By Isis Nicole
Jan Buckner Walker, creator of the number one family crossword Kids Across Parents Down, took some time out with GlossMagazineOnline (GMO) to share a bit of her story as a puzzle maker recognized across the country. She is a gifted businesswoman full of humor and grace from Silver Spring, MD, who finds joy in making puzzles to bring smiles to others. Walker was acknowledged by President Obama after being asked to create custom Kids Across Parents Down puzzles for gift bags in regards to the Children’s Inaugural Ball and the State of Illinois Ball, and continues to create puzzles which run weekly in newspapers throughout the United States.
What inspired you to create Kids Across Parents Down?
I have always been a bit of a “word nerd” dating back to the days when I was a child. I majored in journalism while at Howard and word games were always fun for me. After going to law school and working in corporate, I began tutoring at Cabrini Green here in Chicago. In working with my assigned student –– a bright, but easily distracted and largely disinterested second grader –– I found myself always trying to find a way to make learning a bit more exciting. I’d make up word games and other activities to get him engaged.
Years later, out of the blue, Kids Across Parents Down came to me as a brainstorm –– a crossword that families could do together with “across” clues for kids and “down” clues for parents that would run in the Sunday comics section of the newspaper. It came to my mind as a complete package and was so vivid that I thought I had seen it somewhere before. It is and was, in the truest sense, a gift from God.
How much time does it take to put into creating your puzzles?
Making puzzles takes different lengths of time depending on the theme, the target age level and the size of the grid. Usually, it’s a couple of hours. If you think about a crossword grid, you can see that it’s really the result of weaving together words. In my work under the KAPD brand, all of the words and clues must share a common theme. So after constructing the grid, I add clues that are fun or funny to create an experience that lets both the kids and parents learn a little, laugh a bit, and win together.
Have you received any criticism or positive feedback about any of your creations?
Our puzzles run weekly in newspapers across the country from Los Angeles to Alaska and many kids know us as a regularly featured activity in kids menus in various restaurants or from our popular book series. So, I receive numerous emails from kids and parents all the time. They are overwhelmingly positive –– kids will write in to say that they love the crosswords or that the puzzles are ‘making my mom very smart’ and parents report that the crosswords have become part of a family ritual. Occasionally, a solver will complain about a particular puzzle. I’ve had parents object to reference a particular celebrity whose conduct they find objectionable, such as Jamie Lynn Spears after her pregnancy was revealed or Tiger Woods following his well publicized scandal. As the puzzle is nationally syndicated, I receive feedback from a staff of editors, which minimizes the likelihood of errors slipping through.
What is your biggest challenge as a puzzle maker?
The biggest challenge is ensuring that every puzzle satisfies our fun guarantee. Each one has to contain a fresh, lively theme and clues that deliver an experience a family can count on as fun every time.
Is there ever a moment you feel limited in your creation? If yes, what do you do to get pass that bump? If no, how do you always posse that creative energy?
[Laughs] Yes, there is such a thing as puzzler’s block. It’s writer’s block’s lesser known and even eviler cousin. Making puzzles is part art and science. The grid is the science and the clues are the artistic part.
There are days when the grid comes easily but the clues don’t flow or vice versa. That’s why I try to stay ahead of deadline and give every puzzle a cooling period until it has the right look, tone and personality.
What does it take for you to succeed and survive in your profession?
It’s a blessing to be able to do what you love and be paid for it. In the puzzling world, there are only a handful of people who enjoy this opportunity, and I am grateful for it. To make it as a cruciverbalist, which is a fancy word for crossword constructor, it’s important to keep your creative juices flowing. Pay attention to the world around you for relatable experiences and remember what it is that makes your puzzles unique. On the business side, it’s important to always be on the lookout for new opportunities where a puzzle should exist but doesn’t, then you have to engage the decision maker to help him or her see your vision which is not always easy.
Outside of Kids Across Parents Down, is there anything else you work on?
Yes. In addition to the family crosswords, I create standard puzzles for organizations ranging from the Boston Celtics to Essence Magazine. With regard to the latter, it’s especially exciting to see black people embracing crosswords as never before. I’m happy to be able to create inclusive puzzles that uniquely focus on African-American trivia, pop culture, literature, and events. Having spawned a flurry of interest in puzzles in our community, I am now in talks with several outlets to deliver interactive online puzzles with black themes.
What is your most prized accomplishment?
The most thrilling moment since we began was being asked to create custom Kids Across Parents Down puzzles for inclusion the gift bags for the Children’s Inaugural Ball and the State of Illinois Ball when President Obama took office. We heard that the Obamas were aware of the puzzle because of the fact that it had run for years in the Chicago Tribune and as I was and am a big fan of the president, it was an exciting honor to be a part of that historic event.
What is your least favorite puzzle trend?
Personally, I don’t like puzzles that contain information so obscure and arcane that most people don’t know it and don’t care. I like to say that my puzzles are mind-tickling, not brain-busting. That’s not to say that there’s not a place for all types of puzzles because there is. And there’s nothing wrong with a rigorous challenge. But for my part, life is hard enough without a puzzle to put lines in your forehead. I’d rather create smile lines.
Any advice to aspiring artists?
My advice is not new, but it’s true enough to repeat: Do what you love. To put it better, work at what you love. It’s like singing –– many people are gifted with a beautiful voice, but if you want to do it professionally, it takes more than singing in the shower. In every creative endeavor you have to find your unique voice and if it is to be a business, figure out whether there’s an audience out there for the sound you’re making. Then, continually work to get better and better. And never take no for an answer.
By Isis Nicole
Fashion bloggers, designers, editors, models, and superstars know Sophy Robson as the coolest nail girl in town. Some even go as far to say that she IS the queen of nail art since putting the pleasure in polish. Deemed nail professional of the year, her recent collection comes in a variety of designs inspired by luxury, culture and colours. Having been apart of so much in both London and the States, Robson dominates the nail game as a pioneer and creator in nail art history; just a few reasons to my fascination with Robson and what she is responsible for.
In the hub of London Fashion Week 2011, Robson took over the nail designs at TOPSHOP, focusing on Egyptian styled manicures. She incorporated hieroglyphics as a way to fulfill the request of graphics to match its fashion show Egyptian theme. After the show, I asked Robson about her decision to design.
“I checked the references and some of the fabrics and made up some colours to go with it. I wanted the thumbs and toes gold so they would shine as the girls walked down the runway. Then I added little hieroglyphic style designs, like a pyramid and the all seeing eye to each nail. It was a lot of work, but fortunately me and my team pulled it off! ,” Robson said.
Sophy Robson also took part in doing the nail designs at Vivienne Westwood SS2012 show, working with light and dark shades of green that paralleled the makeup of each model. I was blown away after seeing some of the photos from backstage posted on her now personal blog So So Fly Nails, as I am a sucker for pastels and oceanic ambiance. “I have been working with Vivienne Westwood about four years now and I love her. It is always the favorite show of my team,” Robson said after I asked what her experience was like. “The atmosphere is always mental with all the people packed into a cramped backstage area. There are always Westwood devotees mixed with A- list celebrities. Janet Jackson made an appearance one year, but this time Pamela Anderson was hanging out. The styling team at Vivienne Westwood always thinks totally off the wall, and we mixed up loads of different green shades not many would dare but it worked!,” Robson said.
Many of the painted nails seen on the covers and or campaign ads of fashions top magazines have been blessed by the hands of Robson. One of my recent favorites is her striking red nail on Kate Moss for Rimmel London. It’s simple, classic and sexy. But as a blogger for Sophy Robson, I know that she is just as much a fan and doer of elaborate nail art. Embedding gems, glitter, jewelry, metals, fabric, you name it, and it can be done.
I was invited by Sophy Robson to join her newest brand Nail Porn, a revolutionary beauty and entertainment scene, gaining more fans of nail art by the day. Robson and her assistant, Siobhan Bell decided to turn what I started out as a contributor for since the very beginning, So So Fly Nails, into Robson’s personal blog, ridding her use for her website on Wordpress. This is a way to keep things easy and instant, leaving This Is Nail Porn to being the young adult version of the extreme nail art blog that So So Fly is known for. I can’t express how proud I am to be part of such a clever movement. Never in my dreams did I picture my love for nails to be my access to fashion journalism. Not to mention, how a girl like me gets so lucky to be under the brush of Sophy Robson. I still have yet to take for granted such a good thing.