According to reports, he became ill on Thursday with pancreatitis and died this morning in a hospital in Tampa, Florida, where he lived. Reagle is survived by his wife, Marie Haley.
Reagle sold his first puzzle to The New York Times in his teens. His weekly puzzles became staples of alt-weeklies in the 1980s due to their pop cultural references, clever wordplay and ingenious themes. Reagle later became a staple of Sunday crossword pages in daily papers across the country.
In the world of crossword constructors, Reagle was a legend; he appeared in the 2006 crossword documentary Wordplay and two years later was immortalized when he played an animated version of himself on The Simpsons.
Tomorrow's edition of Gambit will be the first in many years without a crossword puzzle. We were used to getting a cheerful email each Wednesday with the subject line "gambit puzz" and Merl's lower-case signature, along with that week's crossword and sudoku. This week, no email arrived — and Reagle did not respond to calls or emails, which never had happened in seven years. We feared something was very wrong, and hoped it would not be this.
Here's Merl explaining his method of working in Wordplay: