Friday, April 17, 2015

1958 Puzzles Up, Frances Hansen in CROSSW RD Magazine, and Mark Diehl First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Project Update

Another year is done:  The 1958 puzzles, which you can see here, are now up on XWord Info—thanks again to Jim Horne for hosting them!  And we're well on our way with more—Friday night Mark Diehl sent in 31 proofread puzzles, then another 22 Saturday night, and 18 more later on!  Sunday morning he sent in 13 puzzles, which were followed by 21 more late that afternoon.  Early Monday morning Todd Gross sent 10 puzzles with 50 mistakes (and a grand total of 403, if you count all the missing periods!).  Then Tuesday morning Mark sent another 14 puzzles, with 19 more appearing that night.  Wednesday morning Todd sent in 10, which were followed by 15 from Denny Baker and then 31 more from Mark and another 7 from him just after noon—a banner morning for proofreading if there ever was one!  Thursday morning Todd sent 11 more, then that afternoon Mark sent another 28, which were followed by 28 more that evening from Denny.  And Friday morning Mark sent another 31 puzzles.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we've made tremendous progress this week!

I'll be attending an admitted students event at Stanford (not Stamford!) for several days next week, so the next blog post will be in two weeks, when I hope to be finished with the 1957 puzzles!  As always, you can continue to send in proofread puzzles while I'm gone, though I may not be able to send out any new ones until my return.

Mark Diehl First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Mark Diehl was the first person to solve last week's Blast! challenge—he sent in his answer late Saturday night, after only one letter (the E) had been revealed!  Congratulations, Mark!  The clue from the July 12, 1956, puzzle was "Quest of the modern 'forty-niner.'"  The answer:  URANIUM ORE.  This clue certainly enriched my understanding of the 1950s!

As usual, you'll find the next Blast! challenge in the sidebar—the name of the first person to solve it correctly will be announced in two weeks!

Frances Hansen in CROSSW RD Magazine

I've been going through a few more issues of CROSSW RD Magazine, and this week I've posted Helene Hovanec's wonderful profile, "The Limerick Lady," of the legendary Frances Hansen on Scribd—to read it, click here.  Although Frances was perhaps most famous for her limericks, she can also be credited with popularizing the rebus puzzle:  She was among the first constructors to regularly use this then-novel gimmick.  Another interesting thing about Frances is that although her first Times puzzle on record dates back to 1964, she didn't publish any daily-sized crosswords until 1983!  She was truly a master of Sunday grids.

Photo copyright 1992, 2015, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and CROSSW-RD Magazine.

The article mentions that one of Frances's puzzles inspired humorist Russell Baker to write "Crashing into Crosswordland," a hilarious column that appeared in the January 19, 1975, New York Times and that can be accessed for free through many libraries on ProQuest.


Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Eugene T. Maleska; published September 10, 1955; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  Seven entries in this puzzle's grid contain the word HORSE; as a bonus (and to make the theme symmetrical), CLOSE RACE was added as an eighth theme entry.  Generally I'm not a big fan of repeated-word themes, but this one stood out to me for two reasons.  First, the interlock of the theme entries is remarkable!  Having double-stacks of 9- and 10-letter entries cross was especially uncommon in pre-Shortzian themeless puzzles, so pulling off such an ambitious grid using only thematic 9- and 10-letter entries was no mean feat.  More significantly, however, the HORSE parts of all the theme entries look like they're competing in a close race, provided that the grid is treated as a racetrack.  This interpretation of the theme entries' layout may be a bit of a stretch—the constructor may simply have been striving for impressive theme entry interlock—but I was totally feeling the visual element!  The assortment of bonus horse-related entries (such as MANEGE, SHOW, and STALL) scattered throughout the grid is another nice touch.  The nonthematic fill has a handful of chewy entries, though the puzzle was published on a Saturday, so the inclusion of tougher vocabulary is more forgivable.  Yes, I'm talking to you, PURLIEU ("Outlying district."), VOLANT (clued as "Able to fly."), and SOCORRO ("City in New Mexico.")!  Interestingly, the most esoteric entry in the grid, HORSE EMMET ("Large ant."), is one of the theme entries.  I wasn't able to dig up much information about this bugger!  On the flip side, DRY ICE and PREFAB are excellent, and GSC ("General Staff Corps: Abbr.") is the only real stinker among the 3- and 4-letter entries.  In all, this is a top-notch pre-Shortzian puzzle whose possible visual element really sung to me!  In fact, many of Maleska's Farrar-era constructions were standouts for their time.  In any case, here's the solution grid (with highlighted theme entries) for this puzzle:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Raymond Simon's Tribute to Bernice Gordon in GAMES, Awesome Crossword T-shirts, and Doug Peterson Another Three-peat Winner!

Project Update

It's been another busy week!  Todd Gross started us off this time with 10 puzzles (in which he found 22 mistakes) late Sunday afternoon.  Tuesday morning Denny Baker sent in 30, which were followed a few hours later by 31 from Mark Diehl and then, that night, 20 more from Mark.  Early Wednesday morning Todd sent in 11 puzzles with 22 mistakes and then 3 more with 4 mistakes a bit later on.  Late that night Mark sent 31 puzzles, then 29 more Thursday morning.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!  I'm hoping to have the 1958 puzzles ready for Jim Horne at XWord Info by early next week.

Doug Peterson Three-peat Blast! Winner

Congratulations to another three-peat Blast! challenge winner, Doug Peterson!  On Wednesday Doug sent in the correct answer, HAWAIIAN STATEHOOD, to the August 30, 1953, puzzle clue "This bill has passed the halfway mark."  What a contrast with the bills in Congress nowadays!

This week's challenge is now up in the sidebar—good luck, everyone!

Awesome Crossword T-shirts

Despite returning to a ton of work (not to mention college decisions!), I'm still basking in the aftermath of the ACPT, where, among other things, I received two awesome crossword T-shirts (see photos below)!  The first features the very cool XWord Info logo, and the second is from the 2006 ACPT (closer to the pre-Shortz era and, as you can see on the shirt, definitely the original Stamford era!)!  Thanks so much again, Jeff, Jim, and Lynn!



Raymond Simon's Tribute to Bernice Gordon in GAMES

Some time ago Raymond Simon, an editor at GAMES World of Puzzles, contacted me about possibly getting a photograph of legendary constructor Bernice Gordon for a piece he was writing about her crossword life.  His article is in the May 2015 issue, and with the magazine's permission, I've reproduced it below:


Thanks again, Ray, for this touching tribute to Bernice.

Friday, April 3, 2015

ACPT Wrap-Up, Unusual Entries, and Doug Peterson First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Project Update

What with the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT), it's been a very busy two weeks, but we've still managed to make great progress on the proofreading front!  Starting off with the first week, on Saturday afternoon Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles and then 12 more, which were followed by 23 from Denny Baker that evening.  Sunday night Mark sent another 30 puzzles and then 25 more Monday night.  Tuesday morning Denny Baker sent 11, then Mark sent another 31 that afternoon.  Early Wednesday morning Mark sent 28 more and then another 31 that afternoon.  Thursday evening Denny sent in 24 puzzles—the last for that week.  This past week Mark sent 23 Sunday night.  On Monday Denny sent in 24 more, then 18 more Thursday morning and then another 6.  Friday morning he sent another 25 puzzles, which were followed by 10 from Todd Gross (who found 17 mistakes) later that afternoon.  Thanks so much again, everyone—terrific job once again!

Doug Peterson First to Solve Blast! Challenge

The Blast! challenge was up for two weeks this time but was solved with lightning speed by litzer Doug Peterson, who sent in the first correct answer on Sunday, March 22, with only two letters having been revealed—congratulations, Doug!  The clue from this April 3, 1955, puzzle was "Modern enigmas.," and the answer was FLYING SAUCERS.  I suppose flying saucers are still modern enigmas, especially with the advent of Photoshop, but seeing such a clue from 1955 was a real thrill from a historical perspective!  This week's Blast! challenge is up now in the sidebar—good luck, everyone!

ACPT Wrap-Up

As usual I had a blast reconnecting with old crossword friends and meeting new ones at this year's ACPT!  Legendary litzer/proofreader Denny Baker came to the tournament for the first time since 2006, so I had the pleasure of meeting him in person!  The last ACPT Denny attended was in Stamford, so he felt right at home with the tournament's move back this year from Brooklyn.  Interestingly, even though this was my first Stamford ACPT, I felt right at home, too!  Even better, as I was informed sometime after Puzzle 5, the coffee shop at the hotel happened to sell Afrin—had I noticed this, I would have had eight perfectly clean solves.  Unfortunately, I'd never heard of Afrin, so I ended up guessing AFRIT instead.  At next year's ACPT, I'll be sure to take full advantage of my surroundings!  For now, here's a picture of me and Denny:



And here's another one of litzer Tom Pepper and me—the New England cold was nothing compared to what Tom and other Minnesotans routinely experience!



Another highlight this year was meeting constructor Ed Stein, who had one New York Times puzzle published during the Maleska era but couldn't remember exactly when.  Ed did, however, remember some of the theme entries.  In just a few seconds, I was able to pull up Ed's puzzle on XWord Info and show it to him in person!  It turned out that his puzzle was published July 28, 1980; even better, it was one of the puzzles for which the constructor's first name hadn't yet been identified, which means that XWord Info will be one small step closer to perfect completion!  The puzzle itself has a rather subtle theme that I missed at first glance:  Each theme entry, such as ANNIE OAKLEY (clued as "Pass"), is eponymous—that is, it's a word or phrase that derives from someone's name.  Very cool!  Unfortunately, Ed stopped submitting to the Times for many years after his first publication, having received one of Maleska's infamous rejection letters in response to his second submission.  Ed's next Times puzzle appeared in 1994, and he has since gone on to have a handful more, most in collaboration with renowned constructor Paula Gamache.

A third project-related highlight of my experience was catching up with the ever-prolific Arthur Schulman, who now constructs more variety crosswords than standard ones.  Some of his more recent works have included a vowelless-esque puzzle, in which only the first half of the alphabet is entered into the grid, and a puzzle in which every entry is a consonancy.  Arthur claims such puzzles are easier to construct, though I suspect that he may just be so experienced that all crosswords and crossword variants come easily to him as a constructor!  Here's a picture of Arthur and me:



Finally, I gave a speech about the project again as part of the Friday evening events, this time about the computer program I wrote to try to identify the most likely constructors of crosswords without bylines using computational stylometry—the statistical analysis of variations in linguistic style or images using computers.  The program used seven factors, including block count, word count, and average clue length; although definitively determining the constructor of every puzzle without a byline won't ever be possible, through the use of computational stylometry guesses can be made—in some cases, quite accurate guesses!

Unusual Entries

After all the excitement of the ACPT, I decided to decompress by looking through my file of unusual entries from pre-Shortzian puzzles.  This file has grown exponentially now that the proofreading process is as streamlined as my preliminary scans of each puzzle!  The following salmagundi of seven entries came from June 1956 puzzles alone, all but one of which were litzed by Mark Diehl:
  • ACONTIA clued as "Javelins of Ancient Greece."
  • CANTRIP clued as "Trick or prank: Scot."
  • CAPORAL clued as "Coarse tobacco."
  • EUPHUES clued as "High-flown romance by John Lyly, 1753."
  • HENEQUEN clued as "Yucatan rope fiber."
  • KALONGS clued as "Flying foxes."
  • ORONOKO clued as "Variety of tobacco."
My favorite of these entries is KALONGS, which, appropriately enough, appeared in Arthur Schulman's puzzle from June 27; here's a picture of one of these beasts:

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, March 20, 2015

1959 Puzzles Done (35 Years!), American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the Pre-Shortz Era, Nancy A. Corbett, and Three-peat Winner Barbara Hindenach

Project Update

Great news:  I just sent the proofread 1959 puzzles to Jim Horne at XWord Info, which means we've now finished 35 years of proofreading!  There are only 17 left, and starting in late 1950, all the remaining years will be Sunday puzzles only, so those should go even more quickly!

We made terrific progress again this week, starting off on Saturday morning with 30 puzzles from Mark Diehl.  Sunday night Dave Phillips sent 31 puzzles with 76 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more from Mark five minutes later.  Monday evening Mark sent another 28, and then Tuesday morning Todd sent 10 with 9 mistakes.  That night Mark sent 31 more, which were followed by another 30 from Denny Baker.  Wednesday afternoon Todd sent 10 more with 172 mistakes (yes, 172—probably the all-time high!)!  Just over an hour later Mark sent another 31, then later on 30 more.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent another 14 and then later that night 19 more.  Finally, late Friday afternoon he sent another 11.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much again!

I'll be attending the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) next week, so the next blog post will be in two weeks—hope to see many of you in Stamford!

Barbara Hindenach Three-peat Blast! Winner

Congratulations again to Barbara Hindenach, who on Wednesday sent in the first correct answer to last week's Blast! challenge, making her a three-peat winner!  The clue, which was from the May 28, 1955, puzzle, was "One of the new wonders of the world."  The entry:  ELECTRONIC BRAIN.  I think this referred to robots back then, but nowadays there might be some technological brain implant that would make this clue and entry just as current!

The next Blast! challenge is in the sidebar, and I'll announce the first correct solver (if there is one!) in two weeks!

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the Pre-Shortz Era

New York Times March 6, 1978, story on first ACPT.

This year marks a major change in the ACPT, which for the first time since 2007 will be held in its original venue in Stamford, Connecticut!  As the above photo shows, the very first ACPT took place in 1978 and had 161 "enthusiasts."  The $20 entry fee included "luncheon, plus a cut-rate room," Will Shortz was 25, contestants ranged in age from 15 (Michael Miller) to 69 (Ruth Emini), and the winner was Nancy Schuster!

In honor of the ACPT's return to Stamford, I've posted two articles from the pre-Shortz era about the tournament and its competitors on Scribd.  Both were written by the amazing Helene Hovanec, and the first—"The Nation's Top Solvers:  Carol Barboni, Jon Delfin, Doug Hoylman, and Ellen Ripstein"—originally appeared in the May/June 1991 issue of CROSSW RD Magazine, which you can see here.  The second—"Competitive Aficionados:  Miriam Raphael and Ed Bethea"—was published in CROSSW RD Magazine's March/April 1993 issue and can be seen here.  "Life on the Circuit," Helene's account of what happens at the ACPT and why it's so much fun appears in this issue as well, and you can read it below too:

Copyright 1993, 2015, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSSW-RD Magazine.

Nancy A. Corbett Born in Stamford

Finally, a few days ago I heard from litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross, who had found an obituary of constructor Nancy A. Corbett.  Todd pointed out that not only had Nancy published two puzzles in the Times, one in the pre-Shortz era and the other some six weeks later after Will Shortz became editor, but she was also born in Stamford, Connecticut!  Thanks so much again, Todd—onward, Stamford!