Could crossword puzzles become a new winter sport? It turns out, for one Toronto resident, they can.
Two years ago, Bob Greenfield went viral for masterful designs carefully crafted out of snow that piled up on his family's backyard hockey rink. The most notable of which was a striking snow portrait of Leonardo da Vinci's painting the Mona Lisa, playfully dubbed the "Snowna Lisa," which accumulated thousands of views on YouTube and garnered international media attention. A few of Greenfield's other notable snow sketches include a giant menorah to celebrate the start of Hanukkah in 2019, a drawing of Snoopy, the beloved beagle from cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, and the logo of the wildly popular musical Hamilton.
This winter, he completed perhaps his most ambitious design yet: a 30-foot crossword puzzle with 78 words. Greenfield, a noted crossword puzzle enthusiast, first thought of the idea three years ago as he solved a puzzle to pass time while on a plane. Despite "immediately regretting the idea," Greenfield essentially taught himself how to make a puzzle from scratch and then transformed that idea into a snowy design. After the idea germinated in his mind over the past several winters, all he needed was the time, plus a little help from Mother Nature.
Greenfield working on his Mona Lisa snow drawing in 2019. The portrait gained international attention. (Photo/Bob Greenfield, YouTube)
However, it took a bit for the weather in the Toronto area to cooperate this winter, according to Greenfield.
"The weather had been very uncooperative. We've had great skating this year, [the weather] has been terrific for the ice, but we didn't have much snow until really the end of January," Greenfield, 50, told AccuWeather. "Since then, there's been plenty of snow."
A first attempt at making the puzzle earlier in the winter failed because there wasn't quite enough snow. The perfect amount of snow needed to create the snow designs is only about an inch or two, Greenfield said.
Determined to see this ambitious project through, it took him about four hours on a late January day to create the puzzle on the 40-foot by 30-foot rink that is often used by family and friends for ice skating or hockey games. After he finished the blank puzzle grid, he took photos of it, before hurriedly carving the words into the drawing before it got dark because he didn't want to chance having a fresh overnight snowfall wipe out what he had completed.
Greenfield has learned that being nimble is key to creating such extensive and intricate drawings, including one as involved as an enormous crossword puzzle. One of the biggest challenges Greenfield faces when he designs a new image on the rink is watching where he steps, so he doesn't accidentally ruin what he just finished. Often, he'll need to stop, step off the rink to get his bearings and reassess how the drawing is coming along.
For the crossword puzzle, he used a cookie cutter-like rectangular wooden block to go around the rink and stamp out the blocks. He then grabbed a shovel to dig out the black squares, while finetuning the edges with a hockey stick, which also served as a pencil of sorts to carve out the letters.
"Carving out the black squares and climbing across them and making sure that I didn't fall and wipe out or ruin anything else was really the time-consuming part," Greenfield said. "And, making sure that it was all exactly lined up because if I was off by one square, it would've ruined the whole thing."
When Greenfield, who works as a consultant in employment policies for a Toronto bank, got to work on the puzzle, it was a "perfect" winter day, not just because there was enough snow on the ground, but the temperature was below zero and there wasn't much wind.
He said the lack of wind was "huge" because he had placed little numbered cards, similar to those used for assigned seating at a wedding reception, around the puzzle to mark the different words.
"Every time a cloud blew over, the wind seemed to pick up and I just would freeze and think ‘I hope they don't blow away,'" Greenfield said. "Lucky enough, they stayed where they belonged."
Even though he has since replaced it with another design, the snowy crossword lives online via a website Greenfield created, which provides the clues. This allows anyone who's interested to take a stab at solving the puzzle themselves. About 100 people had finished the puzzle when AccuWeather interviewed Greenfield last month.
"I initially attempted to make it a little more complicated for people more experienced with doing crosswords, but then I said, ‘You know what, these clues need to be a little bit easier, a little bit approachable.' And I hope it comes out that way," Greenfield said.
Greenfield, who uploads most of his works to YouTube, shared a video to Twitter showcasing him creating and then solving the puzzle. Watch it below, but beware of spoilers if you're thinking of giving the puzzle a shot.
— Robert Greenfield (@rsgreenx) February 15, 2021
He's always had a bit of a creative side, but considers himself more of a craftsman than an artist since most of his designs are reproductions. He views the hobby more as paint-by-numbers than painting.
Greenfield said he's been drawing in the snow for nearly a full decade now. The original message that kicked off this unique hobby was a short, but sweet message to his wife.
"I just did, 'I heart you,' for my wife looking out from the kitchen window and went about clearing the rest of the snow, and after I did that, I realized there might be an opportunity to do a little bit more here."
He still gets a kick out of the international attention he received two years ago, an experience he described as "wild," particularly when his artwork showed up in news articles that required Google Translate.
As for future drawings, he has a couple on his mind, including a potential Star Wars theme. Ultimately, he said that if he gets about two drawings done per winter then he considers it a success.
"It's just been a fun thing to keep me busy during the winter," he said. "I love hearing back from friends and strangers, too, telling me that they look forward to seeing these [each] year."
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