Mangesh Ghogre, former executive director and head of equity capital markets at Nomura India
Image: Mexy Xavier
On Wednesday, August 16, millions of The New York Times (NYT) crossword fans around the US, and the world, woke up to a surprise. The grid featured a triangular shape of solvable squares near the top, billowing out into a solid base. Once they began to work through the clues, they saw that the puzzle used typographical art to depict the shape of a famous monument, and a few circled squares unravelled the theme: TAJ MAHAL.
Each NYT crossword is accompanied with a column about the idea behind it and an analysis of the wordplay, by NYT journalist Sam Corbin. Wednesday’s started with:
“Every so often in a book of poetry, you may happen across what’s known as a calligram. These are typographical poems that when seen at a distance resemble the images they describe in their verses.
Today’s crossword, constructed by Mangesh Ghogre and Brendan Emmett Quigley, brings this whimsical art form to mind. While this puzzle is not the first to showcase a shape or an image in its grid, the detail with which these constructors have embedded the features of their theme among the squares and circled letters is a feat to behold. It also makes for a doozy of a Wednesday.”
It isn’t every day that you see an Indian constructor featured in this column; and even rarer to have the theme built on Indian culture. The crossword was spiced with answers such as ‘AGRA’, ‘SHAHJAHAN’, ‘MINARET’, ‘ONIONDOME’, and so on, and its constructor, 42-year-old Mangesh Ghogre, has made it his life’s mission to bring India into the grid.
The original plan was to publish it on August 15, in time for Independence Day, but was pushed to Wednesday for its difficulty level. In the world of crosswords, as the week progresses, the puzzles get harder.
Mangesh had the idea to celebrate the monument and what it meant to India, and once we realised that TAJ MAHAL could appear in the grid as an onion dome, the remaining tribute pieces kept falling into place
Will Shortz, the NYT
crossword editor, is considered the ‘god’ of the crossword world; he has held his current position at the NYT
since 1993, and is known to have designed his own degree curriculum in ‘enigmatology’, or the study of puzzles, and graduated himself in it. He is the only known person to hold this academic qualification.
Getting your crossword published in the NYT
is incredibly competitive. After a few rejections, Ghogre finally got his big debut in 2013. Next, in 2017, Ghogre wanted to be back in the NYT with a bang. He collaborated with an American constructor for an Indo-US Fourth of July-themed puzzle, which the team worked on for two years, as he previously told Forbes India
. He sent Shortz the idea a full year before it was to publish.
A crossword’s theme is determined by its longest answers. Ghogre’s idea was this: If you look at the phrase ‘Fourth of July’, it could mean 25 percent of July. If you divide the word up, you get J-U-L-Y. The longest answers, then, were: JAY-GATSBY; YOU-ARE-NOT-ALONE; ELLE MACPHERSON; and WHY-BOTHER. JAY-YOU-ELLE-WHY. J-U-L-Y.
Five years later, the switch has flipped. American constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley is back to collaborate with Ghogre, but this time, the theme is India’s Independence Day.
“Seeing the Taj Mahal is on my bucket list, but until then, I will have to admire it in photos,” Quigley tells Forbes India
. “Mangesh had the idea to celebrate the monument and what it meant to India, and once we realised that TAJ MAHAL could appear in the grid as an onion dome, the remaining tribute pieces kept falling into place.”
“Crosswords have always brought people together, and are a way to think about the world in a different light,” he adds. “Whether it's an opportunity to learn something (in the case of our Taj Mahal puzzle) or play with the English language (in our July 4th puzzle).”
Ghogre, in fact, hit another milestone back in 2019, publishing a solo Gandhi-themed puzzle for the father of the nation’s 150th birth anniversary on October 2. It was a complicated solve using ‘rebus’, a crosswording term for when you can place multiple letters within a square. Also read: US eases H-1B visa restrictions during Modi's visit: What you need to know
Life beyond the squares
While Ghogre has seen professional success with his investment banking career, his crossword skills, which have so far been a hobby, might become the main character of his next phase. Ghogre previously told Forbes India
about how he learnt about English vocabulary as well as American culture by relentlessly persisting through crosswords in the paper. Even in Indian newspapers, crosswords are usually syndicated from Western counterparts.
Last week, Ghogre began publishing a weekly series of ‘by an Indian-for an Indian’ mini crosswords in the Economic Times, a feat he has spent years in pursuit of.
But beyond the bylines, the humble puzzle has also taken Ghogre beyond his dreams. Investment bankers are likely candidates to be interested in careers in the US; but for Ghogre, this dream was realised differently. On a punt, he applied for a permanent residency visa under the EB-1 A category, also called the Einstein visa, awarded to people with an ‘extraordinary ability’.
On the US government’s immigration website, it says that ‘You must meet at least 3 of the 10 criteria below, or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal) as well as evidence showing that you will be continuing to work in the area of your expertise’.
Ghogre submitted what became an almost-400-page document about his body of work, not in banking, but in crosswords, with references from crossword editors and others, to showcase the impact his work has made. And soon, he had got the golden ticket—the equivalent of a green card.
Ghogre now lives with his family in Princeton, USA, and has been working as a consultant part-time. Full-time work will come around, but for him, this next phase is perhaps a signal to slow down, and instead, make a business out of the black-and-white grid.
“I have moved countries by just filling in A to Z into small boxes,” he marvels. “If I’m halfway past my life, I definitely look at crosswords as being the mainstay of my next half.”