The man behind the puzzles, Tucky Helm


Ashton Bisner

Tucky Helm, Orange Media Network’s first ever puzzle maker, poses for a portrait on Nov. 14 in the Student Experience Center. Helm’s goals are to expand themes and add a variety of content to the Barometer’s forum section.

Lara Rivera, Assistant Editor

A wildland firefighter in Alaska, a pencil, a notebook and a couple co-workers were at the right place, right time for a crossword puzzle. 

On slow days in Alaska, Tucky Helm, The Daily Barometer’s puzzle contributor , would create crossword puzzles for his co-workers to complete and pass around. He started with a pencil and paper because they did not have any internet access most of the time when they were on the field. 

Helm went from solving The New York Times crossword puzzles to creating them. 

“If only there was like a puzzle major here [at Oregon State University],” Helm said. 

Without a puzzle major at OSU, Helm looked at other ways to share his newfound hobby. 

“It’s way more fun making puzzles with an audience,” Helm said. “I like seeing how people approach the clues that I write.” 

Helm’s process starts with making the grid following rules introduced by a New York Times crossword editor. For example, the grid has to be rotationally symmetrical in terms of how the squares line up. 

The most fun part for Helm is coming up with a theme and getting creative with it. Once Helm has the theme panned out come the theme words which are typically the longer words. 

“I like using double meaning and puns,” Helm said about writing the clues. “Or, like,  making clues that confuse people but then they have like a nice ‘aha’ moment.” 

Helm’s crossword puzzle-making goal is to expand on themes, and include content that is more interesting yet subtle. 

A crossword puzzle takes Helm about two weeks on the backburner. Whenever a word “clicks”, Helm takes out his notebook and pencils it in. 

To keep it interesting, Helm likes to sprinkle in words into his crossword puzzles that are character names or pop culture references. 

Helm’s puzzle-making journey really started with sudoku puzzles on a computer program he designed in about two weeks. He started by making a sudoku solver where he made it solve a blank grid. 

“Most of it was guessing on the computer’s part,” Helm said. “The computer makes it the hardest it can be while still being solvable.” 

“[I] feel like the problem-solving skills that come with it are pretty valuable,” Helm said about puzzle making. 

Helm’s long term dreams of puzzle creation are to create a new type of puzzle, unseen by the world. He notes that the creativity and flexibility within words is what makes him hope of creating a new type of puzzle that makes people rack their brains around finding a solution. 

“The nice thing is the English language is really confusing,” Helm said. “Grammar does not really make any sense a lot of the time.” 

Helm said this is what makes making puzzles in English all the much easier. 

For now though, Helm will stick with the classic crossword puzzle that the world is familiar with.  

Helm’s puzzles will be featured in the monthly print issues of the Barometer, and can be found on our website


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