The Inkubator has three missions.  

  1. First, we aim to deliver to paying subscribers professionally constructed puzzles that meet the solver’s high expectations for entertainment and fair challenge.
  2. Second, we want to help women new to the field develop their constructing skills.
  3. Third, we provide a venue for women to exhibit and get paid for high-quality puzzles, especially (but not exclusively) puzzles that may not have a chance at mainstream publications due to feminist, political, or provocative content.

Check out the campaign that brought us to life:OUR KICKSTARTER

Illustration by Ben Kirchner

Laura Braunstein

is a librarian at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. She has had puzzles published by the New York Times, Puzzle Society, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Women of Letters, and is a team member with the American Values Club Crossword. She constructed for the 2018 Indie 500 and for Boswords 2017 and 2018, and blogs for Diary of a Crossword Fiend. When not crossing words, she advocates for #openaccess to scholarship, edits Wikipedia, bikes and skis on mountains, and discusses politics with her kids. 

Illustration by Ben Kirchner

Tracy Bennett

is a managing copy editor for Mathematical Reviews/MathSciNet in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her crossword puzzles appear as a feature called “X-Games” in BUST magazine, and she’s on the constructing team making puzzles for the Crosswords With Friends app. She has had puzzles published by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Higher EducationQueer Qrosswords, and Women of Letters. She constructed for the 2017 Indie 500 and donates puzzles to Groundcover News, a 501(c)(3) organization taking action to end homelessness and poverty.

Meet the Constructors!

Jen McTeague (she/her)

#36: Difficult Choices | 3.5.2020

Jen McTeague is a math teacher, Pathfinder game master, and puzzlehunter. She lives in Providence, RI, with her wife, Ange Strom-Weber. The two of them enjoy powering through puzzle hunts and escape rooms and writing puzzles for other people. Jen mostly has avoided crosswords and other gridded puzzles as part of this since Ange is really good at them and will solve them quickly, but recently she (Jen) has been solving a lot of them to work on getting better. Because Jen just can’t solve a bunch of puzzles without coming up with one of her own, this means that she’s also started getting into writing crosswords, and she hopes you’ll enjoy the first-ever standard crossword she’s written. Find Jen on Twitter at @mersiamnot.

Debra Hamel (she/her)

#36: Sing, Goddess… | 2.27.2020

Debra Hamel is the author of a handful of books about ancient Greece, though nowadays she’s more about editing other people’s prose than writing her own. She’s been solving crosswords for years but is new to constructing, with puzzles published so far by Universal and the LA Times. She enjoys reading, crocheting, chocolate Soylent, learning Esperanto, and, lately, staving off physical deterioration by playing Ring Fit Adventure. With her younger daughter slated to go to college in the fall, Debra fancies that she’s entering her retirement years, which she hopes will allow more time for puzzles. Find Debra on Twitter at @debra_hamel.

Mary Lou Guizzo (she/her)

#35: Themeless #6 | 2.20.2020

Mary Lou worked for many years in hospital Transfusion Services and Blood Centers, Processing and Reference Labs and a Paternity Lab. She graduated from the University of Dayton and has a Specialist in Blood Banking (SBB). Her hobbies have included photography, reading, bicycling, hiking, swimming, and traveling. She enjoys spending time with her husband and family. In recent years she has cared for her grandson, who has completely captured her heart. She’s published puzzles in many venues including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Gannett newspapers, Universal Crosswords and the CrossWord Club. Her first puzzle appeared in print in 2013.

Allegra Kuney (she/her)

#34: Take the Plunge | 2.13.2020

Allegra is thrilled to be making her debut in the Inkubator! A media studies grad student in Queens, New York, Allegra also writes, makes music, and attempts to cook Chinese food, sometimes successfully. She would like to thank Laura and Tracy for their encouragement, her many crossword mentors, and her parents for forcing her to try solving NYT Mondays even when she thought they were hard and boring. Find her on Twitter at @allegramiriam.

Janie Smulyan (she/her)

#33: She’s Not There | 1.28.2020

Native “Baltimoron” [sic] Janie Smulyan now resides on NYC’s upper west side. Since 2011, her puzzles (collabs and solo ventures) have been published by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Higher EducationFireball Crosswords, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, and the Goucher Quarterly (her college alumnae/-i mag). Last year she created a puzz for the Indie 500; and now, the Inkubator. Life is good!

Christina Iverson (she/her)

#32: The Last Word | 1.16.2020

Christina is a stay-at-home mom to one wonderful two year old, with one more on the way. She began solving puzzles in the summer of 2018 when her son was an infant. Puzzles met her need for something more intellectually stimulating than reading “Barnyard Dance.” After a couple of months of solving, she became curious about the construction process, and began making her own puzzles that fall.

Andrea Carla Michaels (she/her)

#31: Check Your Calendar | 1.2.2019

Andrea has constructed puzzles for more than 40 years in Games MagazineTV GuideThe New York Times, and other syndicates. She lives in San Francisco where she names companies and products (ACME Naming) and spends her afternoons as “Pizza Lady,” feeding her neighbors on the street. A former stand-up comic and game show writer, she once won a motorhome on “Wheel of Fortune.” She is one of two esteemed constructors who’ve worn the ‘Queen of Mondays’ tiara.

Anna-Marie Ruoff (she/her)

#30: Meta Puzzle #2 | 12.26.2019

Anna-Marie Ruoff is an exotic animal veterinarian, science nerd, and puzzle enthusiast. She lives in Arizona with her partner, four lizards, and a tortoise (appropriately named Puzzle). She also enjoys tea, escape rooms, video games, and hiking. Anna-Marie and her partner began solving meta crosswords together a few years ago, and they have since progressed to writing crosswords for each other, for friends and family, and recently for publication. She is so excited to be featured again by The Inkubator — and she hopes that solvers enjoy the puzzle and the meta!

Wyna Liu (she/her)

#29: Themeless #5 | 12.19.2019

Wyna is an artist and jewelry maker from NYC. She recently began assisting the editor of the American Values Club crossword and is super pumped about it. Her puzzles and collaborations appear in AVCX, The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalNewsday‘s Saturday Stumper, and the upcoming installment of The Crossword Show (January ’20), among other venues. When she’s not thinking about crosswords, she teaches yoga and helps out at her family’s radio business. Her hobbies include learning new fabrication methods (most recently neon) and annoying her dog, Polo. Find her work on Instagram at @wynaliu, and at

Amanda Rafkin (she/her)

#28: Transformations | 12.5.2019

Amanda Rafkin is a queer Los Angeles based musical theater pianist/music director/composer. She can often be found writing or solving crossword puzzles, playing and singing romantic songs out loud to no one, and finding innovative ways to delay accomplishing any and all tasks. She hopes you enjoy this puzzle, and can assure you that she laughed out loud to herself at least once while making it. Find Amanda on Twitter at @AmandaRafkin.

Kristina Lustig (she/her)

#27: Location, Location, Location | 11.21.2019

Kristina’s been doing crosswords since she was a kid, but only started constructing them this year. She lives in Pittsburgh and spends her free time making/playing video games, watching horror movies, and picking up new hobbies on a regular basis. She’s grateful to her #crossword-club colleagues at Stack Overflow for playtesting her puzzles, and to Inkubator for the extensive editorial assistance. Find Kristina on Twitter at @kristinalustig.

Zhouqin Burnikel (she/her)

#26: Character Study | 11.07.2019

Zhouqin grew up in Xi’an, China. She worked in Guangzhou for six years before moving to the US in 2001. She became a U.S. citizen in June 2010.

Stephanie Cerra (she/her)

#25: Cryptic #2 | 10.31.2019

A longtime fan of cryptic crosswords, Stephanie began constructing them a few years ago, and this is her second published puzzle (the first was Inkubator’s first bonus, back in March!). She’s a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a freelance writer, editor, and tutor with a master’s degree in English literature/Victorian studies from Indiana University. Stephanie lives in Redwood City, CA, with her husband, Paul, and cat, Mr. Pancks. Find her on Twitter at @StephanieCerra.

Debbie Ellerin (she/her)

#24: She’s Entitled | 10.24.2019

Debbie is a long-time crossword solver, who began constructing in 2014. She has been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as other sites. She is a former computer programmer. She enjoys reading and traveling.

Juliana Tringali Golden (she/her)

#23: Make M(ist)akes | 10.10.2019

Juliana edits the Berkeley Guide by day and parents two girls by morning, night, and weekend. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, Brady, who helps chase them around. She started constructing two years ago, and this is her second published puzzle. You can find her on Twitter at @julianatringali.

Juliana recently joined the Inkubator as a managing editor.

Patti Varol (she/her)

#22: Themeless #4 | 09.26.2019

Patti Varol has been editing and creating puzzles for almost 20 years. She is the puzzle editor of Crosswords Club and Daily POP Crosswords; she has been the assistant editor of the L.A. Times Crossword since 2010. Her crosswords have appeared in the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as the Crosswords L.A. and Lollapuzzoola tournaments.

Patti is also the co-creator and editor of Women of Letters, a 2018 puzzle pack featuring the work of women constructors, with proceeds benefiting women-centric charities, and whose rallying cry, “Publish More Women!” became an inspiration for us at the Inkubator. And Patti’s back at the helm for Women of Letters 2, which is in the works.

Annemarie Brethauer (she/her)

#21: Un-Sound Barriers | 09.12.2019

Despite leaving the study of linguistics for a career in government cable television, Annemarie Brethauer never lost her love of wordplay. Creating documentaries on subjects like zoning codes challenged her to make the most arcane subject matter interesting, a skill which she hopes guides her crossword puzzle construction. Her puzzles have appeared in Games World of Puzzles magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Los Angeles Times, Universal Syndicate and USA Today, among other publications.

Madeline Kaplan (she/her)

#20: Border States | 08.29.2019

Madeline has been making crosswords for about a year, and this publication marks her debut. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, she’s currently a podcast producer and writer living in Brooklyn. She’s very grateful to everyone at The Inkubator for their editorial support, and to her friend Libby for giving her a crossword subscription as a Secret Santa gift one time. Find Madeline on Twitter at @MadelineSKaplan.

Niamh Girling and Mira Martin-Gray (she/her)

#19: Get With the Program | 08.15.2019

Niamh Girling and Mira Martin-Gray love crosswords and each other. They are both active in the local experimental music scene in Toronto.

Joanne Sullivan (she/her)

#18: O Whatever | 08.01.2019

I’m a lifelong resident of Queens, New York, a county that has the benefit of being one of the most diverse in the nation. I enjoy constructing and test-solving crossword puzzles and leading crossword workshops. I’m grateful to all who enable my habit, including countless cruciverbalists and my one and only crossword-immune husband Kevin.

This puzzle’s theme came to me as I brainstormed different options for a crossword commissioned by the Willa Cather Foundation.

Anna-Marie Ruoff (she/her)

#17: Meta Puzzle #1 | 07.25.2019

I am an exotic animal veterinarian, science nerd, and puzzle enthusiast. I live in Arizona with my partner, four lizards, and a tortoise (appropriately named Puzzle). I also enjoy tea, escape rooms, video games, and hiking. My partner and I began solving meta crosswords together a few years ago, and we have since progressed to writing crosswords for each other, for our friends and family, and recently for publication. I am thrilled to be published by The Inkubator — I hope that solvers enjoy the puzzle and the first Inkubator meta!

Rachel Fabi (she/her)

#16: What’s Your Sign? | 07.18.2019

Rachel is a longtime solver, occasional blogger, and newish constructor of crossword puzzles. She is a professor of bioethics in Syracuse, New York, where she can often be found climbing on fake rocks and hiking around real ones. She’s a Jeopardy! champ who enjoys bad puns, good trivia, and arguing about health policy and ethics on the internet. Rachel has recently joined the Inkubator as a test-solver, and we couldn’t be more delighted to be publishing a puzzle from one of our team members. Find Rachel on Twitter at @faBioethics.

Allison Uttaro (she/her)

#15: Color Bands | 07.04.2019

I am a soccer fan (go USWNT!) and pediatric occupational therapist. I help kids from birth through age five meet their developmental milestones–like playing with peers, dressing themselves, and writing their names. I’ve been casually solving crosswords since high school, but I became really obsessed with solving and constructing about a year ago. Since then, I’ve discovered the crossword blogs, crossword twitter, and the invaluable Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory Facebook group. I’m so excited to make my constructing debut for such a wonderful and progressive outlet, and I can’t thank Tracy and Laura enough for their help!

Stella Zawistowski (she/her)

#14: Themeless #3 | 06.20.2019

In the last couple of years, I’ve really started to pay attention to the underrepresentation of women and people of color in puzzlemaking and solving. As I said in my interview with Man Repeller, “sometimes I think that if puzzles as a whole were a little less ‘bro’ then we would see more women champions.” I started to feel a little guilty about not having made a puzzle in so long. Plus, at least 20% of my Twitter feed has got to be me complaining about how the New York Times Friday and Saturday puzzles have gotten too easy. So, I’ve got to be the change I want to see in the world, right? After this year’s ACPT I felt really energized — I started to feel both like being on the podium as a solver one day was within reach, and also like I should quit thinking about learning how to make grids and actually take steps to do it.

Katja Brinck (she/her)

#13: Gooooooooooooal!!!!!! | 06.13.2019

Katja grew up on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, attended college in upstate New York, ended up in San Francisco (working in IT), and has just recently moved with her husband to Healdsburg, CA (wine country!). She is a long-time solver who describes herself as a medium crossword tournament competitor just getting started in the world of crossword construction. In her non-crossword time, Katja loves to travel, play classical piano (having taken lessons since she was 6), and enjoys getting outdoors in northern California, especially skiing and hiking.

Lynn Lempel (she/her)

#12: Miss Out | 06.06.2019

In the crossword community, she has been called “the Queen of Mondays” (one of two women in the Inkubator queue who’ve been so dubbed). Indeed, Lynn’s puzzles are famously smooth, featuring playful themes within elegant constructions that mesh well with an early-week solving sensibility. Lynn’s 86th New York Times crossword puzzle appeared this week, her 61st Monday in the Shortz era. Lynn also had two delightfully punny Sunday puzzles published in the Maleska era.

Lynn began constructing crossword puzzles in the 1970s while working for a small newspaper, and continued pursuing her passion while working as a college instructor of reading and composition. She eventually made the leap to “stay-at-home puzzlemaker” and now resides in Daytona Beach, where she is actively involved in political campaigns, the League of Women Voters, and Friends of the Library. Lynn has been a featured constructor at the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for the last four years running.

Caitlin Reid (she/her)

#11: Themeless #2 | 05.23.2019

I have solved crosswords ever since I was a child, but I’ve only recently waded into the world of making them and I am in love! My full-time gig as a stay-at-home mother to four young children leaves very limited time to devote to my newfound passion, but between packing lunches and wiping um . . . noses, I have managed to eke out a few puzzles.
I do so appreciate the creative and fulfilling outlet of constructing. That, and my passion for music (I’m a classically trained pianist), helps me retain a vital sense of identity outside of being a mom. So far, I’ve had two puzzles published in the New York Times, and I’m so thrilled to add the Inkubator to my constructing resume!

Helen Verongos (she/her)

#10: A Rite of Spring | 05.09.2019

I’m a journalist by day and a crossword fan by night (and weekend and any other time), but I never thought about constructing one until I saw an old episode of Inspector Morse, whose avocations included “setting” crosswords. That led me to the New York Times how-to series. After reading it about 18 times, I cast about for a mentor through the Facebook crossword collaboration group and struck gold immediately. Thanks to a kind and extremely responsive mentor, and some dedicated beta solvers, I became addicted to the process.

Maryam Hedayati and Sophia Maymudes (she/her)

#9: 404: Not Found | 04.25.2019

Maryam recently graduated from Carleton College where she double-majored in computer science and psychology. She is currently working as a tech consultant and will soon be starting a PhD program in computer science and learning sciences. She is passionate about finding cheap tickets to Broadway shows and drinking hot water.

Sophia is a junior at Carleton College studying computer science and math. Her crosswords have been published twice by the New York Times. She spends her days reading Game of Thrones fan theories and figuring out just how many different meals she can make using the dining hall microwave.

Mary Lou Guizzo (she/her)

#8: Scale Models | 04.11.2019

Mary Lou Guizzo is a retired Blood Bank (SBB) technologist whose hobbies include hiking and swimming. Her puzzles have been published in the New York Times, the Orange County Register and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her first puzzle appeared in print in 2013. She was honored to be part of the “Women of Letters” crossword project in 2018.

Wendy L. Brandes & Martha Jones (she/her)

#7: Mutual Funds | 03.28.2019

Martha and Wendy have published puzzles in The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. They have worked together for the past few years and are relatively new to the crossword universe. Wendy, a lawyer by trade, is also a teacher at SUNY Old Westbury and the author of seven children’s books. As a huge Yankee fan, Wendy aspires to be the first to use Aaron Judge as a theme answer in a puzzle! Martha, a former high-school mathematics teacher and social worker, enjoys travel, gardening, and spending as much time as possible listening to live music.

Stephanie Cerra (she/her)

#6: Cryptic #1 | 03.21.2019

A longtime fan of cryptic crosswords, Stephanie began constructing them a few years ago, and this is her first published puzzle. She’s a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a freelance writer, editor, and tutor with a master’s degree in English literature/Victorian studies from Indiana University. Stephanie lives in Redwood City, California, with her husband, Paul, and cat, Mr. Pancks. Find her on Twitter at @StephanieCerra.

Tracy Gray (she/her)

#5: Please Be Flexible | 03.14.2019

Tracy has been constructing puzzles since 2010 and has had 24 puzzles published in the New York Times. She also has been a regular contributor to the USA Today Crossword for 1 1/2 years and has had puzzles published in the Wall Street Journal, Universal Crossword, NYT app, and Simon & Schuster Mega Books. Besides crossword constructing, Tracy has a passion for gardening and spends many hours in her own backyard perennial garden as well as doing the bookkeeping for her and her husband’s lawn/landscaping company in Baltimore County, MD.

Robyn Weintraub (she/her)

#4: Themeless #1 | 02.28.2019

Robyn has been constructing crosswords for almost a decade. She’s had 20 puzzles published in the New York Times, plus another dozen or so in other newspapers and magazines. For the past two years she’s been active in local politics, working as a legislative aide and campaign manager in Westchester County, New York. Robyn is happy to help aspiring constructors and can be found on Twitter at @Robynw414.

Kelly Kizer Whitt (she/her)

#3: The V-Word | 02.14.2019 

Kelly Kizer Whitt’s crosswords have been published in newspapers and magazines such as Country Woman, Reminisce, and Our Wisconsin. Her book Badger Brain Twisters: Wisconsin Trivia, Games, Puzzles and More! was published in 2007. She is also the author of three novels and a children’s picture book about weather on the planets titled Solar System Forecast. Kelly has been writing about astronomy for two decades and can be found on Twitter at @Astronomommy.

Rebecca Falcon (she/her)

#2: Notorious: A Moment of (T)Ruth | 01.31.2019 

Rebecca is stoked to be a part of the Inkubator and to be sharing this puzzle with all of you! A life-long New Yorker, Rebecca is currently in Park City, UT running the Filmmaker Lodge at Sundance Film Festival – but she’ll be back in New York and available to hire by the end of February! If you need a bad ass problem solver with plenty of high profile events, operations, producing, and customer service experience across different arts industries, you’ve found her! Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccafalcon18

Tina Lippman (she/her)

#1: Carmen Miranda’s Hat | 01.17.2019 

I got interested in making crosswords about a year ago. This is my first published puzzle. I’m originally from New England, but currently live in southern Indiana with my husband, teenage daughter, and cat. I’m a librarian by training, and have worked as a college financial aid officer and a composer of grammar questions for the SAT.