Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Grace Fabbroni on Her Crossword Career—Plus More Todd Gross Finds and His Interview on the L.A. Times Crossword Corner

Grace Fabbroni on Her Crossword Career

Photo courtesy of Grace Fabbroni

Recently I heard from crossword historian Todd Gross, who'd been in contact with pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Grace Fabbroni on LinkedIn.  Grace wondered why her byline had been listed as "Mrs. John Fabbroni"—a name she never went by—instead of "Grace Fabbroni."  I explained to Todd that we'd just used whatever name had been listed with the puzzles but that this new information was very helpful and we'd change all her bylines.

Todd also noted that Grace planned to send something about her crossword career, which she did—here it is:

Thanks so much again for letting me know about this, Todd, and for this wonderful reminiscence, Grace!

Frances Hansen

A couple of months ago, Todd also told me about a 2004 article (and photo) he'd found on pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Frances Hansen, who passed away some six months later.  The link worked then but unfortunately has since disappeared.  I've listed the article on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors page, though, so you may be able to track it down through your local library.

Obituaries:  Eugene T. Maleska, Alex F. Black, Terry Healy, Maurice J. Teitelbaum, and Jack Jumonville

Todd also found some fascinating obituaries for editor/constructor Eugene T. Maleska and constructors Alex F. Black, Terry [Teresa] Healy, Maurice J. Teitelbaum, and Jack Jumonville, all of which you can see by clicking on the individual links here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors page.  The Alex Black obituary also contained this photo taken by his family:

Alex F. Black (photo courtesy of the Black family)

Todd did some additional research on Jack Jumonville—here's his report:

Jack Jumonville

I went to to see if I could find more about Jack Jumonville.  There's a fair amount there, including pictures from his college yearbook.  He was a member of a fairly elite club at LSU called Samurai, which means a larger than normal picture.  I'm enclosing what I found . . . the picture of young Mr. Jumonville not quite what I expected. . . . There's also a private story and a private picture of him.

Here's the earlier photo of Jack from the Louisiana State University yearbook that Todd found, along with some information about the Samurai organization Jack belonged to:

Jack Jumonville in college (photo
courtesy of the Louisiana State 
University yearbook)

From the Louisiana State University Yearbook

Thanks again, Todd—it's always great to learn more about the lives and careers of these early constructors, who, in addition to their crossword talents, often had successful unrelated careers and other wide-ranging interests!

Todd Gross's Interview on the L.A. Times Crossword Corner

Finally, Todd was recently interviewed for the L.A. Times Crossword Corner!  In his interview, which you can read by clicking here, he mentions the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project and talks about his interest in crossword history and career as a constructor for The New York Times and other top publications.  Congratulations, Todd!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

J. A. Felker (and Another Puzzle Identified), Warren W. Reich, and James E. Hinish Jr.

J. A. Felker (and Another Puzzle Identified)

Photo courtesy of Janet Felker, from 1983

Back in January, Jim Horne and Jeff Chen of XWord Info received an email, which Jim subsequently copied me on, from Janet Felker, the daughter of pre-Shortzian constructor J. A. Felker (1911–91).  Janet wrote that her mother, whose full name was Josephine Ann, had had crossword puzzles published in The New York Times (as well as Bantam Books and Pocket Books) between 1971 and 1977.  Will Weng had published 11 of her diagramless puzzles and four of her regular Sunday puzzles (as well as what turned out to be a previously anonymous Friday puzzle!).  Janet noted that she had files of her mother's submissions to the Times that were accepted, as well as of some submissions that had been rejected.  "Perhaps of most interest to crossword puzzle enthusiasts," she wrote, "are the original memo notes from Will Weng regarding some of the puzzles, including his rationale for those he rejected."

I wrote to Janet expressing interest in these and other items, and she soon sent along the above photo of her mother, taken in 1983; a 1991 Miami Herald obituary, "Josephine Felker, N.Y. Times crossword puzzle composer"; a 1980 note from Will Weng (see below) about her mother's name; and a copy of the original clipping of her mother's August 27, 1971, daily puzzle, along with the original clues (or "definitions," as they were called then), some of which Weng subsequently edited for publication.  I've posted the obituary and clipping plus clues on Scribd; to see them, click on the links above.

Janet also mentioned that she remembered why her mother had used just her initials when submitting puzzles:

I have a vague memory of my mother explaining that she intentionally used "J.A." as she began submitting crossword puzzles to the NYT because she felt that her puzzles might receive more equitable treatment than if she were to submit under "Josephine."  It's interesting to me that in his note, Will Weng admits that he assumed that J.A. was a male and was "astonished" to learn that she was a female.

Here's the note Weng sent:

Janet also reported that her mother had two large puzzles published by Bantam Books, for which she won cash awards for fourth prize and fifth prize in The Bantam Great Master's Crossword Puzzle Hunt, which was where Janet thought Weng had discovered that "J. A." stood for "Josephine."  She had documents for those two puzzles, along with a folder of six rejected large puzzles, each of which included her mother's clues, as well as a blank and handwritten completed grid.  Several puzzles had Will Weng's memos attached, with an explanation of why he was returning them.

In addition to her regular crosswords, J. A. Felker also had 12 diagramless puzzles published in the Times between 1971 and 1977; Janet sent the note below from Will Weng—addressed to "Mr. Felker"—accepting J. A.'s first diagramless puzzle, which was published on August 29, 1971.

Janet also noted:

I don't know if you are interested in more background on my mother, but she was quite educated (for a woman of her time) and talented in other ways as well.  She earned a bachelor's of art from Carnegie Tech and a master's of art from Penn State College in 1936.  She was quite artistic and continued to sketch and paint through much of my childhood. She was also an accomplished seamstress (her master's thesis was on the history of women's dress) and sewed many of her own and her children's clothes, often designing her own patterns.  A few of the outfits (sewed with fabric from Europe) are now part of the collection for students to study in the Fashion Institute of Salt Lake Community College.  As the Miami Herald article indicates, mom also learned several languages as a result of living abroad (Brazil, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Italy, Belgium, Japan, Hong Kong)  due to my father's work, between 1946 and 1972.  She was an avid reader and loved not only doing crossword puzzles but also jigsaw puzzles.

Thanks so much again for writing and telling us about your mother, Janet!  Thanks to this information, we were able to identify one more previously anonymous daily puzzle and to provide an illuminating look not only into one of the rare female constructors of the pre-Shortz era but also into the mind of editor Will Weng!

Warren W. Reich

Photo courtesy of the Times Union

Shortly after my recent post containing an olio of Todd Gross pre-Shortzian constructor research appeared, I received an email from constructor Jim Modney, who wrote that there had been an obituary of Warren W. Reich in his local paper, which you can read here and which also contained the above photo.  Jim noted:

I met Warren once in the early 1980’s, after Eugene Maleska noticed that Warren and I were both in the Albany, NY area.  By that time I had begun my 30 year “hibernation” from crossword constructing, so Warren and I never crossed paths again.

Jim's email was followed by one in early January from crossword historian Todd Gross, who also sent a link to the Times Union obituary and mentioned that he'd received an email from Warren Reich's daughter, who'd said some nice things about her father.  Thanks so much again for letting me know about this, Jim and Todd!

James E. Hinish Jr.

  Photo courtesy of the Williamsburg York-
  town Daily

A few days later, Todd wrote that another pre-Shortzian constructor, James E. Hinish Jr., had died and sent a link to an obituary, which had the above photo and which you can read here.  James published at least 16 puzzles in the pre-Shortz era.

Thanks again, Todd!

Stay tuned for more updates and commentary coming soon!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Interview and Visit with Guido Scarato—and Maleska's Letters

Happy New Year, everyone!  Over winter break I was delighted to receive an email from Will Shortz telling me about another pre-Shortzian constructor who'd resurfaced:  Guido Scarato.

Guido published many puzzles in The New York Times under Margaret Farrar, Will Weng, and Eugene T. Maleska, but almost all of them appeared without bylines, and many have been misplaced over the years, especially during a move from New York to California.  Guido now lives on the Monterey Peninsula in Pacific Grove, where his family has been since he was 13.  The area, which I've visited many times with my parents over the years, is a short detour from one of the routes we take between Los Angeles and Palo Alto, so it occurred to me that I might actually be able to meet Guido in person on my way back up to Stanford after the break!

I wrote to Guido and introduced myself, and before long we'd set up a time to meet.  I sent him some interview questions in advance, and you can read his responses by clicking here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.  But the real treat began when we pulled up in front of his house just a few steps away from Monterey Bay.

Guido, who is also a painter and singer, had a long career as an art director for boutique advertising agencies in New York, producing campaigns for clients including Citibank, Pan Am, Nabisco, and many others; his creativity and talent are evident even from the outside of his house, whose colors are unusually vibrant for the area.  You can see a little of that in this photo of us together by his front door:

And here's a painting he did of his house and yard:

When I came inside, I was immediately greeted by his two friendly dachshunds, whom he also painted in this self-portrait:

And taking up almost the entire wall facing the entrance is this triptych of wood panels painted by Rex Clawson in 1985:

Here's an explanation of it:

And below is a closer picture of one of the chairs:

After chatting a bit with Guido and a couple of his friends who'd brought over some delicious cookies, we went into another room filled with art (as was the rest of the house—not to mention the backyard, whose fence he turned into another masterpiece and where he celebrated his 80th birthday with more than 100 friends).  There, Guido showed me his crossword puzzle dictionary, much used and very worn over the years:


First page

Sample pages
We then began discussing Crossword Compiler and other construction software, which Guido had never tried but was fascinated by.  I'd brought along my laptop, so I was able to show him how it worked (and also give him a tour of XWord Info, which amazed him!).  We got so into it that we actually began constructing a puzzle together that we may eventually finish and submit somewhere!

During the course of my several hours there, Guido told me more about his constructing and also showed me some of the letters he still had from Maleska, including the latter's missive to all constructors informing them of a moratorium on puzzle submissions.  I've posted them on Scribd here—highlights include the August 82 [sic], 1988, letter, in which Maleska says Guido owes him 25 cents; the September 23, 1989, letter, at the end of which Maleska asks Guido whether he'd solved a recently published Times puzzle that reminded Maleska of Guido's current submission; and his January 19, 1990, puzzle, in which he chides Guido for "careless defining."

Guido also still has a few of his old puzzles, and one of them—June 19, 1972—was a puzzle previously identified in my database as being by "Unknown."  It was great to be able to put a name to yet another anonymous puzzle.

Before our meeting came to a close, Guido offered to play a CD of his singing in South Pacific.  Guido has an amazing voice and has appeared in numerous musical productions, including The Sound of Music, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma! and many others.

After I left, I was struck by how diverse Guido's interests and accomplishments were.  The pre-Shortzian constructors were (and are) remarkable for the variety and depth of their talents, and I suspect that the same holds true for some of today's constructors as well, though many of us are often too busy to do or talk about much other than crosswords.  There's a wealth and richness to the lives of these early constructors—and a willingness to share their experiences and thoughts—that seems elusive in our increasingly hurried and fragmented existences.

Thanks so much again for our wonderful afternoon, Guido!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Interview with Mary Virginia Orna—and Maleska's Edits of One of Her Puzzles

Mary Virginia Orna

It's New Year's Eve, and I have a special end-of-the-year treat:  an interview with pre-Shortzian constructor and chemistry professor Mary Virginia Orna!

I first wrote about Mary Virginia Orna back in May of 2014, after project historian Todd Gross had uncovered some interesting information about her and a number of other constructors.  According to my (incomplete) records, Mary Virginia published 28 pre-Shortzian puzzles between 1979 and 1988, and I'd been meaning to try to contact her for some time.  I finally did recently and was delighted when I heard back from her!

A professor of chemistry at The College of New Rochelle in New York, Mary Virginia has had a lifelong interest in languages.  To learn more about her, first read her fascinating article on crossword construction, "Always a Cross(ed) Word," which I've posted on Scribd, and then my interview with her by clicking on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above or here.

I've also posted Eugene T. Maleska's edits of Mary Virginia's "Mayhem" puzzle, which was originally published on May 12, 1985.  Will Shortz showed them to me a couple of summers ago when I was researching pre-Shortzian constructors and let me make a copy (thanks again, Will!).  Enjoy!