A wordsmith's trusty helpers
From their Ocala home, Julie and Russ Hoyt help edit their son David Hoyt's Jumble puzzles.
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
In a way Russell and Julie Hoyt are your regular, run-of-the-mill retirees.
They play golf.
They play bocce.
And love to go on cruises.
Upon entering the Hoyts' home on Ocala's west side, picture frames top a book shelf by the front door as well as an end table in the living room.
A picture of the couple's 50th anniversary cruise to Hawaii takes up a good amount of space. Other photos, like the one of Julie's grandmother, a grand niece and their son David with his wife, Claire, cover most of the remaining available area.
The books that are on the shelf below the pictures and one particular framed item on the coffee table, though, make the couple, originally from Waterbury, Conn., anything but run of the mill.
More than 50 puzzle books, from Pat Sajak's “Monster Sudoko” to a “Jumble BrainBuster” fill the wood shelf. A blown up, 8x10 Jumble puzzle is encased in a silver frame on the end table.
No, the Hoyts aren't the king and queen puzzle solvers of the world. They are editors for numerous puzzle games including Jumble, the most syndicated daily word game in the world.
It just so happens that their boss, the current co-author of Jumble, is their son David — the No. 1 syndicated puzzle maker in the country.
“Do you know how many times we have friends and neighbors say to us, ‘The puzzle was too hard today?' ” Russell Hoyt said.
Russell and Julie aren't parents who go around bragging about their son's accomplishments and don't really know what it takes for him to do his job. They collaborate with David daily through email, phone calls, even Skype sessions to go through the editing process, making sure that the world's most popular word game — it appears in more than 600 newspapers worldwide — is flawless.
Jumble, which was first introduced 69 years ago, has a cartoon drawing that illustrates a clue. Five- or six-letter words are “jumbled” up. By unscrambling the letters to spell out a word, certain letters in the word are marked to spell the answer phrase to the clue.
“We get them on a weekly basis,” Russell Hoyt said. “We will look at the pictures (its clue and description) first to make sure there are no misspelled or added words and to make sure the sentence structure is correct. They are sent back and then a day later we will get the words. We make sure they don't scramble into any other words and make sure the circles are in the right spots that spell out the words.”
In order to execute a precise edit of the Jumble, the Hoyts' home turns into an office.
The kitchen table is transformed into a workstation complete with laptop, printer and a printed database of five- and six-letter words. Russell uses the recliner in the living room or the one on the lanai to do his editing. Julie will either station herself at the kitchen table or at the desk in their bedroom, where the desktop computer is housed.
No, the Hoyts and their son never won spelling contests, spent countless hours doing crossword puzzles or were walking dictionaries prior to David's success as a puzzle creator. In fact, Russell Hoyt freely admits that spelling isn't his cup of tea.
“Julie is a very good speller. My spelling is atrocious. I can't even spell atrocious,” he said with a giggle.
Yet both are intelligent enough to find mistakes that need to be corrected when it comes to English, grammar or words in general. David appreciates his parents' strengths. They have become his safety nets.
“My dad is more passionate about the creative part of it and the development of the puzzle,” said David Hoyt. “Mom is focused on making sure that the puzzles are correct and the editing part of it. We have editors (at the corporate offices) that have missed stuff that (Russell and Julie) have caught.”
Being the No. 1 syndicated puzzle maker in the country wasn't something David envisioned as a goal when he was a child. He was actually trading futures and options on the floor of the Chicago Board of Options Exchange in the early 1990s.
While being a puzzle maker might have seemed a world away, he was actually a lot closer than he thought — and in more ways than one.
“A co-worker walked in with a game that he had invented and showed it to David,” Russell Hoyt said. “David didn't think much of it. He thought he could do better so he started making a game.”
The initial game that David created was a board game that was similar to Jumble. It seemed to be fate that David was in Chicago, the home of the Tribune Media Services and distributor of Jumble.
“I thought the puzzle would be good for the Jumble brand,” David said. “I went to Tribune Media Services and asked them, ‘How would you like to put the Jumble branding on this word game?' I figured as long as these people are right down the street, within walking distance, I'd go in there and tell them I wanted to do this and see what they thought. Once I walked in the door there they welcomed me with open arms.”
As David Hoyt came up with idea after idea for puzzle games he became Tribune's go-to person for inventing new extensions of their brand.
“Anything to do with words I just love,” Hoyt said. “It is something that I grew into. It was like a switched turned on. It is fantastic.”
The father-mother-son trio have collaborated on much more than just the Jumble puzzles that appear in newspapers daily. They have created puzzle books, puzzle magazines and even teamed up with “Wheel of Fortune's” Pat Sajak to create various online gaming ventures.
“We went to a taping of ‘Wheel of Fortune,' ” Russell recalled. “When Pat learned that we were in the audience, he called us up to have our picture taken with him and Vanna White. Days later Pat sent an email to David asking, ‘Is your dad getting a lot of mileage out of the picture with his arm around Vanna?' ”
Hoyt's surprising career turn from stock trader to puzzle guru isn't a surprise to his parents.
“Once he sets his mind to something he would succeed no matter what,” said Julie Hoyt. “That is just the way David is.”
It is pretty obvious where he gets that from.