A Q and A with Courier puzzle maker Gerald Gornik

Gerald Gornik creates the Hom-O-Phun puzzle for the Claremont Courier each week, and co-creates, with his wife Michele McLain, the Search n’ Link puzzle.

When did you start creating puzzles?

Well, my first one was actually published in 1974 in the Upland High School yearbook. I was part of the yearbook staff and I, along with another guy, was tasked with the outstanding seniors section. I suggested that for the ‘most likely to succeed’ photo that we have the guy and girl sucking on seeds. As in, ‘most likely to suck seed.’ We had a photo of them with straws in their mouths which were dipped into a paper bag labeled ‘SEEDS.’ After the yearbook came out, I did an informal survey of my classmates to see if everyone ‘got it.’ No one did. I could literally not find one person who ‘got’ the joke.


When did you begin making Hom-O-Phun?

I’ve always been a puzzle geek and kept this idea in my head. I started creating puzzles and texting them to my nephews about 15 years ago. Then in 2020 when Covid hit, my wife and I started a nightly thing with our friends, six couples. They would all be by their phones at 8 p.m. sharp, at which time would post the puzzles to our group text and they would race to answer it first.

How do you come up with puzzles?

Over the years I have just gotten into the habit of recognizing when a word or phrase can be turned into a Hom-O-Phun. For example, a while back I heard or read the very common phrase ‘drama queen.’ It instantly dawned on me it sounded exactly like ‘draw McQueen.’ Thus a Hom-O-Phun was born. Another time I looked at the clock and it read 1:11, and I thought, hmm, ‘wanna leaven?’ And then I had to come up with a scenario for which ‘wanna leaven?’ was the answer. For the record, that puzzle was my favorite to date.

Have you created puzzles you like, but are just too wordy to fit into the format?

 Yes, I’m glad you asked. I tried to squeeze this one down to printable size, but I couldn’t. Here it is. Both answers consist of four words: General Dwight Eisenhower, in heaven, says to one of the newer arrivals, ‘Hey, I’m doing a crossword puzzle, and I don’t know pop music that came out after I died. Can you help me with two of the clues? The first one is: Who sang ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves?’ The second is, ‘What is the first name of the artist who sang ‘All I Wanna Do?’ What should I put as the answers in the crossword puzzle?’

(The answer to this “lost” Hom-O-Phun is at the end of this article.)

Have you ever unconsciously “stolen” a puzzle, in the way comics can unknowingly tell a similar joke, or some songs are reminiscent of others?

Never intentionally. I am 66 years old, and I suppose over the years I may have unconsciously appropriated a puzzle or two, the way that George Harrison heard the song ‘She’s So Fine’ and came up with ‘My Sweet Lord’ without realizing he had cribbed the tune. One puzzle I came up with years ago was Abominable/A bomb in a bull. Then years later I saw it online. But after I create a puzzle, I never Google it to see if it has been done somewhere else, because it probably has. As the saying goes ‘There is nothing new under the sun,’ and if you think you have come up with something original it’s quite probable that someone has beaten you to it. So I don’t go looking.

The Courier is proud to be the exclusive publisher of Hom-O-Phun, which is approaching its two year anniversary here. It would seem that there are a finite number of these kinds of puzzles that you can create. Are you worried you will you run out of ideas?

Assuming the Courier keeps running them (and stays alive, not a given in today’s environment), I think we can go for another six years or so, longer if I keep creating puzzles. We’ve run almost 100 and I have about 300 more that have already been created and are ‘in the can’ so to speak. But coming up with new ones happens less frequently these days. As my father used to say, ‘The field has pretty much been picked over.’ (He was talking about the dating pool he had to draw from in his 70s.)

Do you worry the quality of the puzzles will diminish as time marches on?

I don’t think so. I like everything we have published but I like some more than others. I try to save the ones I think are really good and intersperse them every so often. So hopefully as this thing winds down in a few years there will still be some A-list puzzles left.

The answer to the “lost” Hom-O-Phun above is “share and share alike/Cher and Sheryl, Ike.”


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