15-year-old Chicago puzzle maker shares her love for words with local community

Riya Joshi is also teaming up with world-renowned puzzle maker David L. Hoyt as a “guest puzzler” on his app.

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15-year-old puzzle maker, Riya Joshi’s, poses for a portrait with her puzzle book “Detective Wordy” at her home in Near North, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Riya Joshi, a 15-year-old Chicago puzzle maker, created her original “Detective Wordy” booklet this spring. All proceeds are going toward printing copies to donate to senior living centers and children’s hospitals.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Riya Joshi has a way with words.

She came in second in a spelling bee in kindergarten after misspelling the word “rodeo.” She would go on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, not once, but twice, as a grade schooler.

And in the Boggle and Scrabble games her family plays every Sunday, Joshi said her parents haven’t won a single game in years.

“I’m addicted to competition,” said Joshi, 15, of Streeterville. “The thrill of being at the microphone and spelling a word gets me super excited.”

Now, Joshi is spreading her love of words through “Detective Wordy: Chicago Edition,” an original booklet of crosswords, word scrambles and word searches. For every copy she sells, Joshi prints three booklets and donates them to children’s hospitals, senior assisted-living facilities and children’s support homes.

15-year-old puzzle maker, Riya Joshi’s, puzzle book “Detective Wordy” at her home in Near North, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Detective Wordy: Chicago Edition” features 50 crosswords, word scrambles and word searches, many of which are Chicago-inspired.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Joshi has sold more than 150 copies and donated more than 560, all before starting her sophomore year at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School.

“I didn’t want to publish a book just for me and my sister. I wanted to do something more than that,” Joshi said. “Especially now, a lot of children are isolated in their rooms — same with seniors in assisted living. I sent the booklets to them because I thought they’d like that.”

The 50 puzzles in the first edition of “Detective Wordy” only took about two weeks to create, Joshi said, a project she began over spring break as schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each puzzle contains a circled letter that helps solve the final puzzle at the back of the booklet. The answer reveals a fun fact about Chicago, the city Joshi has lived in her entire life. She plans to highlight New York, Seattle and other cities in future editions, she said.

Joshi wanted some of the puzzles to be educational, featuring historic Chicago landmarks and COVID-19 terms. Others, Joshi said, are purely for fun, such as a word search of obscure potato chip flavors, one of the first puzzles she made.

“I love ketchup potato chips,” Joshi said with a laugh.

Professional collaboration

In her latest venture, Joshi is teaming up with David L. Hoyt — the “world’s most-syndicated daily word game creator.”

Ten to 20 of Joshi’s original puzzles will be featured in a new “guest puzzler” section of Hoyt’s Word Search World Traveler app. The special section of the app, which Joshi will continue manage moving forward, is slated to launch this fall.

A household name in the word puzzle world, Hoyt receives hundreds of emails a day, many of them pitches from hopeful puzzle makers. But when Joshi emailed Hoyt a copy of her “Detective Wordy” booklet, his “mouth dropped,” Hoyt said.

“It was the best puzzle book that I’ve seen,” said Hoyt, 54, who recently moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. “It was one of best executions of fast-playing, simple, well-done, engaging puzzles that I’ve ever seen.”

Hoyt first met Joshi three years ago at an event where the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation partnered with the Chicago Public Library. Joshi and other young students set a Guinness world record at the event for the largest playable Word Winder game — a game Hoyt created where players string together words to get from one side of the grid to the other.

David L. Hoyt (center) explains his “Word Winder” game to a group of students in the Winter Garden at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center. Hoyt met puzzle-maker Riya Joshi at the event in July of 2017.

David L. Hoyt (center) explains his “Word Winder” game to a group of students in the Winter Garden at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center. Hoyt met puzzle-maker Riya Joshi at the event in July of 2017.

Walter Mitchell

Elizabeth McChesney, a retired director of children’s services at the Chicago Public Library, said Joshi’s “deep love of words” shone through at the event, especially when Joshi received a dictionary as a prize for participating that day.

“She was just a bright light that day of the Guinness event,” said McChesney, of Edgebrook. “She was so enthusiastic, so excited to be part of something bigger than herself.”

Hoyt said he took special notice of Joshi at the library event, though he thought she was already well into high school at the time. When Joshi reached out about her puzzle booklet three years later, Hoyt said he was convinced he was working with a college student, not someone wrapping up her freshman year of high school.

15-year-old puzzle maker, Riya Joshi’s, thumbs through her puzzle book “Detective Wordy” at her home in Near North, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Riya Joshi thumbs through her puzzle book “Detective Wordy.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Joshi’s drive stems from a passion for puzzles, not a desire for money or recognition, Hoyt said.

“I really hope she goes on to lead the world,” Hoyt said. “I would vote for her right now for president, and she’s only 15.”

Joshi’s puzzle booklet is on sale on Lulu, and she is collecting donations to publish more copies to give to seniors and children.

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