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By Nancy Doniger |

Growing up in Easton, Zoe Wheeler and her siblings spent a lot of time doing puzzles, encouraged by their mother, children’s author Elise Broach.

“My family loves puzzles of all kinds,” Wheeler said. “They’re in my blood. I grew up liking them and still do them with my mom when I go home. We do puzzles every morning.”

 Ray Mickshaw / FOXAs an English major at Brown University, Wheeler, 25, took her passion for crossword puzzles to a new level and began creating them.

She became the The New York Times’ youngest female crossword constructor at age 19.

“Today’s puzzle is a debut,” Jim Horne wrote in a blog about Wheeler’s puzzle. “That’s somewhat unusual. We average a few debuts a month. It’s a debut by a teenager. That’s rare. The teenage constructor is a young woman. That’s unique.”

Read the blog

Last June, she received a surprise call from someone at Superhuman, a new program on Fox, set to premiere Jan. 4 from 8 to 10 p.m.

Talent scouts had seen Wheeler’s crosswords in The Times and reached out to see if she would like to compete on the new show.

Although she hadn’t originally answered the casting call, she completed the challenges to qualify for the show and flew to Los Angeles in June.

She stayed for a week with two days of filming as one of 12 contestants, she said. They met actor Kal Penn, show host, and guest panelists including iconic boxer and entertainer Mike Tyson, actress/comedian Mary Lynn Rajskub and neurosurgeon Dr. Rahul Jandial.

Penn and the panelists provided insights and comedic commentary about the competitors’ unique abilities, while guiding the studio audience, who ultimately would decide which mental mastermind should take home the title of Superhuman and the grand prize.

The show premiere will test the abilities of the 12 ordinary people to use their extraordinary skills and win the $100,000 prize.

 FOXEach of the contestants possesses a distinct, nearly superhuman ability in such fields as memory, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and sight, according to Kelsey Jenkins of Beck Media & Marketing in Santa Monica, Calif. They were challenged to push their skills to the limit to determine if they are “Superhuman” enough to win the prize.

The other contestants are a mix of men and women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, one of whom is in high school, Wheeler said.

They had to meet “a huge range challenges that weren’t all mental and were built around sight, smell, hearing and possessing amazing memories,” she said.

The audience could vote for just one person, and the results are secret. So people will have to tune in Jan. 4 to find out who won.

“It was stressful at first when I got there,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to do well, but hanging out with the other contestants relaxed me. It was really interesting to see the inner workings of how TV shows are produced, and I would jump at the chance to do it again.”

Wheeler grew up in Easton with siblings Harry, 23, and Grace, 18, and graduated from Joel Barlow High School. Her dad, Ward Wheeler, is curator of the Museum of Natural History in New York.

 FOXWheeler earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Brown and then moved to Madison, Wis., where she worked for three years.

Now a graduate student in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, her goal is to become a software engineer. Life’s a game, and she’s having a ton of fun playing it.

Tune in: The all-new, two-hour special Superhuman airs Monday, Jan. 4, from 8 to 10 p.m. on FOX.


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