- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

MILFORD, Conn. (AP) - Eric Berlin started doing word searches with his grandma at 2-years-old. He developed such a passion for word puzzles that he remembers the moment as a youngster that he first set eyes on Games magazine. He still as an adult lives for that “aha” moment when he solves a puzzle.

“It’s the satisfaction of taking on a challenge and overcoming it,” Berlin said of what fuels his love of word puzzles. “Along the way, you may have that pinnacle ‘aha’ moment. The harder the puzzle is, the greater the ‘aha’ moment.”

Berlin, assistant publisher of Penny Publications - a top national creator of crossword and Sudoku - doesn’t create puzzles for the company, as he’s a number cruncher there.

But while he wants to keep his day job, Berlin, a competitive puzzle solver, has started a side business at home, “Puzzle Your Kids,” creating word puzzles for young people.

He decided to start the business after creating word puzzles for his daughter, now 14, while she was being home schooled in the elementary grades. Today she tests each puzzle he creates, as does his wife and a champion puzzle-solving friend of his.

Berlin began by doing pre-existing puzzles with his daughter, but that didn’t always work at her age because there are so many references to subjects from the 1940s, airport codes and other topics she had no frame of reference for.

So, he began creating puzzles with kid-relatable references. With success at home, he decided to launch a business through Kickstarter and raised $12,000.

The way his word puzzle business works now is he’ll email a free puzzle every Friday to anyone who subscribes. Those who support the venture for $5 per month get a second puzzle each week.

After a year, Berlin currently has about 400 subscribers around the globe, including many teachers who copy the puzzles for their classes.

Sophia McManus, 16, of California, gets a new puzzle every Friday and said she likes them because the clues are “targeted for people in this millennial.”

“They’re much more accessible,” compared to standard word puzzles, she said. “It’s good practice - it’s a mind game. You get to focus your attention on something.”

Her father, Andrew McManus, a word puzzle fan himself, said he likes how Berlin varies the arrangement of his word puzzles. In other words, they aren’t in traditional crossword form of across and down.

Andrew McManus said Berlin’s word puzzles fill the gap for kids between too difficult and too easy.

Berlin said he’s of the opinion that kids should be “solving something every day, because it strengthens your brain the way exercise strengthens your muscles.”

The tricky part is to make a puzzle that’s hard, but at the same time can be defeated so kids get that “aha” moment, he said.

“Real life is going to throw puzzles at them - we call them problems - and puzzles make you think in new ways,” Berlin said.

He also visits schools to talk about puzzles and the joy of creative thinking.

Berlin, who remembers doing word search puzzles with his grandmother as young as 2 years old, is a member of the National Puzzles League and every year for the last 20 years he has participated in the MIT Mystery Hunt, where they solve “ridiculously hard puzzles,” he said.

He’s at puzzle-solving events just about every weekend.

In college Berlin was an English major and theater minor with an eye toward becoming a playwright. Despite not taking any math classes in college, Berlin wound up in a number cruncher career, although he was at one time a game designer in the .com era.

He said the feedback has been great and it’s “an awesome feeling” when parents email of picture of their smiling child holding a completed puzzle. Berlin said he wants the “puzzle nuts” like himself to subscribe, but also hopes many will be turned on to word puzzles.

“I have no intention of leaving my company. That said, I would not mind if this took off in a big way,” Berlin said. “I’ve been hard-wired to love puzzles.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2rjoAPj

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For more information: New Haven Register, www.nhregister.com

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