Thursday, June 29, 2017

Stan Newman Finds William Lutwiniak NSA Interview; Constructor Regina M. Heil Identified

Stan Newman Finds William Lutwiniak NSA Interview

Some time ago I received an email from Newsday crossword editor Stan Newman, who'd discovered a long piece about William Lutwiniak, one of the most prolific New York Times crossword constructors ever.  Lutwiniak, a former cryptologist for the National Security Agency (NSA), published at least 304 pre-Shortz puzzles in The Times, which are available here on XWord Info.  Stan's find is a long, formerly top-secret but now declassified interview by Robert Farley of the NSA on October 18, 1981.  Here's Lutwiniak discussing his background:

To read the full interview, click here.  (And for more on William Lutwiniak, see other links on this blog, including on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors pagethis CROSSW_RD Magazine profile by Helene Hovanec; and, as Stan suggested, links that come up when Googling "Lutwiniak NSA," such as this Wikipedia entry.)  Thanks so much again, Stan, for this great discovery!

Constructor Regina M. Heil Identified

Regina M. Heil. Photo courtesy of Bill Heil.

In mid-April, Thomas Heil emailed The New York Times about his mother, Regina M. Heil, who'd built a daily crossword puzzle edited by Will Weng.  The puzzle was published on January 29, 1973.  Tom wondered whether The Times had a copy in its archives or wanted one for its files.

The email made its way to Times crossword editor Will Shortz, who sent Tom a copy of the puzzle, which our records at the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project (and now on XWord Info) had previously listed as being by "Unknown."  Tom confirmed that this was indeed the puzzle his mother had constructed; he also mentioned that he recalled her having submitted two other puzzles to Will Weng before this one was published.  "Mr. Weng put my mother through Goldilocks editing," Tom noted.  "The first puzzle was too hard, the second too easy and the third was just right."  She received $10 for the puzzle.  Tom added that his mother "never missed a day of the puzzle, all while raising nine kids.  She was pretty amazing."  At the time, she lived on Thomas Road in Wayne, Penn.

Will suggested that Tom send a headshot of his mother, if he had one, to Jim Horne at XWord Info so it could appear with her puzzle.  I emailed Tom too asking if we could write about her on this blog and encouraging him to send along any further information or photos.

I then received an email from Bill Heil, Tom's brother, along with this photo and the one above:

Regina M. Heil. Photo courtesy of Bill Heil.

Bill wrote that their sister, Mary Colleen, had reiterated Tom's "Goldilocks" comment.  In a follow-up email, Bill reported that he'd asked Regina's 81-year-old brother, Brian Torsney, for more information, and Brian had written:

My father used to sit in the den and do the NY Times Sunday puzzle.  My father could do at least 3/4's of the puzzle and when he was stumped, he would get your mother and I to brainstorm.  I still do the NY Times crossword puzzles.  They appear in the Desert Sun (the Palm Springs paper) daily and Sunday. I can complete the Sunday puzzle in one sitting about 1/2 the time, and completely at least 90% of the time. I run into trouble when they use rap music stars, current movie/TV stars or new movies as clues.

And Tom, who'd originally contacted The Times, added:

Did I mention that I also do the puzzles every day but Sunday. Sundays Bobbie [Ed.: Tom's wife], who does at least a puzzle a day, and I work on the puzzle together. It's good for the marriage — 28 years now.

Thanks so much again, Tom, Bill, Mary Colleen, and Brian, for helping us identify and get to know the long-lost constructor of this puzzle!  It's also wonderful to see how an interest in puzzles was passed down over three generations—from Regina's father, to Regina and Brian, to Tom himself.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Crossw_rd Magazine Cornucopia, Barry Silk's Jack Luzzatto Find, and More from Todd Gross

Happy New Year, everyone—as promised, here are a few cruciverbal treats to start the year off right!

Crossw_rd Magazine Cornucopia

Some of you may have read the previous articles I've posted on Scribd from Crossw_rd Magazine.  I still have a treasure trove of them left that I've been meaning to put up for some time.  One of my New Year's resolutions was to post them all, and since things will get busy once school starts up again, I've done it in one fell swoop—enjoy!

Mike Shenk
First up is legendary constructor and editor Mike Shenk, whose 1996 profile was written by Marilynn Huret—click here to read it.  Mike, now crossword editor of The Wall Street Journal, was then editor of Games Magazine.  Mike has published at least one pre-Shortzian puzzle in The New York Times and seven Shortz-era puzzles.

Mike Shenk. Photo copyright 1996,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and
CROSSW-RD Magazine.

For a more recent profile of Mike, see this 2014 article in Penn State News.

Mel Rosen
Crossword luminary Mel Rosen is profiled by Alex Vaughn in this 1994 article, which you can read by clicking here.  Author of the classic Random House Puzzlemaker's Handbook and former editor of The Crosswords Club, Mel has published at least 24 pre-Shortzian Times puzzles and 14 in the Shortz era.

Mel Rosen. Photo copyright 1994,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and
CROSSW-RD Magazine.

For more on Mel, see this 2010 L.A. Times Crossword Corner interview and this 2013 one that appeared on this site.

Manny Nosowsky
Manny Nosowsky, one of the most prolific constructors ever, is profiled by Alex Vaughn in this 1994 piece—click here to read it.  Manny, whose first career was as a urologist, has published at least 8 pre-Shortzian New York Times puzzles and 246 Shortz-era puzzles.

Manny Nosowsky. Photo copyright 1994,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

To read more about Manny, see this 2012 Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project interview.

Randolph Ross
Randolph (or Randy) Ross, another prolific constructor, is profiled by Helene Hovanec in this 1993 article, which you can see here.  Randy, also a longtime high school principal, has published at least 2 pre-Shortzian Times puzzles and 101 in the Shortz era.

Randolph Ross. Photo copyright 1993,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

For more on Randy, see XWord Info creator Jim Horne's 2009 interview on Wordplay.

Maura Jacobson
Celebrated crossword constructor and editor Maura Jacobson is profiled by Helene Hovanec in this 1993 article—to read it, click here.  Maura, who was honored with the first MERL Memorial Award in 2016 for lifetime achievement, published at least 63 pre-Shortzian Times crosswords and 3 in the Shortz era.

Maura Jacobson. Photo copyright 1993,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

For more on Maura, see this 2011 article in New York Magazine.

Nancy Nicholson Joline
Nancy Nicholson Joline, who had her very first crossword accepted by Eugene T. Maleska, is the subject of this 1995 profile by Marilynn Huret—click here to read it.  Nancy published at least 61 pre-Shortzian puzzles in The New York Times and 48 in the Shortz era.

Nancy Nicholson Joline. Photo copyright
1995, 2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

For more on Nancy, see this 2008 article on Barnard constructors that originally appeared in Barnard Magazine.

A. J. Santora
Another hugely prolific constructor (and, appropriately enough, constructor of homes), A. J. Santora is profiled by Helene Hovanec in this 1994 article, which you can read here.  A. J. had at least 185 pre-Shortzian Times puzzles published and 68 in the Shortz era.

A. J. Santora. Photo copyright 1994,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

Karen Hodge (Karen Young Bonin)
Karen Hodge (aka Karen Young Bonin) is the subject of this 1994 profile by Helene Hovanec, which you can read here.  A longtime high school French teacher who started the Connecticut Shoreline crossword contest, Karen published at least 2 pre-Shortzian puzzles in The New York Times and 11 in the Shortz era.

Karen Hodge. Photo copyright 1994,
2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and
CROSSW-RD Magazine.

For more on Karen, see this 1999 article in the Hartford Courant.

Cathy Millhauser (Cathy Allis)
Another renowned punster, Cathy Millhauser (aka Cathy Allis) is profiled in this 1994 article by Alex Vaughn—to read it, click here.  Cathy has published at least 4 pre-Shortzian Times puzzles and 84 in the Shortz era.

Cathy Millhauser. Photo copyright
1994, 2017, Megalo Media, Inc. Re-
printed by permission of Stan Chess and
CROSSW-RD Magazine.

For more on Cathy, see this 2011 article in the Albany, N.Y., Times Union.

Obituaries:  Will Weng, Eugene T. Maleska, and Jordan S. Lasher
Several noteworthy obituaries appeared in CROSSW_ORD Magazine, including this lengthy joint one on Will Weng and Eugene T. Maleska, who both passed away the same unfortunate year.  Written by Helene Hovanec in 1993, it can be read here.

Will Weng (left) and Eugene T. Maleska (right).
Photo copyright 1993, 2017, Megalo Media, Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Stan Chess and CROSS-
W-RD Magazine.

Two years later, a short but informative obituary on Jordan S. Lasher appeared without a byline—to read it, click here.  Jordan passed away at an early age (48), having published at least 60 pre-Shortzian puzzles in The New York Times.  A chemical engineer, he created the "world's hardest puzzle" for a bookstore contest.

For more on Jordan, see this 1995 obituary in The New York Times and other articles listed on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors page.

Eric Albert's Op-ed on Puzzle Tedium
I came across this 1993 op-ed on puzzle tedium written by New York Times constructor Eric Albert, "So Damn Dull," and found it most interesting historically—to read it, click here.  Clearly crosswords have come a very long way since then!

Stan Newman on Crosswordese
Finally, I can't think of a better way to finish up this crossword cornucopia than with this four-part crosswordese (and brand name) series by the inimitable Stan Newman, new-wave crusader and Newsday crossword editor—click here to read it.

Barry Silk's Jack Luzzatto Find

Some time ago New York Times constructor and Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project volunteer Barry Silk wrote to me about a great find.  He'd been watching some old What's My Line? videos and discovered this one with an appearance by Jack Luzzatto, one of the most creative and prolific pre-Shortzian constructors ever.  Jack appears at approximately 20:45 in the video; to see it, click on the link above or watch it below.  Terrific find—thanks so much again, Barry!

More from Todd Gross

Following up on last week's post, crossword historian Todd Gross just published this article on pre-Shortzian constructor Helen Pettigrew.  Congratulations, Todd!

Todd also found articles on pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructors Derrick Niederman and Merl Reagle that are now linked to here and on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors page.  Thanks, Todd!

That's it for now—I look forward to seeing many of you at the ACPT and in the meantime wish everyone a happy and puzzle-filled 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Todd Gross on Alexis P. Boodberg, Patterson Pepple, and Charles B. Waffell

Now that I'm on break from college, I've been working on a post I'd been planning to write for a while.  Yesterday morning, though, I received an email from crossword historian and litzer Todd Gross, who sent an amazing end-of-year olio on three pre-Shortzian constructors:  Alexis P. Boodberg, who published at least four puzzles in The New York Times during the pre-Shortz era; Patterson Pepple, who published at least 37; and Charles B. Waffell, who published at least three (and one in the Shortz era).  I've decided to publish Todd's findings first as a grand finale to the year and then follow them with another post in a week or so.  Enjoy—and thanks so much, Todd!

Alexis P. Boodberg

I knew nothing about this constructor before I started searching recently.  First, I tried entering this name in Google and it suggested Peter Boodberg as an autocomplete, which led to this Wikipedia page.

So Peter Alexis Boodberg taught in the Oriental Languages department at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1932 until his death in 1972, first as an instructor and then later as a full professor (and department chair).  He was born in Vladivostok in 1903 to an aristocratic family from Estonia.  Estonia was annexed by Russia in the 18th century, the family became soldiers in the Russian army, and Peter’s father was sent to Vladivostok as commander of the Russian forces there.  When World War I started, Peter was attending a military school in St. Petersburg; his father sent him to Harbin in China, and later he returned to Vladivostok and studied at the Oriental Institute there.  By 1921, with the Bolsheviks being in control of Russia and the family being aristocrats in imperialist (czarist) Russia, they emigrated to San Francisco (with Peter actually arriving in 1920).

I have a fair amount of information on Dr. Boodberg; alas, none of it mentions crosswords.  Still, this might at first seem to be our constructor:  Not only do the names match (and Boodberg is a rather uncommon surname), but our professor clearly had the sort of mind that could have created such puzzles.  Besides his clear intelligence and facility with language(s), he apparently composed verse in English and Russian.  Also, VLADIVOSTOK appears in Boodberg’s second New York Times puzzle, "WITH CLUES FROM THE NEWS."

Alas, I can’t be 100% sure this is the right person, because there is a Paul Alexis Boodberg (almost certainly Peter’s brother) who was born in Vladivostok and emigrated to San Francisco.

Paul was born in 1900 and became an Electrical Engineer.  I’m also finding an Alexander Boodberg, who taught Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley, was born in 1906, and passed away in 1952.

And finally there’s also Alexis Paul Boodberg who was born in 1869 and passed away in 1945 in San Francisco.  This matches the Wikipedia article’s dates for Peter’s father, Baron Alexis von Budberg, so I’m confident that’s who this is.

Well, this name fits the New York Times constructor name better than Peter Alexis Boodberg.  And Boodberg’s final puzzle was published in 1944, just before Alexis’s death.  Also, a lengthy obituary for Dr. Peter Boodberg in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (thanks, David, for getting a copy for me!) makes no mention of crosswords.

So I’m leaning toward Baron von Budberg being the actual author.  I thought it would help if I could find out more about him than references as Peter Boodberg’s father (and that very brief obit)—maybe something actually written by him, to see if he was erudite and literate like his son.  I was in luck:  I found an article written by him not long after he arrived in the United States—and in The New York Times, no less!  More specifically, it was in the October 1921–March 1922 issue of Current History, a monthly magazine of The New York Times:

So he was already using Alexis P. Boodberg as his name in 1922 and already writing English at a pretty proficient level (though of course, I don’t know how much of that is the editor vs. the author).  And Boodberg’s first puzzle (titled "WITH CLUES FROM THE WAR MAPS") is right up the Baron’s alley, with references to Russia and the Asian Pacific.  His second puzzle, another Sunday ("WITH CLUES FROM THE NEWS"), is even more telling.  Its 1-Across entry is REVAL, clued as [German name for capital of Estonia].

Peter was born in Russia and lived for a while in China before the family emigrated from Russia to the United States.  It’s certainly possible that Peter would know REVAL, given that his family was originally from Mainz and lived for centuries in Estonia.  But even if he did, he’d been an educator in the United States for long enough by 1942 to know that most solvers would never have heard of this.  It seems far more likely that someone like Baron von Budberg would not just know REVAL but feel comfortable placing it at 1-Across.

So at this point I’m betting that Baron Alexis Paul Boodberg is our constructor.

Patterson Pepple

In a 2012 post, David wrote that he thought Patterson Pepple might be an alias for pre-Shortzian editor Eugene T. Maleska; in a later post, he had come to believe that Pepple was a real person.  I can confirm there is a real Patterson Pepple and can even show you a picture of him.  He began life as Allen Patterson Pepple in 1920 but at some point dropped the Allen.

As you can see, he passed away in 1994, at the age of 73.  His last New York Times crossword was in 1991, but his first was in 1984 when he was 64 years old!  I don’t know why he decided to make crosswords then or even what he did for most of his life.  But I did find a picture of Mr. Pepple from the 1938 yearbook of Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio:

Photo courtesy of Lima Central
Catholic High School, Lima, Ohio

I also know he got a B.B.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1942, because he was mentioned (in memoriam) in the UT Austin alumni magazine, The Alcalde:

Note that this shows Mr. Pepple living in Columbus, Ohio, at the time of his passing.  I haven’t found an obituary for (Allen) Patterson Pepple, but I have one piece of data that ties the Ohio resident UT graduate to crosswords.  It's from Simon & Schuster's Super Crossword Book #8, published in 1994:

Mystery solved.

Charles B. Waffell

Here's another example of someone who legally changed his name.  Mr. Waffell started out life as Chuck Baker Waffel in Deadwood, South Dakota (yes, that’s where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while holding the famous dead man’s hand).

As you can see, Mr. Waffell passed away in 2004 (in Brevard County, Florida, near Melbourne) on his 68th birthday.  But he spent a lot of his life in Colorado, including going to high school there.  I have two pictures with him from the 1953 Cañon City High School yearbook.  (Cañon City is about 40 miles west of Pueblo.)  In the first, he’s in the bottom row, second from the left:

Photo courtesy of Cañon City High School, Colo.

In the second, he’s in the bottom row, third from the left:

Photo courtesy of Cañon City High School, Colo.

Again, I don’t have an obituary for Mr. Waffell, and I don’t have any documents that tie him to crosswords.  I do, however, have a record that showed him living in La Jolla, California, in 1994, the year his final New York Times puzzle was published (which is weird, because about six years later I lived in an apartment in La Jolla that was a short walk away from him!).  I’m pretty sure he was in Florida by then.

But the three pre-Shortzian puzzles were probably constructed while he was living in Denver—he lived a lot of different places, didn’t he?—which means, thanks once again to the fine folks at Simon & Schuster, we can tie our Deadwood-born man to the dead wood paper crosswords he constructed.  In this case, Simon & Schuster’s Super Crossword Book 9: The Biggest and the Best (1996).

Actually, we can do better than that.  While doing this research, I found out that Simon & Schuster sometimes published special forewords to their crossword volumes.  One of them says Mr. Waffell was a manager for a Denver gas-and-electric utility.  Note that it also mentions other constructors I’ve written about before.

I don’t know if I’ll be publishing any more reports on pre-Shortzian constructors . . . but if I do, these forewords might very well help me find some of them.

Thanks so much again, Todd, for all this great research!  It's always a fascinating journey into the past and really helps bring long-gone pre-Shortzian constructors back to life.

I thought Todd's Alexis P. Boodberg findings were especially intriguing because of the difficulty in deciding whether Peter Alexis Boodberg or his likely father, Baron Alexis Paul Boodberg, was the constructor of those four New York Times crosswords.  I agree with Todd that it was probably the latter.  Not only did Alexis Paul die a year and a half after the last known Boodberg puzzle appeared in the Times, but if his son Peter Alexis had been the constructor, Peter would have lived for 28 more years after that final puzzle's publication, and it seems odd that he wouldn't have published any more puzzles during that time.  I also question whether Peter Alexis would have used his father's name instead of his own as his byline, though it's possible he might have if he wanted to keep his cruciverbal publications separate from his academic ones.

Another piece of evidence that Peter Alexis was indeed Alexis Paul's son is his (Anglicized) middle name, or Russian patronymic.  The patronymic also supports the supposition that Paul Alexis was another son of Alexis Paul and the brother of Peter Alexis.

If anyone has further information corroborating that Baron Alexis Paul Boodberg was the constructor, please comment below or write to me directly.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Todd Gross: Christy Ridley Male, Not Female—Plus a Major Report on Early Female Constructor Helen Pettigrew

Christy Ridley Male, Not Female

Photo courtesy of

Crossword researcher and historian Todd Gross reported a major discovery yesterday:  Pre-Shortzian constructor Christy Ridley, who published at least 54 daily puzzles under editor Eugene T. Maleska between 1981 and 1993, was male, not female.  Christy was one of several pre-Shortzian constructors with ambiguous first names and about whom we had no additional information.  Todd's finding is important both because Christy was originally erroneously coded as female in my files and because of the relatively large number of puzzles involved.

Two years ago at the 2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, I reported the results of statistical tests I had done on constructor gender in the pre-Shortz and Shortz eras.  That report was a brief summary of my findings, which were detailed in a paper I wrote for a science research course.  I ran many statistical tests, some of which involved limited portions of the complete data set.  The smaller the data set, the more likely the results are to be skewed by individual data points.  Although I have not rerun the tests with this change in one constructor's gender coding, certain tests within the Maleska era would likely turn out differently enough to significantly affect some results—most notably, the proportion of puzzles Maleska published by women would have been less than the proportion published by Will Weng, but probably still not as low as in the Farrar and Shortz eras.  It is worth keeping in mind that my data set is incomplete and that the constructor names (and, consequently, genders) of many puzzles are still unknown.

In addition to the above photo, which Todd found on, Todd discovered this obituary reprinted on

Courtesy of The Daily News-Journal

Thanks so much again, Todd, for this very important discovery!

Early Female Constructor Helen Pettigrew

Todd also contacted me recently about his efforts to find out more about pre-Shortzian constructor Helen Pettigrew, who, according to my (incomplete) records, published one puzzle in The New York Times.  Here's Todd's report:

Helen Pettigrew was the first constructor I decided to research.  I saw the following puzzle, published in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, July 15, 1928.

Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

The crossword is titled "Down in Arkansas," but there's nothing about Arkansas in the puzzle.  I asked [New York Times constructor] Joe Krozel about it (he'd mentioned an interest in crossword history); he thought maybe the constructor was from Arkansas. So I went on to try to find her . . . and find her I did.  And indeed, she was born and raised, and lived nearly her entire life, in what is now Charleston in Franklin County, about 25 miles east of Ft. Smith. has a pretty thorough history for Helen:   She was born in 1894 in what is now Charleston but was unincorporated at the time.  In the 1920 Census she's listed as a teacher.  But in the 1930 Census she's listed as a sketch writer for magazines.  In the 1940 Census, she's listed with no occupation . . . but living with her father (now 83) and her mother's sister (91), so likely taking care of both of them.

Alas, I don't have any examples of her work in magazines . . . but I found some puzzles from the early 1950s published in newspapers.  I'm including two of them here, the first from November 1951; the second from April 1953.

Image courtesy of the Lethbridge Herald

Image courtesy of the
Independent Record   

I also have a couple of her crosswords from the early '70s, which fits with her one known puzzle in The New York Times published April 15, 1974.  But I'm pretty sure she was published in Simon & Schuster in at least the late '20s to early '30s, and I have a New York Herald Tribune puzzle of hers from Sunday, March 25, 1928 (the Los Angeles Times puzzle was syndicated from the New York World).

She also published several books of Bible-themed crosswords (and other puzzles) in the 1960s and '70s.  Google has links to various books; here is the cover of one published in (I believe) 1963:

Over the years (I first saw "Down in Arkansas" in 2009), I uncovered a lot of information about Ms. Pettigrew.  But I couldn't answer the question I've been pondering since I first saw that crossword:  What inspired a woman living in central Arkansas in the 1920s to try her hand at crossword construction, sending puzzles to editors thousands of miles away in New York?

Last month (April 2016), I decided to try going to Charleston for myself to see what I could uncover there.  I flew to Little Rock for Arkansas Puzzle Day and made a weeklong trip of it, including visiting Charleston.  Helen never married, and I believe there are no living Pettigrews left there.   But I did find the local library, which had a genealogy room.  And in that room, I found a book that didn't answer that question . . . but it did answer another question I'd had since I started:  What did Helen look like?

The book, titled Franklin County (Images of America) was written by Lola Shropshire and published in 2000.  Among images of various people and places in Franklin County, I found one of Helen Pettigrew, with a nice explanatory paragraph below.  It may not have answered all my questions, but it gave me nice closure.  I took several pictures of the page, to be sure I got it right.  But I needn't have bothered:  The book is in Google Books, and here is the picture of Helen with the accompanying paragraph:

Image courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

So perhaps I didn't need to make the trip.  But before I left Charleston, I took one picture that isn't in any book.  Helen passed away in 1977, about three years after the New York Times crossword was published.  She passed away in Booneville but is buried in the local cemetery in Charleston, near her father and other family members.  It isn't large, and in about 15 minutes I found her grave.  And I propped a copy of her "Down in Arkansas" puzzle next to the headstone and took this picture.

R.I.P., Helen Lyle Pettigrew (1894–1977).  You may have died alone, but you are not forgotten.

Thanks again, Todd, for all your amazing research and for the lovely picture of Helen's puzzle on her grave.