Parker, 43, earning $500 a week managing a Baltimore tire shop in 1996, has become a multimillionaire by creating the word games that appear in more than 800 print and online outlets, attracting 5 million players monthly. He is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most syndicated puzzle maker.
But at the time he took the plunge, says wife Giselle, 42, "we had it pretty rough, eating tea and toast every meal." She and their kids, Brooke, now 20, and Timothy Jr., 21, "never complained," however, says Parker.
His puzzling U-turn was triggered, Parker says, by memories of his mother, who "worked the newspaper puzzles" daily. At 12, Parker made up a crossword for her. "It took me six hours, and she solved it in five minutes," he says. "Still, it made me feel wonderful." When Parker looked for puzzles that could be played on the Internet and found none, he decided to create his own. Within weeks, he offered his puzzles to seven newspapers for $10 a day. "My only requirement," he says, "was that they pay up front for a year," which they did, allowing the family to pay the bills. A year later, Parker's games caught the attention of Universal Press Syndicate, which now markets them.
Parker's puzzles are not meant to be brain-breakers. "My mother could never finish a puzzle," he says, "so I go to great pains not to have two obscure words cross." With their new wealth, the family moved from their Pikesville, Md., home to a six-bedroom colonial in Eilicott City, Md. There, Parker, also an assistant pastor, and Giselle, who manages his business, have founded a charity to distribute a million Bibles in impoverished parts of the world. A six-letter word for a man whose dreams are coming true? Try Parker.
A nine-letter word for someone who, with his bank account running on fumes, quits his job to make puzzles? Foolhardy? Perhaps, but given how things have turned out for Timothy Parker, "visionary" is closer to the correct answer.