Friday, September 12, 2014

1971 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, Plus Proofreading Contest Update

1971 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

Great news:  The proofread 1971 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  As usual, Jim Horne did a great job with these—thanks again, Jim!  Since the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge began, we've been making terrific progress with the proofreading—in fact, the 1970 puzzles should be done within the next week or two!  I'm now sending out puzzles from 1969 and 1968, so we should have 1969—the first year of the turbulent '60s—finished soon!  Thanks so much again, everyone!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge Update

Mark Diehl now leads the pack in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 241 found mistakes (and Howard Barkin isn't far behind, with 176!)!  Here's how the week shaped up:  Late Friday night, Mark sent in 30 puzzles with 34 mistakes.  Then Saturday morning, an anonymous proofreader sent in 16 puzzles with 20 mistakes.  Sunday afternoon Denny Baker sent in 30 puzzles but didn't track the mistakes.  Late Wednesday afternoon, Mark sent 31 puzzles with 12 mistakes; then 3 minutes later, 20 puzzles with 11 mistakes; and late that night, 30 more with 16 mistakes!  Howard Barkin sent in 31 puzzles with 72 mistakes, then 30 puzzles with 36 mistakes, then 16 puzzles with 24 mistakes, and finally 11 puzzles with 14 mistakes!  Great job, everyone!

In going through the puzzles, Howard noticed that a few clues were completely different from the ones on the PDFs.  This has happened before, usually because some puzzles were originally litzed from books or CDs, where editorial changes were sometimes made.  When we come across situations like this, we change the clues back to what the original clues on the PDFs were.  However, in order to do this, we need to check the litzed puzzles carefully against PDFs, otherwise situations like this go unnoticed.  Typically the edited clues for books or CDs made sense, so there's no way to catch them unless the puzzles are proofread against the originals on the PDFs.  Though doing this is more time-consuming, it allows us to replicate the original puzzles as faithfully as possible.  Thanks again for catching these edited clues, Howard!

If anyone else would like to take the self-test and help out with the proofreading, just let me know!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published January 28, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by the prolific Ralph Bunker.  Each of this puzzle's theme entries ends in a plural season (e.g., JONATHAN WINTERS); as a bonus, the constructor included the reveal entry FOUR SEASONS (clued as "One year.") at 10-Down.  I really appreciate the numerous levels of consistency this theme demonstrates:  All theme entries end in a season, all the seasons are plural, and exactly half the theme entries are people (and half places),  Having a reveal entry makes this puzzle even more impressive, and having JONATHAN WINTERS cross two other theme entries is truly spectacular!  Even though I wasn't familiar with BILL SUMMERS ("Big League umpire") or GLENS FALLS (Charles Evans Hughes's birthplace, in N. Y.), this puzzle's theme is a winner in my books.  The nonthematic fill has a slew of fun and fresh entries, such as CROSSTOWN, RAPPORT, CARBON, and, my favorite, CAMP DAVID (complete with the contemporary clue, "Where Eisenhower and Khrushchev met")!  The nonthematic fill also feels very polished—the only entries that stand out to me as being particularly unusual are AROSA ("Popular ski resort in Switzerland.") and BOSKY ("Like a dell.").  BOSKY, which has appeared in just two other pre-Shortzian puzzles so far, especially intrigued me; it turns out that this word, which Webster defines as "having abundant trees or shrubs" or "of or relating to a woods," comes from the middle English bosk (meaning "bush") and has been around since the 16th century.  In all, with its top-notch theme and smooth, sparkly fill, this is a stellar pre-Shortzian puzzle!  I hope I come across more of this mystery constructor's work as I continue to review the litzed puzzles.  For now, this puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Litzing Done, Proofreading Contest Under Way, 1972 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, September Litzer of the Month Tracy Bennett, and a Gem from Stan Newman's Collection

Litzing Done (for Now)

We reached another major milestone on Saturday:  The final available litzed puzzles came in, so we're now done!  We finished up one day before my goal of having all the litzed puzzles back by the end of August—thanks again, everyone!  As the litzing thermometer shows, we're at 16,077—148 puzzles shy of the 16,225 pre-Shortzian crosswords.  Most of the missing puzzles weren't published in New York because of newspaper strikes; at some point in the future, I'll continue looking into other ways of locating these puzzles.  In the meantime, thanks so much to everyone who made it happen—awesome, awesome job!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge Gets Under Way

Here's the lowdown on the rest of this past week:  On Saturday afternoon, Tracy Bennett sent in 31 proofread puzzles.  That night, Martin Herbach sent 28 litzed puzzles, and then two minutes later, Mark Diehl sent in 31 proofread puzzles!  Monday morning, September 1, the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge officially began, and Mark sent the first batch of puzzles—26, with 16 mistakes!  A couple of hours later, he sent another 26 with 31 mistakes . . . then that afternoon, 31 more with 73 mistakes!  Late that night, Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 13 mistakes.  Early Tuesday morning, Mark sent 28 more puzzles with 13 mistakes, and late that night, another 31 with 15 mistakes.  Wednesday afternoon, Todd sent 10 more puzzles with 9 mistakes, and late that night, Mark sent 31 more with 20 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon, Todd sent another 10 puzzles with 25 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 puzzles with 31 mistakes.  As I write this, Mark has found the most mistakes so far (168) and is followed by Todd (47) and Howard (31)!  Great job, everyone!  If you'd like to participate in the contest, just let me know—details, along with the latest proofreading totals, can be found on the Contest Totals page.

1972 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

In other news, thanks to Jim Horne, the 1972 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  I hope you all enjoy looking through and/or solving this latest installment.  We're almost done proofreading the Will Weng puzzles—just three more years to go, most of which are done or well on their way!  I've even been sending out a few packets of Farrar puzzles for proofreading, and I expect we'll be well into the age of puzzles with periods at the ends of their clues by the time the proofreading contest winds down.

September Litzer of the Month Tracy Bennett

I'm also delighted to announce that New York Times constructor Tracy Bennett is the September Litzer of the Month!  In addition to having litzed 49 puzzles, Tracy has proofread hundreds more, usually sending a new batch at the end of each month.  To read more about Tracy, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

A Gem from Stan Newman's Collection

I was looking through my rapidly expanding collection of old crossword books and came across one that particularly intrigued me:  Puzzles for Everybody.  This book, which comes from Stan Newman's collection, appears to have been published in 1955.  The book is jam-packed with crosswords, anagrams, trivia quizzes, and all sorts of other word and math puzzles . . . and there's a picture of a different scantily-clad (for that time period, at least) woman every few pages whose name is incorporated into one of the puzzles!  (Since this book's publisher is Avon, referring to these women as "Avon ladies" from here on out seems fitting!)  What I find fascinating is that this book is titled Puzzles for Everybody but clearly targets a male solving audience!  The book seems to epitomize the rampant sexism during the '50s and '60s by indirectly excluding women from "Everybody."  In any case, the crosswords in this book definitely aren't as eye-catching as the Avon ladies!  To their credit, these 11 x 11s don't contain very many glaring obscurities, but they appear to rotate through the same few grid patterns and are heavy on crosswordese. The grid patterns themselves have handfuls of unsightly cheater squares, but at least there aren't too many two-letter words.  The clues are mostly standard, though there are a few clever ones, such as "It's all around you" for AIR.  I was ultimately more impressed with some of the novel variety puzzle forms in this book than with the crosswords.  One of my favorites was a letter maze that, when traced properly, spelled the 8-word, 39-letter phrase KEEP DIGGING AND YOU WILL EVENTUALLY LOCATE IT!  In sum, this puzzle book was quite entertaining to look through, and the Avon ladies definitely distinguished it from some contemporary volumes I've thumbed through.  Here are some pictures of Puzzles for Everybody:

Front cover

Crossword No. 1

An "Avon lady"

Back cover

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published June 28, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh.  Instead of going with the traditional themeless structure from this time period (four corners with scores of seven-letter entries), the constructor of this sparkly 70-worder opted for a more sectioned-off grid with numerous wide-open spaces.  I don't think I've seen such a grid in a pre-Shortzian puzzle—I really appreciate the creativity and ambitiousness of this design!  The 6 x 5 chunks in the upper right and lower left are particularly visually appealing, and the middle and remaining two corners don't disappoint aesthetically.  Highlights in the fill include PARSEC, KNIVES, SANS SERIF, WIREMAN, SUNDAE, and SLIPPERS; also, although I've never heard of QUANTICO (clued as "Marine Corps base in Virginia."), it sounds nice and uses a Q.  What really makes this puzzle stand out, though, is that the fill is almost junk-free:  The only two entries that seem unreasonably obscure are RABIC ("Pertaining to hydrophobia.") and CUNEO ("Wedge-shaped: Comb. form.)—very impressive given the challenge posed by the grid structure!  The clues are mostly standard definitions—the only one that really gave me pause was "Former monetary units of Lithuania." for LITS.  This is exactly the type of clue that proofreader Todd Gross would cite as being unnecessarily obscure; I would have much preferred something like "Wagons-___ (sleeping cars)."  Nevertheless, this puzzle feels very strong on the whole, and I look forward to seeing more creative themeless grids as I continue looking through puzzles from the the early '60s and late '50s!  For now, this puzzle's solution can be seen below:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge—Plus More Todd Gross Research

Project Update

It's been an amazing week on the proofreading front, with approximately six more months done!  The puzzles started coming in Tuesday evening, when Mark Diehl sent a batch of 31.  Early Wednesday morning, he sent 28 more, then another 31 late that afternoon and 31 more Thursday morning!  Whew!  An hour or so later, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Then Thursday night, Mark sent 29 more—and then another 24!  Thanks so much again, Mark and Todd—great job!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge

While we're on the subject of proofreading, recently I've been thinking about ways to increase our speed without compromising accuracy.  To this end, I've come up with what should be another fun contest—the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge!  Unlike the litzing contests, though, the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge won't be about speed.  The goal won't be to proofread as many puzzles as possible but to find as many mistakes as possible.  So it will be to your advantage to proofread slowly and carefully.  Obviously, though, the more puzzles you proofread, the more mistakes you'll find!  Here are the rules:

1.  The contest will run from September 1, 2014, until 11:59 p.m. on October 31, 2014.
2.  The minimum number of puzzles each contestant must proofread is 30 (one month, roughly speaking)
3.  Contestants should follow the style rules outlined in the proofreading guide.  If you've never proofread before, you'll need to own Crossword Compiler and contact me first for the proofreading self-test.
4.  Reporting of the number of mistakes found will be on the honor system, so you'll keep your own tally and report it when you return your proofread puzzles.  I'll keep a running total of the mistakes found on the Contest Totals page so you'll be able to see how your total stacks up against other totals.
5.  Logical groupings of mistakes will count as one mistake.  An example of this would be if you discover three missing ellipsis points; this would count as one mistake, not three.  Another example might be an underscore that is two lines too long; deleting the extra two lines would count as one mistake, not two.  Adding missing quotation marks would also count as one mistake, not two.  You get the idea.  It's definitely possible to find more than one mistake in a clue, but they have to be clearly different mistakes.  An example might be a misspelled name, followed by an incorrect punctuation mark; that would count as two mistakes.
5.  Prizes will be as follows:
1st Prize:  All prizes listed below
2nd Prize:  $25 Amazon gift card
3rd Prize:  A surprise pre-Shortzian artifact from my collection
Random Prize:  A Puzzazz e-book of your choice
I'll announce the contest again on September 1—just a few days away!  Until then, enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Todd Gross's Research

In addition to continuing with proofreading, Todd has been busy researching again and has come up with some great finds about three pre-Shortzian constructors, two of whom were women.

Diana Sessions

The first is Diana Sessions, who published at least 70 pre-Shortzian puzzles in The New York Times and about whom Todd wrote:
She was born Diana Robinson in Anniston, AL on 2 Oct 1922 and passed away 14 Feb (Valentine's Day) Anniston, AL.  My sense is she never lived anywhere else.  In the interim, she married Lewe Sessions on 29 Jul 1942 and raised 4 children.
And yes, the R in Diana R Sessions stands for Robinson.
I haven't found an obituary yet, but I found two articles about her.  Both are from The Anniston Star.  One, from 4 Feb 1968, is a bio that describes her work with crosswords.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]  It also has a nice picture of her, with one of her daughters.  By my count, she would have been 45 at the time. . . .
Diana Sessions (right).  Image courtesy of
  The Anniston Star.
Even more interesting, however, is the other article I found, printed on 29 Dec 1974.  Apparently, she was something of an amateur astrologer (one wonders how she found time to do this with raising 4 children and limiting herself to 4 crosswords a year) . . . , and at least according to the article, a pretty good one.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]  I'm sure they're cherry-picking the better results, but if people kept going to her to foretell their future, she can't have been too bad at it.
Todd added later:
I'm looking at her 1940 Census record.  It says she had 1 year of college at age 17...but I suspect that's a transcription error.  It also says her parents have no income from their jobs...and neither do a lot of other working folk on that page.  Strange.
Nancy Scandrett Ross

The second female constructor Todd reports on is Nancy Scandrett Ross, who published 34 or more pre-Shortzian puzzles (and 22 Shortz-era constructions) in the Times.  Todd wrote:
The Who's Who bio mentions her being born in NYC, attending Smith College, her career, retiring and moving to Eugene, OR, etc.  But it said nothing about living in Georgia in 1940 when the census was taken.  And her father wasn't living with them.  And none of them apparently worked.  Interesting.
Even better, I got a picture of her from the 1952 Smith College catalog, the year she graduated.  I'm enclosing the picture.  It's really nice putting a face to a name.  I'm really glad Jim Horne came up with idea of having pictures of constructors.
Nancy Scandrett [Ross].  Image cour-
tesy of Smith College.

Bert H. Kruse

Finally, Todd found the following information about pre-Shortzian constructor Bert H. Kruse, who published 63 known pre-Shortzian puzzles in the Times:
Bert Kruse is a modestly common name, and I really didn't have anything beyond his/her name to work with.  But with some effort, and some real luck, I can now confirm that Bert is indeed a he, and has in fact passed away. . . .  And the reason I can confirm it is I found an online obituary for him that mentions he constructed crossword puzzles.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]
Thanks so much again, Todd, for all this terrific research!  It really helps bring the pre-Shortzian constructors to life!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Geography Quiz . . . and More Funny Typos

Project Update

The summer heat must be affecting this project's progress—the litzers and proofreaders are on fire!  Early Sunday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Then just before noon, Denny Baker sent 28 more.  On Tuesday morning, Denny sent 7 reassigned litzed puzzles, and that night, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Denny sent another 4 reassigned litzed puzzles, putting us at 16,049 on the litzing thermometer and moving into 5th place in the litzer totals—congratulations, Denny!  Great job, everyone, and thanks for another exciting week!

Geography Quiz

I've come across numerous unusual geographical entries in pre-Shortzian puzzles, so I thought putting together a little quiz with some of the more bizarre-sounding ones would be fun!  I've listed ten such geographical names along with their original clues below; your job is to match each of these names to its picture using only the information provided by the clues, names, and hints in the photo.  (The pictures are in a random order, of course!)  The answers are at the end of this post—can you get all ten correct?  Please feel free to post your scores as comments.

  1. Arkhangelsk
    • Date:  December 27, 1942
    • Constructor:  Alexis P. Boodberg
    • Litzer:  Alex Vratsanos
    • Clue:  U.S.S.R.'s great Arctic seaport.
  2. Kirkcudbrightshire
    • Date:  October 8, 1950
    • Constructor:  Harold T. Bers
    • Litzer:  Anonymous
    • Clue:  Southern Scottish County.
  3. Westmoreland
    • Date:  March 13, 1960
    • Constructor:  Hume R. Craft
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Virginia county, Washington's birthplace.
  4. Campobello
    • Date:  February 3, 1961
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Famous island in Passamaquoddy Bay.
  5. Colmar
    • Date:  February 26, 1961
    • Constructor:  Roberta H. Morse
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Small city in E. France.
  6. Suakin
    • Date:  April 30, 1960
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Sudanese port on Red Sea.
  7. Sakhalin
    • Date:  December 26, 1961
    • Constructor:  Arthur Schulman
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Island N of Japan.
  8. Zanesville
    • Date:  January 29, 1962
    • Constructor:  Bettie Lou Fisher
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Ohio pottery center.
  9. Araxá
    • Date:  June 9, 1962
    • Constructor:  John Byrne
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Brazilian spa.
  10. Anticosti
    • Date:  October 10, 1962
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Island at mouth of St. Lawrence River

Picture 1 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 2 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 3 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 4 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 5 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 6 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 7 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 8 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 9 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 10 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published May 26, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  As I mentioned last week, I've been seeing increasingly fewer themed puzzles as I review packets from further and further back in time, so seeing even repeated word themes every once in a while is refreshing.  It's a real treat, however, when I come across a consistent, genuinely interesting theme from the early '60s, particularly in a daily crossword!  This themed puzzle contains six symmetrical entries that start or end with something related to light but that aren't merely examples of that light source, such as LANTERN JAW and TULIP BULBS.  The theme does have a few inconsistencies:  TULIP BULBS is the only theme entry that contains a plural light source (and also the only one that ends with a light source), and LAMPEDUSA is the only theme entry that is completely unrelated to its light source.  Despite these minor faults, the theme feels strong for its time, and the theme entries, which skew on the lively side, interlock elegantly.  The fill also feels better than average, which is even more impressive given that the puzzle contains six theme entries!  My favorite nonthematic entries include SKYLARK, SHOWCASE, BIGWIG, TWIRLERS, and STEW POT, and the only entry I haven't seen before or heard of is AKYAB (Burma port on the Bay of Bengal.).  (Note to self:  Put Akyab in a future geography quiz!)  This puzzle has some interesting clues as well, such as "Panjandrum, modern style." for BIGWIG and the contemporary "Senator from Hawaii." for FONG and "Astronomer's measure." for LIGHT YEAR.  All in all, this is a very impressive themed early '60s puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Funny Typos

Before I present the answers to the Geography Quiz, here are some more typos our proofreaders found amusing:
  • Entry:  ACE
    • Right:  Red Baron, e.g.
    • Wrong:  Red Baton, e.g.
  • Entry:  ADAMIC
    • Right:  Of an early man.
    • Wrong:  Off an early man.
  • Entry:  ASSET
    • Right:  Item in the black
    • Wrong:  Item in the back
  • Entry:  CARNE
    • Right:  Chili con ___
    • Wrong:  Chile con ___
  • Entry:  CLONE
    • Right:  Product of asexual reproduction.
    • Wrong:  Produce of asexual reproduction.
  • Entry:  HEALTH FOOD
    • Right:  Diet store sign
    • Wrong:  Diet score sign
  • Entry:  LOBE
    • Right:  Ear part
    • Wrong:  Ear art
  • Entry:  NELL
    • Right:  Mistress Quickly
    • Wrong:  Mistress Quigley
  • Entry:  REALTY
    • Right:  Estate; property
    • Wrong:  Estate; properly
  • Entry:  STY
    • Right:  Porcine abode
    • Wrong:  Porcine adobe
The CLONE typo was pretty funny, but my favorite of these has to be the NELL one!  Now it's time for BEQ's mistress to become more famous so we constructors can have another NELL clue (if NELL Quigley did become more famous, we all know who the first constructor to put her in a puzzle would be, of course!).  Below is a painting that includes Mistress Quickly:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Answers to Geography Quiz

Finally, here are the answers to the Geography Quiz:

Arkhangelsk:  Picture 9
Kirkcudbrightshire:  Picture 7
Westmoreland:  Picture 8
Campobello:  Picture 5
Colmar:  Picture 10
Suakin:  Picture 1
Sakhalin:  Picture 3
Zanesville:  Picture 2
Araxá:  Picture 4
Anticosti:  Picture 6