Liam Runnalls (or LR as he is known to his fans) is a Melbourne-based crossword compiler and puzzle creator. Currently the youngest compiler for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, his crosswords have been syndicated since 2012, with his grids published every second Monday, as well as the occasional long-weekend giant. He is known for squeezing secret themes into his puzzles, perhaps most memorably when he planted a subliminal message trying to nab tickets to a sold out music festival.
Now LR has decided to go out on his own to launch a weekly e-newsletter called PuzzleMail, delivering his work directly to his fans. It's a business model he hopes will allow his puzzles to outlive newsprint in the era of uncertainty for journalism.
“As a professional crossword writer I sometimes worry about what will happen if newspapers go bankrupt” he said. "Now that Fairfax has been taken over by Nine, there's no guarantee about the future of the puzzle page, or the mastheads themselves. I want to ensure there's a platform for great Australian-made crosswords well into the future."
The four-page weekly is emailed each Thursday morning and contains three crosswords, a sudoku, a 9-letter puzzle and a comic, with the basic package costing $1.99/week. LR has also teamed up with puzzle software developers Amuse Labs, to make PuzzleMail crosswords accessible on any device. "I get told all the time that some people only buy the paper for the puzzles - well PuzzleMail is cheaper than the paper, and the money goes straight to supporting independent creators." LR said. "I thought, if I can get just a handful of fans to sign up to PuzzleMail then it could become self-sustaining quickly, and then hopefully grow into something much bigger."
With a background in newspaper layout and typesetting, LR designed the PuzzleMail pages himself. "Most people wouldn't know this, but I actually designed the entire SMH and Age puzzle page myself. It was a nightmare trying to fit all the required puzzles into the tabloid page shape, but in a way it was a puzzle in itself so I loved it. I'm colour blind, so I generally work best in black and white."
LR's hope is that PuzzleMail will become a vehicle for new Australian puzzle talent to emerge. "There are so many young Australians interested in crossword and puzzle creation, we need our own La Settimana Enigmastica (a famous Italian puzzle magazine)."
PuzzleMail samples are available here