Friday, January 30, 2015

In Memoriam: Bernice Gordon, 1914–2015

In honor of Bernice Gordon, my friend and collaborator who died yesterday at the age of 101, there will be no regular post today; the blog will resume next Friday.

I first contacted Bernice in March of 2013 about doing an interview for this site.  Shortly thereafter, we decided to collaborate on a puzzle about age differences; that puzzle was published on June 26, 2013, in The New York Times.  At the time, Bernice was 99 and the oldest living Times constructor and, at 16, I was the youngest; our age difference was 83 years.  In September that year we met in person in Philadelphia—a meeting I wrote about here.  I was on the East Coast briefly again this summer and one morning drove down from New Haven to Philadelphia to meet Bernice for lunch.  We had a lovely meal, talked about crosswords, and played Bookworm on her computer until I had to leave late that afternoon for New York.  All told, we collaborated on three puzzles; our second one appeared in the Times on August 11, 2014, and our most recent effort was, fittingly, accepted by her dear friend John Samson on November 11 and will appear in Simon & Schuster's Mega 15.

Over time we became fast friends, exchanging more than 700 e-mails, all of which I saved; in the relatively short time we knew each other, she also became the grandmother I never really had.  Lately we had both been writing every day or so, because Bernice knew she was dying.  Even though my e-mails were short and usually of little import, I knew she loved getting them, and I hoped they would keep her alive longer.  Bernice very much wanted to know where I would end up going to college, but in December, just a few days before I was to hear from my early action school, her e-mails to me abruptly stopped.  I kept writing, and when I learned that I had been accepted, wrote to her right away, not knowing whether she would ever receive the news.  Two days later, though, she wrote back—she was thrilled for me, and I was so glad she was alive.  Even though she still didn't know for certain where I would end up, she knew it would be somewhere wonderful and told me she could now die in peace.  We exchanged quite a few more e-mails between then and January 11—her 101st birthday and the day I received her last e-mail.  I kept writing, hoping her e-mails would resume again, but they never did.  On Wednesday, the night before she died, I sent her what would be my final e-mail.

Friday, January 23, 2015

CROSSW RD Magazine, Funny Litzing Mistake, and Wacky Words from 1957 Puzzles

Project Update

Last week the 1965 puzzles went up on XWord Info, and I'm almost finished preparing the 1964 puzzles!  This week Todd Gross has been especially busy:  Early Tuesday morning he sent in 18 puzzles with 28 mistakes.  Then early Thursday morning he sent 10 more with 16 mistakes, which were followed by 10 more with 20 mistakes Friday morning and another 10 with 18 mistakes Friday afternoon!  Thanks so much again, Todd!  For those of you currently proofreading puzzles from 1963, I'm hoping to have all of those back within the next couple of weeks.  It won't be long now before we're done with the 1960s!

Blast! Goes Unsolved

No one solved last week's Blast! challenge correctly, though there were some incorrect guesses early in the week.  The clue, from the July 23, 1958, puzzle, was, "One hazard of space travel."  The answer:  MICROMETEORITE.  The most common incorrect answer was WEIGHTLESSNESS, which, amazingly enough, is another 14-letter single word that fits the clue.

It occurred to me that people may want to know whether or not the Blast! challenge has already been solved by someone.  So from now on, I'll indicate that in the sidebar.  If no one has sent in the correct answer, you'll see STILL UNSOLVED! in green; if someone has, you'll see ALREADY SOLVED! in red.  Good luck with this week's challenge!

Funny Litzing Mistake

As I was looking through packets of litzed puzzles from early 1958, I discovered a rather amusing grid mistake that may have been influenced by the litzing contests.  In the January 5, 1958, crossword, instead of keying in BARKIS IS WILLIN ("Message the carrier sent to Peggotty."), the litzer entered BARKIN IS WILLIN (as in litzer extraordinaire Howard Barkin!)!

CROSSW RD Magazine

Today I'm delighted to roll out the first of what will be a series of constructor profiles and other articles originally published in CROSSW RD Magazine.  A donor who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a big box of this amazing publication a couple of months ago—they're truly a treasure trove from the pre-Shortzian and early Shortz eras (1991–1996)!  I've been immersing myself in them as time permits, and when Jim Horne recently mentioned his interest in learning more about legendary constructor William Lutwiniak—who published at least 297 puzzles in The New York Times during the pre-Shortz era—I remembered having read Helene Hovanec's wonderful profile of him in CROSSW RD.  I contacted the owner of CROSSW RD, Stan Chess, who has generously granted me permission to post material from the magazine online.  Today I've uploaded two pieces to Scribd:  "And the Wynner Is . . . William Lutwiniak," by Helene Hovanec, which appeared in the January/February 1992 issue and can be seen by clicking here; and a short letter from William Lutwiniak that was published a few months later in the May/June 1992 issue, together with brief notice of William Lutwiniak's subsequent death, written by J. Baxter Newgate, which you can read by clicking here.

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

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle is another gem by Jack Luzzatto, one of the few constructors who published almost as many crosswords in the Times as Lutwiniak.  The puzzle was published April 17, 1959; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  In this tour-de-force construction, Luzzatto not only filled a wide-open 66-word grid but also included a theme consisting of three 15-letter entries!  The theme is signs, which evokes fond memories of playing a bingo-like sign game during long road trips when I was little.

Photo courtesy of

I probably still have that game, along with my Etch A Sketch and Wooly Willy, somewhere in a bin of childhood memorabilia I'll have to sort through before going to college!  In any case, I was pleased with the signs Luzzatto chose—DANGEROUS CURVES and SLIPPERY WHEN WET are both in-the-language signs and fun entries in and of themselves!  CROSS AT THE GREEN (clued as "Admonition to Gotham pedestrians.") seemed a bit stretchy to me, though—I've never seen such a sign anywhere, which made me wonder whether CROSS AT THE GREEN signs have simply become less common over time.  To test this hypothesis, I typed CROSS AT THE GREEN into Google Ngram, which shows linguistic trends.  Sure enough, the term seems to have spiked in popularity circa 1970.  To my surprise, the sign doesn't seem to have existed before 1954, which means that Luzzatto must have acted quickly upon learning of this then-fresh entry.  Speaking of Luzzatto's observational skills and talent as a constructor, the nonthematic fill is remarkably clean given the constraints posed by the theme and wide-open grid pattern.  I especially like the entries CHARADE, DECOMPOSE, PINHOLE, AIR TIME, FLAGELLUM, and TRIBUTARY—that's a whole lot of goodness for a 66-worder, let alone a thematic, hand-filled one!  On the minus side, the grid contains an odd pair of un- entries (UNHEROIC and UNLURED—the latter feels especially weak), the plural ISOLDES, RASSE (hardcore pre-Shortzian crosswordese clued as "Tree-climbing civet."), the uncommon abbreviation RMC ("Sandhurst military institution: Abbr."), and INTR ("Not transitive: Abbr.").  As is typical with Luzzatto puzzles, though, the list of "meh" entries is inconsequential compared to the "wow!"s.  I was a little disappointed not to see any standout clues in this puzzle, though I appreciate Luzzatto's effort to sway a bit from straight definitions through clues like "Hours in the sky." for AIR TIME.  I did notice that SEATO was clued as "NATO's Oriental counterpart," which is interesting in that such a clue would no longer be politically correct.  In sum, this is yet another wonderfully ambitious Luzzatto puzzle!  As usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Wacky Words from 1957 Puzzles

Now that first semester is finally over, I've had some time to look through earlier packets of pre-Shortzian puzzles, albeit at a much slower rate than our indefatigable proofreaders!  Here are some of the most bizarre entries I've encountered in the selection of 1957 puzzles I've had a chance to examine, along with their original clues and, where known, constructors.
  • 7/9/57 (constructed by Madeline Corse, litzed by Ralph Bunker)
    • Entry:  FALANGIST
    • Clue:  Member of a certain political party.
  • 7/21/57 (constructed by Herbert Ettenson, litzed by Ralph Bunker)
    • Entry:  BUNDESRAT
    • Clue:  Federal Council of Switzerland.
    • Entry:  FLANNELMOUTH
    • Clue:  Catfish of the Great Lakes.
  • 9/25/57 (constructed by Helen Fasulo, litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Entry:  JALOUSIES
    • Clue:  Tropical window shades.
  • 9/29/57 (constructed by Eugene T. Maleska, litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Entry:  TELEDUS
    • Clue:  Animals of Java, Borneo, etc.
  • 10/5/57 (litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
    • Entry:  BANYAI
    • Clue:  Bantu tribe.
  • 10/7/57 (litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
    • Entry:  PHALAROPE
    • Clue:  Bird in Alan Paton title.
  • 10/13/57 (constructed by Hume R. Craft, litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
    • Entry:  ALOIDAE
    • Clue:  Mythical giants of Ossa-Pelion tale: Var.
  • 10/14/57 (constructed by Mel Taub, litzed by Todd McClary)
    • Entry:  PELTATE
    • Clue:  Shield-shaped, as nasturtium leaves.
  • 10/24/57 (litzed by Brian Kulman)
    • Entry:  CAPONIERE
    • Clue:  In fortification, part of a ravelin.
Below is a picture of the teledu, which somewhat resembles a skunk:

Image courtesy of The Honey Badger.

Friday, January 16, 2015

1965 Puzzles, Weird Grid, and Olio of Interesting Clues—Plus, Howard Barkin First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Project Update

We've made great progress this week!  On Saturday afternoon an anonymous proofreader sent in 6 puzzles with 10 mistakes, then early Sunday morning Todd Gross sent 11 more with 21 mistakes, and a few hours later, Denny Baker sent another 31 puzzles—thanks so much, everyone!  To top it all off, the proofread 1965 puzzles were sent to Jim Horne at XWord Info earlier today and should be posted soon—thanks again, Jim!  As I've mentioned, the 1965 puzzles had numerous issues in September and October because of the New York newspaper strike; all told, 13 puzzles are missing from that year.  I hope to find them eventually in another paper that wasn't affected by the strike.

Howard Barkin First to Solve Blast! Challenge

On Tuesday at 7:03 p.m. Howard Barkin was the first to send in the correct solution to last week's Blast! challenge—congratulations, Howard!  The clue from this July 23, 1958, puzzle was, "Subject for a contemporary scientist."  The answer:  THERMODYNAMICS.  I remember studying thermodynamics in my physics class last year, but that unit definitely wasn't in the "modern physics" portion of the course.  I always love seeing clues that reflect how much the times have changed!

There's a new challenge up in the sidebar—as always, every day one new letter will be added to the solution, hangman style, until the answer is posted.  Good luck!

Weird Grid

While proofreading a batch of 1964 puzzles, Todd Gross discovered that New York Times typesetters had misprinted one of the solutions such that several entries appeared in white type within black boxes!  In addition, several black squares appeared as blank white squares for some reason.  The puzzle itself, which has a subtle -CH theme, is quite nice—CATCH AS CATCH CAN crossing two theme entries is especially elegant.  Perhaps the constructor included CATCH AS CATCH CAN to taunt any proofreaders who failed to notice the errors in the solution!  Below is a screenshot of this anomaly—thanks again, Todd!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Jack Luzzatto; published February 1, 1958; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh.  This stellar 68-worder is the cleanest pre-Shortzian puzzle I've come across so far—I was amazed to discover that the grid is free of both major obscurities and pieces of pre-Shortzian crosswordese.  There isn't even a multiple-word partial phrase to detract from this puzzle's beauty!  One could quibble with KOP (which was clued as "Hill, in So. Africa.") or LUPE ("Actress Velez."), but both these entries have more modern cluing options, such as "Keystone lawman" for KOP and "Rapper Fiasco" for LUPE.  In fact, there are so many fun entries in this grid that splitting hairs over entries whose clues aren't as well-known these days or over some of the less in-the-language -er concoctions (such as PANTER and BUSTLER) seems unnecessary.  After all, who doesn't like seeing CATHODE, REARGUARD, DENATURED, RASHERS, KINDRED, and PEPPER POT in a themeless puzzle?  I also appreciated learning a new term:  TRIP LINE ("Rope used as a releasing device.").  Webster's primary definition for trip line is "a line or light rope used to operate a trip (as to free a dog hook in logging)."  In my continuous journey through New York Times crossword history, I've found that certain bylines are particularly thrilling to see—Jack Luzzatto's is definitely among my favorites!  I love how Luzzatto experimented with wide-open grid patterns rather than sticking to standard 72- and 74-word designs that showed up time after time in the pre-Shortzian era; every once in a while, he would even go so far as to include a minitheme in one of his ambitious grids.  And his filling skills give even computer programs a run for their money!  Luzzatto also seems to have had quite the sense of humor—in many of his constructions, I've come across clues that are exceptionally clever for their time.  I didn't see any such clues in this puzzle but did notice the juxtaposed clue pair "Operatic star." and "Operatic aria." for DIVA and SOLO, respectively.  I look forward to featuring more Luzzatto masterpieces in upcoming blog posts!  For now, here's the answer grid for this one:

Olio of Interesting Clues

Below is a list of clues from early 1958 crosswords that interested or surprised me for one reason or another—when considered as a whole, they are truly a mishmash!  The answers to these clues are included in parentheses, and the constructors' names (if known) appear after the dates.  All these puzzles were litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh and edited by Margaret Farrar.
  • 1/7 (A. H. Drummond, Jr.):  Weapon of the future. (ICBM)
  • 1/8:  Current Broadway play. (LOOK BACK IN ANGER)
  • 1/8:  Space pioneer. (LAIKA)
  • 1/8:  Modern material. (ORLON)
  • 1/10 (W. E. Jones):  Army missile headquarters. (REDSTONE ARSENAL)
  • 1/10:  German rocket expert, at 17 Across. [REDSTONE ARSENAL] (WERNHER VON BRAUN)
  • 1/11:  Recent Eisenhower appointee. (KILLIAN)
  • 1/11:  Inhabitant of a satellite. (MOON MAN)
  • 1/13 (Helen Delpar):  Recent James Thurber opus (with "The"). (WONDERFUL O)
  • 1/13:  Teenagers' idol. (PAT BOONE)
  • 1/20 (Madeline Corse):  Force of a rocket. (PROPULSION)
  • 1/20:  A kind of space. (OUTER)
  • 1/24 (Marcia Gladstone):  Famous octogenarian musician. (CASALS)
  • 1/24:  Follower of Schickelgruber. (NAZI)
  • 1/24:  Salutation by 47-Across. [NAZI] (HEIL)
  • 1/26 (Eugene T. Maleska):  Frisco fans in '58. (GIANT ROOTERS)
  • 1/26:  Fifty cents? (DOLLAR)
  • 1/26:  Sunday TV fare. (WIDE WIDE WORLD)
  • 2/7 (A. H. Drummond, Jr.):  Florida scene of scientific feats. (CAPE CANAVERAL)
  • 2/7:  Sidewinder or Bomarc. (GUIDED MISSILE)
  • 2/8:  One way to address a Boston celebrity. (SEN JOHN F KENNEDY)
  • 2/8:  Historic hurricane. (EDNA)
  • 2/12 (Evelyn E. Smith):  Zealous dieter. (STARVER)
  • 2/14:  Recent royal visitor to the U.S. (MOHAMMED V)
The most bizarre clue I've seen from early 1958, however, came from the April 8 puzzle by Herb L. Risteen, which was litzed by Ralph Bunker.  The clue:  Supposedly extinct bird, recently found in Bermuda.  The answer:  CAHOW.  This reference is so specific and obscure that it made me laugh out loud—clue/entry pairs like this one make running the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project so much fun!  I can't think of a better way to close off this post than with a picture of a cahow:

Image courtesy of Bermuda Conservation.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bernice Gordon Turns 101!

Today is crossword legend Bernice Gordon's birthday—she is 101!  Bernice has had an amazing life and career and has published even more puzzles in major markets since last year's post on her 100th birthday appeared.  She is also a wonderful person and friend.  Happy Birthday, Bernice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!