Fill Me In
Fill Me In is a weekly podcast hosted by Brian Cimmet and Ryan Hecht (referred to collectively as "Ryan and Brian"). The principal focus of the show is analysis of crossword puzzles and other word games, with the central discussion on the New York Times crossword puzzle. Discussions of other puzzles and games have included acrostics, cryptic crosswords, word searches, and logic puzzles. Additionally, segments of various episodes have assessed and analyzed Games Magazine, P&A Magazine, The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Sporcle, LearnedLeague, and more.
The podcast came out weekly from March 2008 through March 2011 (with occasional exceptions). In March 2011, Ryan and Brian opted to end the series. However, with regular involvement in other crossword-related events (Lollapuzzoola, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, etc.), there was occasional talk of a Fill Me In return at some point. A reunion episode brought the cohosts back together for one show in 2015, and after what was ultimately a seven-year hiatus, Ryan and Brian restarted the show in 2018. At present, the show comes out every Tuesday morning. It is available via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and other podcast sources.
Inspired by the documentary Wordplay, Ryan and Brian decided to attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2008, despite never having been particularly interested in crosswords. They finished the bottom 20% of the standings at that tournament.
In response to that poor showing, they set out to improve their skills at solving (and speed solving) crossword puzzles. A week after the tournament, they began to write a blog called Ryan and Brian Do Crosswords (now defunct). Shortly after that, they recording the first episode of the then-untitled Fill Me In.
Season 1 concluded with Ryan and Brian visiting the 2009 ACPT, at which Brian claimed first place in the tournament's E Division.
Season 2 concluded with a rather remarkable surprise at the 2010 ACPT when Ryan won first place in the E Division—the same prize Brian had won the previous year. Ryan has named this his favorite moment from the history of Fill Me In.
Episode 136, entitled "The Podcast of Then", was intended as the conclusion of the series. At the time of that show's release (March 13, 2011), there was no indication from either host that there would be any future to Fill Me In.
On April 7, 2015, following encouragement from fans and friends, Ryan and Brian reunited for a single episode. The strongest encouragement came from Eric Peterson and Jeffrey Krasnick, both long-time followers of the show, who created a tribute site for Fill Me In at fillmeinagain.com. In this episode, Ryan and Brian began by pretending no time had passed since their last episode (from March 13, 2011), but after a bit, abandoned the ruse, and treated the rest of the show like a "Where Are They Now?" special.
In early 2018, Ryan and Brian decided to relaunch the podcast. In advance of the relaunch, they created a teaser consisting of little more than a single word puzzle. The puzzle consisted of a set of clues, and when the answers to the clues were spoken aloud and in sequence, they collectively sounded like the phrase "Fill Me In is returning."
The revised and revamped Fill Me In now airs weekly on Tuesdays. The program runs longer than in its first incarnation, with episodes typically ranging from 75 to 110 minutes.
Although most episodes are conversations solely between Ryan and Brian, they have occasionally featured interviews with notable crossword people. Interviewees have included Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Sam Ezersky, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Tyler Hinman, Howard Barkin, Dan Feyer, and joon pahk.
Every week, Ryan and Brian read and discuss emails received from listeners. The emails usually relate to topics from the previous week, though the subjects are not restricted to crossword puzzles.
Approximately 20 minutes of each episode (usually toward the end of the show) is dedicated to a review of the previous week of New York Times puzzles. Occasionally, Ryan and Brian will review puzzles from other sources. The format of the Thunder Round is an announcement of the date, the puzzle's constructor, a summary of the theme (if there was one), some banter about the quality of the puzzle, whether the hosts found the solving experience challenging, whether any of the vocabulary used was controversial or questionable, etc.
Most episodes feature a weekly contest, usually in the form of a word puzzle or a trivia game. Listeners are invited to submit answers to the contest via email, and one correct answer is chosen the following week as the winner. Common prizes are puzzle books or entry tickets to tournaments or other puzzle events.
Many people associated with the show (either as correspondents or as social acquaintances of Ryan and Brian) are referenced with assorted nicknames. Some of the nicknames have little or nothing to do with anything factual or relevant about the person. Frequently heard nicknames include:
- Mike Nothnagel, Pen Pal Extraordinaire and Constructor of the Friday Puzzle (and the Oracle)
- joon pahk, Squirrel of Discord (and the Oracle)
- Doug Peterson, Crossword Gentleman and Man About Town
- Amanda Yesnowitz, the Unparalleled Parallel Verse Engineer, a Shining Light to Us All
- Tyler Hinman, [insert kickass nickname here]
- Andrea Carla Michaels ... Does she have a nickname? ... Not yet.
- Peter Gordon, Sextuple Threat; The Commissioner
- Vic "The Gavel" Fleming
Regular listeners to the show are invited as members to fictional clubs, indicating various degrees of commitment to the show. Current clubs include:
- The Quintuple Decker Turkey Club: listeners who have left a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or iTunes.
- The Bruce Ryan FMI Mile High Club: Named for one of the podcast's most dedicated listeners, Bruce Ryan (who travels extensively), membership in this club is granted to people who have listened to the show while in an airplane (in the air).
- The Laura Braunstein Ground Level Club of Indeterminate Length: Named for crossword constructor and co-creator of The Inkubator puzzle series, membership in this club is granted to people who have listened to show while in a car, train, or bus.
- The Official Kent Brody Reddit or Not, Here We Club: Visit any of Fill Me In's posts on Reddit and upvote it.
- The Centuplicates: People who have been mentioned in at least one hundred different episodes of Fill Me In.
- The Jeffrey "Crosscan" Krasnick Pantheon of Compleatists: listen to every single episode (even the old ones). This club requires you to stay current. If you fall behind, you are no longer in the club.
- The Amanda Yesnowitz Peripatetic, Poetic, and Chic Notwithstanding Club: Named for multitalented friend of the show Amanda Yesnowitwz. Members of the club have listened to the podcast while travelling somewhere by foot.
- The Brinck-Fabi Viewers Who Lunch Club: Named for viewers Katja Brinck and Rachel Fabi, who in the space of a week, ate food with one of the hosts (Katja with Ryan in Healdsburg, and Rachel with Brian in Syracuse.) Members of the club have dined with one of the podcast hosts.
- The Sid Sivakumar Basement-Dwellers Club: People who live in Brian Cimmet's basement. Currently, this club consists of Sid.
Ryan and Brian often ask questions aloud during the show, citing ignorance on the given topic. Some of these questions are directly addressed to "The Oracle". In early seasons of the show, Ryan and Brian bestowed the title of Oracle upon Mike Nothnagel, who would respond (via email) each week with answers to the previous week's questions. Beginning in Season 4, Ryan and Brian offered listeners the opportunity to become the new Oracle (as Nothnagel hadn't replied to several questions). After some debate, the title of The Oracle was given to joon pahk.
Early in the show's history, Ryan and Brian learned that one of their listeners, Jeffrey Krasnick, had created a spreadsheet on which he tracked every time any non-fictional human was mentioned on the show. As of episode 200, 3003 people have been mentioned. Some are regular references (e.g., Will Shortz), and some are one-time mentions (e.g., "that guy who ordered chow mein at a Thai restaurant").
The spreadsheet updated through episode 200 is publicly available (amended as of July 5, 2019). The link is here:
Throughout the series, Ryan and Brian have made frequent references to sandwiches. It is unclear whether this is an intentional throughline or simply a side topic of great interest to the hosts. Some of the more prominent discussions have included:
- Is a taco a sandwich?
- Is a wrap a sandwich?
- Is a hot dog a sandwich?
- What is a decker? (This topic, spun from a recognition that commonly named "triple-decker sandwiches" may have either three slices of bread or three layers of ingredients, has come up with such frequency that there have been video and audio responses to the "what is a decker?" question. Notably, a video was created by Eric Peterson, and later, an audio re-enactment was performed by two fans for an episode of Fill Me In.)
- Is any ingredient between two pieces of any other ingredient technically a sandwich?
Unrelated to the curious fascination with sandwiches, Brian claimed during a Season 1 episode that he didn't know anything about soup. This has led to many recurring discussions about soup, most of which are prefaced with a claim such as "here are some things Brian doesn't know about soup."
Ryan and Brian are big baseball fans (Ryan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Brian of the Boston Red Sox). During the baseball season, many side conversations shift to baseball, especially if either of their preferred teams has done anything notable. In 2018, the Red Sox and Dodgers faced off in the 2018 World Series, with the Red Sox winning the series four games to one. On the next episode of Fill Me In (Episode 169, 11/6/18), Brian welcomed guest cohost Angela Halsted, claiming that Ryan was quarantined for his own safety.
During the weekly contests, Ryan and Brian use a password to secure the validity of contest entries. The password has most frequently been the name of a baseball player whom one or both cohosts particularly dislikes. For a long time, the password was "Papelbon" (for former Red Sox relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon), and currently, the password is "Darvish" (for former Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish).
The opening and closing theme music for Fill Me In is called "Jag on a Hank", composed by Brian Cimmet. It was originally written for a never-completed (and never-aired) podcast and later adapted and used for Fill Me In. The music was untitled or simply referred to as "The Fill Me In Theme Music". Sometime in Season Two, during an on-air segment involving anagrams, the hosts made up an anagram for the name Jonah Kagan, and dubbed their theme music "Jag on a Hank". In some episodes, the hosts make reference to an imaginary orchestra playing the theme music, or to the notion that Ryan or Brian might be conducting the orchestra or performing the music live. However, the music has never been performed live, and the only recording of it (which is used in every episode) was computer-generated before the first show aired.
We want to give you a chance to hear the music.
There have been other clips of music used with some regularity on the show. During Season Three, Harry Hassell arranged themes from "Jag on a Hank" for assorted woodwind instruments, and recordings of those arrangements were used on Episode 100. During Season Four, two new themes were written by Patrick Fanning to introduce The Quintuple Decker Turkey Club and The Contest of Now. Occasionally other public-domain music is used.
Viewer Mail Song
The music that introduces the Viewer Mail segment each week is jocularly titled "The Viewer Mail Song", and it consists of Ryan snapping his fingers four times and chanting the phrase "Viewer Mail, opening it up." This music is performed live on the show, with the exception of episode 160, when roughly 20 previous renditions of the song were played simultaneously instead. It has been performed by Ryan in all but two episodes