Silver lining

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Riya Joshi, 15, who created a puzzle booklet, Detective Wordy, hundreds of copies of which she has donated to children’s hospitals, assisted living facilities, libraries and for educational purposes. (Photos Courtesy of Riya Joshi)

Every tragedy has a silver lining, and 15-year old puzzle-aficionado Riya Joshi is one for the COVID-19 crisis

From the time they were very little Riya Joshi, 15, of Chicagoland, and her twin sister played Scrabble and other such games with their parents every weekend. So she was a “word-sharp” and puzzle solver already and even represented Chicago Public Schools at the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, when the coronavirus pandemic hit and all of K-12 had gone online and students were basically homeschooling.

“My only goal growing up was to beat my parents,” Riya told Desi Talk. But soon it turned into wanting to learn more and more not just about words but general knowledge.

Then came the one week Easter break and she got free from online classes. Now instead of playing the games or solving puzzles, Riya thought it would be fun creating some crossword puzzles, word searches, and word scrambles, to challenge her family.

“I gave them to my parents and twin sister that weekend. They liked it. So I thought, why not make a bunch and put it into a book?” Simple as that! maybe for Riya, but not for everyone. She consulted with a puzzle-maker/mentor David L. Hoyt, who had been impressed by her a few years ago.

The process is complicated. “I think of a category. It could be anything from Potato Chip Flavors to COVID Terms, or like the latest creation of mine – about Chicago,” Riya said.
She then gets all the hints and other answers and questions that go along with that category to create sometimes playful, sometimes serious, puzzles.

It all turned into a 72-page Chicago-centric book with 50 word searches, crosswords, and word scrambles, she told Desi Talk. Wwhen it was published, it began to make the rounds of senior homes, children’s hospitals, libraries, assisted living facilities, and the Neighbor To Neighbor Literacy Project.

Riya, who will be a sophomore at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago, turned puzzles into philanthropy.

Riya Joshi, 15, holding a copy of her book, Detective Wordy, poses for a photo.

The booklet’s title is engaging – Detective Wordy. The book is now available for purchase on Lulu, Amazon, and at Barnes and Noble.

One hundred percent of proceeds from the sales go directly toward printing copies for donations. Every booklet purchased makes it possible for Riya to donate three more booklets.

“We all enjoy a good puzzle and they are a great way to keep your brain active and engaged, whether we’re isolated due to the pandemic or sick in a hospital bed,” Riya is quoted saying in the press release, adding, “I wanted to do something to support my community. Hopefully, these puzzles will put smiles on many faces. I hope that people have as much fun solving them as I had making them.”

Since late May, she has donated more than 520 puzzle books, she told Desi Talk. After this ‘Chicago Edition’ of Detective Wordy, she plans to develop more editions in the future for different cities, including New York.

And her mentor, famous puzzle-maker David L. Hoyt sought out Riya and she is now a teen co-author of puzzles for an App which already has 10,000 daily users, according to a press release.

In fact, Riya’s first foray into the puzzle world began when Chicago’s David L. Hoyt Education Foundation, a non-profit that fosters fun-based, collaborative learning, invited Riya, then a Chicago Spelling Bee Winner, to be a guest judge for the largest playable Word Winder game in 2017 (100 elementary school kids across Chicago, setting a Guinness world record) at the Harold Washington Library.

“He (Hoyt) already has an app in which I have a section for my own puzzles. Later on, I’m going to make my own App… we will make a new app,” she says proudly during the interview.

According to the press release, Hoyt was so impressed with Riya that he recently offered her the opportunity to co-author puzzles with him for a junior section of the Word Search World Traveler app. The Word Search World Traveler app has more than 10,000 daily users, according to the press release.

“I was very impressed with the quality of Riya’s puzzles in her Detective Wordy booklet,” Hoyt is quoted saying in the press release. “When I opened the document she sent me, and started flipping through the pages, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was blown away! I very quickly e-mailed Riya to set up a phone call so I could discuss teaming up with her. She’s truly amazing and I’m so excited to be collaborating with her.”

Riya has her own website, www.wordywhat.org and she also shared her email if readers were interested in her work – wordywhat@gmail.com

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