According to the staff of the Flipside, Stanford’s weekly satirical newspaper, the most powerful person on campus isn’t President John Hennessy or ASSU Executive Robbie Zimbroff ’12 M.A. ’13. Instead, true power rests in the pen of the “puzzle master,” the Flipside staffer who creates the Rebus puzzles and jumbles that students solve every Monday at lunch in the dining halls.
The Flipside hopes that the promise of power attracts candidates to become the new puzzle master, since current puzzle designer Akiko Kozato ’13 is set to graduate at the end of this year. Kozato has served as puzzle master since last spring, when she took over from Laney Kuenzel ’12 M.S. ’12, who had been with the Flipside since 2009.
“The puzzles are everyone’s favorite part of the Flipside,” said Flipside president Conor Doherty ’13. “So if you get to control the answers, you have a lot of power.”
Kozato said her favorite part of being the puzzle master is delivering the Flipsides every Monday.
“I think it’s hilarious that full-grown men will let out Pavlovian squeals when they see the Flipside,” Kozato said.
Writers and readers alike describe puzzles as an integral part of the Flipside.
“A lot of people honestly don’t read the articles, they just flip to the puzzles on the back,” Doherty said. “There’s raucous debate about the answer to the Rebus puzzles, and people have fun working on them together.”
Kozato said that she often seeks inspiration from items in her room or tries to put a subtle theme in her puzzles because “it’s easier to come up with ideas when there’s a little restriction.”
“I don’t expect anyone to guess the theme—it’s just a little more fun for me,” Kozato said. “I bet the people who made I Spy books put all sorts of inside jokes in there so that they could live with themselves.”
Kozato usually brings a few extra puzzles to editorial meetings before the staff narrows them down to the best ones.
As she delivers the Flipside, Kozato asks for feedback on her puzzles, she said. According to her, readers are generally more vocal when they don’t like her work.
“Being a good puzzle master means you have to please everyone, but obviously you can’t please everyone, so then the most important skill is to be able to come up with a new trick every week,” Kozato said. “I always like to have one obscure puzzle of the four to test the waters, but sometimes people don’t like it.”
As an example, she cited the usage of multiple cellos to represent the ending of the word “Botticelli.”
“People said that only people in orchestra would call cello’s plural ‘celli,’” Kozato said.
The Flipside accepted applications for the position through last week and will decide on the new puzzle master soon.
“We’re having people submit prospective Rebus puzzles and jumbles and we’re going to pick whoever makes the best ones—whichever are the most interesting or funny or compelling,” Doherty said. “Ideally [the candidates] would submit a bunch of puzzles that are usable and good enough to be put in the real issue.”
Kozato, who had never made Rebus puzzles before becoming puzzle master, said that the keys to being a good puzzle master are creativity and the courage to try new things.
“It’s hard to come up with new, good [puzzles],” Kozato said. “You can always come up with new ones, but not necessarily new, good ones.”
However, when asked for tips for the new puzzle master, Kozato demurred, saying that whoever gets the job should try to “forge a new path.”
“If you want to do something groundbreaking, I can’t tell you how to do that,” Kozato said. “If I could give [him or] her advice, I would be a better puzzle master myself!”
Alec Winograd ’15 decided to apply to be next year’s puzzle master despite having “completely zero” puzzle-making experience.
“Mondays at lunch are always fun—the Flipside comes around and everyone really enjoys reading the different pieces and trying to solve the puzzles,” Winograd said. “I always thought they would be fun to make.”
According to Winograd, the incredible power that comes with being Flipside puzzle master is the job’s greatest perk.
“The puzzle master really controls the minds of Stanford students,” Winograd said. “Basically if you’re able to take the whole Stanford student body and control their minds for five to 10 minutes every week, that’s pretty powerful.”