Friends of crossword great Merl Reagle celebrate his life

Friends, fans honor famed puzzle "constructor" Merl Reagle.
Published September 28 2015
Updated September 28 2015

TAMPA

Superstar crossword creator Merl Reagle once described his puzzles as being a lot like life.

You start out clueless. You pick up a few words. You learn from mistakes.

In one of the Carrollwood resident's crossword collections, he said, "You soon discover that everything is connected to everything else. And in the end, it doesn't matter if you have some empty spots as long as it all adds up to something."

Reagle's life, friends said, added up to the portrait of a remarkable genius.

On Sunday, about 125 friends and fans of the crossword "constructor" gathered at the University of Tampa for a remembrance of Reagle's life. Reagle, a nationally syndicated puzzle maker, died Aug. 22 of complications of acute pancreatitis. He was 65.

Always a gregarious man, Reagle "would have been delighted to be here," said his widow, Marie Haley.

Reagle created a monthly puzzle for the Tampa Bay Times' Floridian magazine as well as crosswords and other puzzles for the New York Times and many other publications.

He was remembered as a good friend and devoted husband with a fast wit whose penchant for puns and clever wordplay was legendary.

Vic Fleming, an Arkansas resident whose own puzzles have been published, said Reagle once told him, "The English language is the best toy a boy ever had."

"He was," Fleming said, "the most jovial guy I ever met."

Reagle was featured in the award-winning documentary Wordplay. It showed famous crossword enthusiasts, including former President Bill Clinton and comedian Jon Stewart, trying to solve a crossword puzzle Reagle had created.

Wordplay's director, Patrick Creadon, flew from his home in Los Angeles to speak at the remembrance and said Reagle, featured throughout the documentary, was one of the reasons it was a great success.

Creadon said Reagle's work will be alive on the Web and in newspaper archives forever.

"I miss him dearly," Creadon said. "But he's not gone. His work is still here. It's his great gift."

Reagle became something of a crossword celebrity who sometimes crossed over into the territory of popular culture. He was a character in an episode of The Simpsons television show.

His crossword puzzles were known for their witty style.

Frank Foley showed up at the celebration of Reagle's life never having met the man. The Tampa resident was a big fan who said he always carried around Reagle's puzzles.

"I was constantly doing his puzzles and always looked forward to them," Foley said. "Now he's gone. There was nobody like Merl. Nobody at all."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.

 
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