Friday, October 17, 2014

In the Farrar Era—and Mark Diehl Passes 1,000 in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge:  Mark Diehl Passes 1,000!

Only two more weeks of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge remain, and just this morning Mark Diehl passed 1,000—he has now found 1,004 mistakes!  Congratulations, Mark!

It's been a very busy week, starting with 21 puzzles containing 11 mistakes from Mark on Friday night.  Saturday afternoon he sent 32 more with 12 mistakes, which were followed by another 22 with 35 mistakes that night.  Sunday morning he sent 30 more with 19 mistakes, then another 31 with 27 mistakes that night, and still another 30 with 34 mistakes later on, putting his total found mistakes at more than 900!  Late Monday morning Denny Baker sent in 31 puzzles but didn't count the mistakes.  That afternoon Mark sent 31 more with 18 mistakes, which were followed by 29 more with 19 mistakes that night.  Mark sent another 31 with 20 mistakes Tuesday night and then 30 with 9 mistakes late Wednesday night.  Thursday afternoon Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 12 mistakes.  That evening Mark sent 22 more with 15 mistakes, which were followed by another 25 with 9 mistakes Friday morning, putting his total over 1,000!  Then this afternoon Todd sent in 10 more puzzles with 8 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 32 puzzles with 30 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're making terrific progress!

In the Farrar Era

Last week XWord Info's Jim Horne pointed out that with the last installment of proofread puzzles on XWord Info—1969—we were now finished with the Will Weng puzzles and into the Margaret Farrar era, which began on February 15, 1942.  Indeed, the last puzzle Farrar edited was the January 5 Sunday opus by Frances Hansen, appropriately titled "Ring in the New"—not only for the New Year but also for the new editor, Will Weng.  On that day, the Times published a lengthy announcement of Farrar's retirement, noting that, at 71, she was currently editing her 97th crossword puzzle collection for Simon & Schuster and had edited 18 puzzle books for the Times.  The full text of this fascinating article, which contains several amusing anecdotes and reminiscences by Farrar, is available through libraries on ProQuest.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Several weeks later, on January 26, the Times published the following particularly charming letter from a reader:

Courtesy of The New York Times

Fortunately for us, we're working backwards in time, so rather than bidding adieu to Margaret, we're heralding in her era!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published on July 16, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This eye-catching 64-word themeless is ambitious, wide open, and beautifully filled—in fact, the puzzle doesn't have a single entry that feels particularly obscure, and there are only a couple of short entries that seem subpar (ESNE and LIGNE), both of which appeared in numerous other pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era crosswords.  I don't think I've come across a single pre-Shortzian puzzle that contains this few iffy pieces of short fill!  The upper right and lower left corners are particularly aesthetically pleasing:  In addition to incorporating only 6-, 7-, and 8-letter entries, these corners have a smattering of Scrabbly letters and contain numerous fun, in-the-language entries, such as CRAVAT, RIPPLE, PELLET, CRIMEA, and the IMPALE/IMPALA crossing.  Other highlights in the grid include MAN EATER, DRESSING ROOMS, and TROLLEY; admittedly, none of these entries knocks my socks off, but I really appreciate how cleanly they interlock.  I'm not as fond of CIGARETS (as opposed to CIGARETTES), and I've never heard of a MUSK TREE (clued as "Highly scented Australian plant."), but I'm just nitpicking at this point.  The clues also have a nice amount of spice—"Favorite beatnik word." for LIKE and "'All men are ___'" for LIARS particularly tickle me.  I find it fascinating that the word like has been prevalent in our dialect for more than 50 years—nowadays, like has become so commonplace that it's frequently used as a conversation filler!  In all, this is a masterful pre-Shortzian construction, and I look forward to locating additional gems as I finish looking through litzed puzzles from 1960.  Now that the wheels of the proofreading machine are spinning so fast, I have a feeling the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project in its entirety will be complete before I achieve my personal goal of looking through every New York Times crossword in detail!  For now, here's the solution grid for this week's featured puzzle:

Friday, October 10, 2014

25 Years of Puzzles Up, Plus Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

25 Years of Puzzles Up—1969 Complete

We reached a major milestone yesterday:  The 25th year of proofread puzzles—1969—went off to XWord Info, and, thanks to Jim Horne, they're now up with all the others through November 20, 1993!  Great work, everybody—it's wonderful to see so many years of the puzzles fully litzed, proofread, and readily accessible!

We've been making amazing progress with the proofreading lately—so much so that I'm optimistic about potentially finishing by the end of next summer (though I wouldn't place bets on that quite yet!)!  Saturday morning Mark Diehl—who currently leads the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 769 found mistakes (congratulations, Mark!)—sent 21 puzzles with 22 mistakes, then 31 more that night with 16 mistakes.  A short while later Tracy Bennett sent in 31 puzzles with 42 mistakes.  Then Sunday afternoon Mark sent 20 puzzles with 14 mistakes; late Tuesday night he sent another 26 with 14 mistakes, which were followed by 17 puzzles with 12 mistakes Wednesday night and then later 30 more with 38 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent another 23 with 12 mistakes, then 19 more with 20 mistakes.  Late that night Dave Phillips sent in 31 puzzles with 46 mistakes, and Friday morning Todd Gross sent 5 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much!

Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

Last night new proofreader Dave Phillips sent in his first batch of proofreading, along with an Excel file he'd made of all the litzing mistakes he found!  Though listing all the mistakes isn't necessary, I found looking through the file fascinating—I was especially intrigued to discover that the litzing mistakes aren't evenly distributed throughout a month.  Further, when a puzzle has one litzing mistake, the probability of that puzzle having an additional mistake appears to increase:  Of the 22 puzzles that had litzing mistakes, only 8 had a single mistake!

It's also very interesting to see what kinds of mistakes typically appear—usually just straightforward typos, but sometimes the mistakes are related or even completely different words!  As I've mentioned before, a few people have asked me why we don't just post the unproofread litzed puzzles, since proofreading is such a time-consuming—and, for many, tedious—process.  This is why!  Thanks so much again for sending this, Dave!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published December 13, 1969; edited by Will Weng; litzed by Martin Herbach; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  Now that the 1969 puzzles are live, the puzzle can be either viewed or solved on XWord Info.  This brilliant Weng-era crossword ties the record for the lowest block count in a pre-Shortzian New York Times puzzle:  23.  [Note:  I also blogged about the other 23-blocker from the Maleska era.]  What really makes this puzzle stand out, however, is that it doesn't just set a record—the four symmetrical, interlocking 15-letter entries form a theme of terms related to accounting and computing, and the fill is both lively and largely junk-free!  The strongest entries in the nonthematic fill are HOME RUN, MEDUSA, SIDE BETS, SICILIA, EPIGRAM, and TUNE OUT, but I also loved seeing the more unusual words PICTISH ("Of an Old British people."), BELDAM ("Hag."), PHENOLIC ("Kind of acid."), SNUFFER ("Candle device."), and PLICATE ("Folded.").  I'm less enthusiastic about the long nonthematic entry PAN FRYER ("Cooking chicken."), which seems to be much more commonly referred to as FRYER; in addition, SERENES ("Tranquil expanses."), SOBERER, and CEDER strike me as somewhat roll-your-own/not-really-in-the-language.  Nevertheless, I'm still blown away that this puzzle has 23 blocks, a comprehensive theme, and so many lively entries in the nonthematic fill—it's truly a masterful construction!  The clean short fill is further evidence of this mystery constructor's expertise—the only short entry that was completely new to me was RAUS ("German's 'Out!' for short."), and the puzzle has just two partials (I SEE A and IF AND), both of which are short and don't detract much from the filled grid's overall visual appeal.  Although many solvers may have been frustrated by the high number of foreign words in this grid, I appreciated seeing them, since three are from Latin (ITER, AMAS, and SICUT), which is my favorite language.  Finally, I was intrigued by the entry LA VERNE—since the sitcom "Shirley & Laverne" didn't exist until seven years after this puzzle's publication, the constructor was forced to clue this entry as the rather obscure "Southern California town."  I've lived in Southern California for years, and I'd never heard of La Verne before seeing the entry in this puzzle.  The puzzle is thus one of those rare crosswords that might have been more accessible had it been published at a later time!  In all, this is an extraordinarily elegant pre-Shortzian puzzle from a constructor's standpoint, and I can imagine that a good number of Weng's solvers enjoyed puzzling through it.  I even had more fun than usual blogging about it, which really says something about its quality!  Here's this puzzle's solution grid (with highlighted theme entries):

Friday, October 3, 2014

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa, Plus Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

Proofreading 1966 Puzzles

It's been another busy week, starting off with 19 puzzles from Mark Diehl that had 19 mistakes.  Saturday afternoon he sent 33 more with 38 mistakes, then later on 27 more with 8 mistakes, 16 with 35 mistakes, and 6 with 2 mistakes!  Sunday morning, Mark sent another 31 with 16 mistakes, then later that afternoon, an additional 30 with 16 mistakes.  Late Monday night Todd Gross sent in 16 puzzles with 20 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more from Mark late Thursday afternoon with 15 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 puzzles with 24 mistakes.  Thanks so much, everyone—though some puzzles from 1967, 1968, and 1969 are still out with proofreaders, quite a few from 1966 have already come in!  And as I write this, Mark still leads in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 621 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa

I'm delighted to announce that Ed Sessa is the October Litzer of the Month!  In addition to being a New York Times constructor and retired pediatrician, Ed is also a bird carver.  To read more about him, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

I recently received an e-mail from litzer and quad-stack constructor extraordinaire Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had been wondering about Maleska-era constructor Vaughn Keith, "one of the early (if not the earliest) masters of the triple stack genre."  Martin had found an obituary from 1990, which you can link to here, and wrote:
He was a school teacher who died at the young age of 40 of AIDS. The obit shows that this talented man faced his death with great bravery. The obit speaks for itself. Very sad, and also inspiring.
Vaughn Keith was a classicist who seems to have led a fascinating life.  Thanks so much again for this great find, Martin!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published March 22, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  Each of this puzzle's theme entries is a TV or movie reference that contains at least one title, such as MRS MINIVER (clued as "Theatrical headliner of 1942.").  Having each theme entry be a TV/movie reference adds a nice level of consistency to the puzzle, and I especially appreciate that none of the titles is directly repeated.  My favorite theme entry is MR PENNYPACKER ("Theatrical headliner of 1959."); even though I'm not familiar with the movie The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, the words are so much fun to say!  The nonthematic fill also seems pretty solid—I especially like the entries SANTA MARIA, KNIGHTHOOD, and END TABLE, and the only rather iffy piece of fill is the plural RT HONS ("Titles for some civic officials.").  Clues that pique my interest include "Abbreviation useful in the 1800's." for TERR and "Piquancy (from French for orange peel)." for ZEST.  Overall, this puzzle, with its cute theme and minimal reliance on obscurities, is a zesty gem from the early '60s!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles, Maleska's Millennium Mistakes, and Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles

It's been an amazing week on the proofreading front—I'm now sending out puzzles from 1967!  Some puzzles from 1968 and 1969 are still being proofread, but there should be another full year completed in the not-too-distant future!  This week's shipments started off late Friday night when Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles with 30 mistakes, which were followed the next morning by 30 more puzzles with 19 mistakes and, Saturday afternoon, by another 31 with 17 mistakes.  Sunday morning, Mark sent 31 more puzzles with 15 mistakes, then another 29 that afternoon with 11 mistakes and 31 more that evening with 21 mistakes (passing the 400 mark—congratulations, Mark!).  Monday night, Mark sent 31 puzzles with 27 mistakes, which were followed Tuesday night by 25 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Thursday night he sent 27 more puzzles with 5 mistakes, then a couple of hours later, another 31 puzzles with 11 mistakes—wow!  Thanks so much, Mark!  Needless to say, Mark is currently in first place in the proofreading contest—as I write this, he has found 472 mistakes, and I'm guessing he'll top the 500 mark this coming week!  Thanks again, Mark—awesome job!

Maleska's Millennium Mistakes

I recently received an e-mail from Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had found a mistake in the April 23, 1972, puzzle constructed by Eugene T. Maleska and edited by Will Weng.  The word millennium was misspelled millenium.  Maleska misspelled this word more than once:  On August 9, 1985, the word MILLENIUM appeared as a grid entry—egad!  Thanks again for pointing this out, Martin!

Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

I also recently heard from litzer and proofreader Todd Gross, who had been researching pre-Shortzian constructors and come across some new information.  Todd found a death notice for Sidney L. Robbins, a very prolific constructor who apparently was born in August of 1909 and who, according to my (incomplete) records, published 153 pre-Shortzian puzzles and 50 Shortz-era puzzles.

Todd also thought he might have found information on Elmer Toro, who published six puzzles in the Times between 1969 and 1977:
Among several constructors I've tried to look up, Elmer Toro is a particularly interesting case.  I found someone I think is our constructor, but I'm not sure.  There aren't many Elmer Toros, but there is more than one.  The guy I think is our constructor is rather interesting, you can read about his work for the NYPD and related agencies here.  I found that he later moved to Florida, where he worked for a few years as a police officer but retired last year (2013), see here.

Very interesting discoveries, Todd—thanks again!  I look forward to reading any future updates.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published Saturday, January 21, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This puzzle features eight symmetrically interlocking theme entries that appeal to solvers with a sweet tooth, such as A FINGER IN THE PIE and CANDY CANE.  The puzzle masterfully uses stacking and interlock at multiple points (such as with the two down theme entries) to cram all eight sweets into the grid, though the overall quality of the theme suffers a bit as a result.  I find it slightly inelegant that two theme entries use the same sweet (PIE); also, I've never seen COOKY JAR spelled with a Y, and APPLEJACK sticks out as the only liquid sweet in the puzzle.  Still, the theme is impressive for its time, and the teenager in me has a hard time criticizing a theme that relates to junk food!  The nonthematic fill is a mix of entries that feel fresh—including BUSBOYS, HATPIN, ORBITAL (complete with the "modern" clue "Pertaining to a satellite's path."), and the quasi-thematic GINGER and ICED—and entries that are neither sweet nor savory, including SSES ("Compass points."), ATHL ("Sports: Abbr."), and ARGALAS ("African storks.").  Argala is such an uncommon term that it doesn't appear in Merriam-Webster; after Googling argala, I discovered that this type of stork is better known as the greater adjutant, which still seems rather obscure.  In sum, this puzzle has a sweet theme idea, but the execution isn't fully consistent, and the nonthematic fill feels a bit iffy in parts.  I nevertheless look forward to seeing more themed daily puzzles from this time period as we continue our journey through crossword history!  The puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below: