition in DC, which included another 50-question test as well as a mock round of the game with a mock interview portion. That was in May; I got the call in July to tape in August, so I had about a month to train.

Q: Please describe your experience on Jeopardy -- your favorite moments and questions?

A: My favorite moments were all of the ~90 minutes that I got to play the game. It's a fun game, and the set is a cool place to play it. My favorite question was about the actress from "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", one of my favorite actresses and two of my favorite science movies.

Q: What did you imagine yourself doing in the future while you were at Blair?

A: I imagined myself becoming an actuary - they make a lot of money, and I liked both of the Statistics classes I took at Blair. This plan lasted until my first semester of college, when I got a 20 out of 150 on a math final. (I'm not saying you can't be an actuary if you get a 20 out of 150 on your math final, but it was an eye-opener for me personally.)

Q: Do you have any advice to current Magnets about life during and after the Magnet?

A: Make friends inside and outside the Magnet. (Maybe you're bad at making friends - I am - but it's better to practice now than later.) Take care of your health. Be careful crossing University Boulevard. Make sure you end up on the right Puzzlepalooza team, that one's very important. And as Chancelor Bennett once said, "Don't let Denzel 'Training Day' you."