Alumni Spotlight: The man behind the puzzle

The man behind the puzzle

By Jeannette Little and Chris Dawson

Stu Ockman
Stu Ockman

If the name in the crossword puzzle’s byline sounds familiar to you, maybe you were studying civil engineering at Cornell back in the 1960s. During a recent Zoom meeting with classmates, Stu Ockman ’67 revealed that, in addition to a career as a professional engineer and business owner, he has had a lifelong love of crossword puzzles. It began when he was a teenager and has only gotten stronger through the years.

“Perhaps, my earliest memory of solving a real crossword puzzle (not the Highlights for Children version) was a contest run by The Philadelphia Inquirer when I was in sixth grade.  I had a lot of fun solving it (and think I found the correct answer), but I needed a version without any erasures to enter the contest, and I was too shy to ask our next-door neighbor for their copy of the paper.  Imagine my surprise a few days later when The Inquirer announced that there were no winners,” recalled Ockman.

At Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, Ockman enjoyed math and physics and participated in the chess club after school — he even got a chance to play a match with the Cornell chess team against Penn State.  In 1964, he came to Cornell and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1967. He went on to receive an M.S. in Construction Management from Stanford and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School, all the while filling in daily crossword puzzles throughout college and his engineering career of more than 50 years.

Ockman is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of California. In the early part of his career, he went to work for Day & Zimmermann, Inc. where he managed the scheduling of “all private sector projects in the engineering and construction division” for clients such as 3M, Union Carbide and General Electric. Later, his responsibilities shifted to “construction delay claims analysis including evaluating the impact of time delays, calculating damages and making recommendations for negotiations, hearings and trials.”

Ockman’s longtime Cornell friend, Adam Perl — who lives in Ithaca and with whom Ockman has stayed in touch — told Ockman that he had submitted a puzzle to The New York Times.  Ockman did not know that an individual could submit puzzles to The New York Times.  That is when he decided to take his passion for crossword puzzles up a notch.  Ockman purchased a crossword software package that could help him create puzzles. It did not take long for him to get proficient. He has even submitted puzzles to Will Shortz. (Yes, that Will Shortz of The New York Times!)

Over the past few years, Ockman has had 13 puzzles accepted by Shortz and published in The New York Times.

When asked if he would consider creating a puzzle for this issue of CEE UPDATE for alumni to solve, Ockman gladly and immediately accepted the invitation, with one condition.  “I will need to collaborate with someone to come up with a theme, preferably someone who does crossword puzzles,” Ockman said. A collaborator was found quickly in the College’s Communications Office when, in response to an email query, Chris Dawson responded enthusiastically with “Yes! I LOVE crosswords! I do them every day.” Dawson suggested a few possible themes to Ockman, and Ockman took it from there.

Dawson came away from the interaction inspired and downloaded his own copy of the crossword creation software. Who knows, maybe next year you’ll be solving his puzzle in these pages.

Ockman, still working at the engineering practice of Ockman & Borden Associates that he founded in 1981, plans to continue solving and creating crossword puzzles. In addition to The New York Times, Ockman’s puzzles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Jerusalem Post and…well, you can do a google search on him and his name will appear!

Ockman built a long, successful career utilizing his education in a profession that he enjoys.  He managed to keep up and grow his hobby of crossword puzzling for relaxation and has shared his enjoyment with others. He is a humble man with a fun spirit. He hopes CEE alumni enjoy solving the puzzle “CEE You Later.”

Download the CEE UPDATE 2022 pdf to view the puzzle.