Q and A with Stephen P. Ryder

Puzzle BaronIt happens more often than you might think: I link here at CvilleWords to some interesting site I’ve found in my journeys across the World Wide Web, and within a few hours or days someone leaves a comment letting me know that my latest find was right here in my backyard all the time. Charlottesville is truly a town of many talents and many talented people, and I am pleased to present a Q&A with one of our local lights: Stephen P. Ryder.

CvilleWords: You kindly commented on CvilleWords after I linked to a couple of your word puzzle sites: Wordtwist.org and Acrostics.org. You have a whole slate of word puzzle sites as the “Puzzle Baron,” correct, ranging from cryptograms to sudoku? But that’s far from the limit of your web presence. Would you mind telling CvilleWords readers a little about some of your other ventures?

Teaviews.comStephen: Sure thing. I’ve put together a good number of word game and puzzle sites over the past few years and only recently decided to sort of pull them all together under a single brand. “Puzzle Baron” originally started as sort of an inside joke between my wife and I, but I ended up liking the name and so that became the new brand. Wordtwist.org and Cryptograms.org are the most popular sites so far, but we also have sites devoted to acrostic puzzles, drop quotes, hangman, sudoku, and other games as well. Apart from that I have a few other web sites such as Casebook: Jack the Ripper, a research site devoted to the historical mystery, and Teaviews.com, where tea lovers from around the country come together to review the best (and worst) blends.

Casebook: Jack the Ripper is quite impressive and clearly an authority in the area of Ripper studies. I see that you started the site in 1996. The Internet was very different then; how has Casebook evolved over the years? How much traffic do you get on the site? Where has the site led you? Does Patricia Cornwell ever visit to support her theory that Walter Sickert was the Ripper?

The Casebook site was the first I ever built – it’s sort of how I cut my teeth on the whole “Internet thing,” which back in ’96 was sort of new and uncharted territory for most folks. The site grew from what was originally just a collection of articles I’d written about the case to what is generally recognized as the biggest single source of Ripper information available anywhere, online or off. At this stage I’m more of a compiler and organizer of information than anything else – the vast majority of the content comes from volunteers and researchers who simply want to share their information with others. The site currently gets about a million and a half visitors each year. Patricia Cornwell has never made contact through the site or with me directly. When the book came out there was a lot of media attention and I did several television and print interviews about it, and wrote a few pieces on what I saw as major flaws in her theory. At one point we were both scheduled to be on an NPR program together to discuss her book, but she canceled her appearance the day before taping. To be fair, her attitude towards the research community – which at first was extremely confrontational – has softened a bit recently, and last I’ve heard she’s even brought on a well-respected Ripper-researcher to assist with the next edition of her book.

You must have been quite young when you started Casebook. What sparked your interest in computers and the Internet? Are you self-trained? What do you think might be the connections among your many interests?

Jack the RipperI started the Casebook during my freshman year of college. I had a vague awareness of the Internet in high school but never did much with it. When I got to college though, we all had free internet access in our dorm rooms (which at the time was really quite a new thing) and I just started playing around with it. I learned as a I went along, and eventually made a career out of it – which was fortunate, since I graduated in ’98 with a degree in Anthropology, and there weren’t a whole lot of job offers on the table in that department. I don’t know that there’s a single thread that connects all of my web sites, apart from the fact that they are all devoted to subjects that truly interest me. If I didn’t love the subject matter, I wouldn’t waste my time building a web site about it.

Finally – what makes Charlottesville the right town for you?

I grew up just outside of New York City, went to school in Delaware, got my first job in Alexandria, VA and then moved south to Warrenton. Finally I ended up just outside of Charlottesville in 2005 as part of my continual “southern migration.” I was familiar with Charlottesville from my college days, back when I used to date a girl who went to UVA, and I guess the town always stuck around in the back of my head as just a really nice “big small town.” My wife and I enjoy the country atmosphere but we also like being close enough to town to grab a nice dinner or see a show once in a while.


4 Responses

  1. Good day!,

  2. […] speaking of sharp wits, check out this interview with Puzzle Baron creator and all-round Renaissance man Stephen P. […]

  3. […] from Stephen P. Ryder and the good folks at Cryptogram.org. I’ve posted about the Puzzle Baron before and spent many happy hours with his on-line games. Now I’ve got a handy volume to slip […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: