Friday, April 18, 2014

One-Puzzle Litzing Challenge, Only 6 Packets Left, Over 15,800, Done with 1943, In 1942 (the Final Year!), Fireball Fortnightly News Crosswords, and Funny Typos

The One-Puzzle Litzing Challenge has gotten off to a great start, thanks to Jim Horne of XWord Info, who was the first to respond and who then wrote about his experience on Cruciverb-l!  Others who have accepted the challenge or inquired about it include Michael Blake, Jeff Chen, Emily Cox, Jon Delfin, Patrick Merrell, Cory Oldweiler, Spencer Pasero, Henry Rathvon, Andrew Reynolds, Mel Rosen, Stephanie Spadaccini, Finn Vigeland, Larry Wasser, and Bryan Young—thanks so much, everybody!  If you own Crossword Compiler, Crossdown, or CrossFire and would like to litz a puzzle before we're through with the last six packets, e-mail me and I'll send you everything you need.  Depending on your typing speed, litzing one 23 x 23 Sunday puzzle takes approximately 20 minutes, and there's no rush, since the puzzles are from 1942 and we're currently proofreading puzzles from 1976!  If you didn't see Jim's clever quote (slightly modified!) from Henry V, here it is:
We few, we happy few, we band of litzers;
For he to-day that digitizes with me
Shall be a litzer; be he ne'er so vile,
This task shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in U. S. now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That worked with us upon PSPP.
It's been another busy week on the litzing front, starting off with 7 puzzles from Tom Pepper on Saturday morning and 1 from new litzer Jim Horne.  Sunday morning, Jim sent 3 more, and Todd Gross sent 10 proofread puzzles.  Monday evening, Jim sent 6 more puzzles, and then Tuesday afternoon, Susan O'Brien sent 4 more.  Wednesday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 4, which were followed by 8 from Barry Haldiman and 1 each from new litzers Michael Blake, Patrick Merrell, and Kristena Bergen.  That afternoon, Ralph Bunker sent in a whopping 28 puzzles, putting us over 15,800 on the litzing thermometer, and then Denny Baker sent 4 more!  Thursday morning, Denny sent another 4, putting his total at more than 900 litzed puzzles—congratulations, Denny!  A short while later, new litzer Larry Wasser sent in 1 puzzle.  Friday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent 2 puzzles, which were followed by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd that afternoon.  We're now at 15,822 on the litzing thermometer—awesome job, everyone, and thanks so much again!

We whizzed through 1943 and are now in 1942—the final year of pre-Shortzian puzzles! One of the most noteworthy events of 1943 was Britain's development of Colossus Mark 1 to break German encryption.  According to Wikipedia, Colossus Mark 1 was the first electronic digital computer that was programmable.  Here's a picture of an improved version of the Colossus Mark 1 (not surprisingly, the Colossus Mark 2!):

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

And although many historical and cultural events occurred in 1942, none was more important—at least to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project—than the publication of the first crossword puzzle in The New York Times on February 15, 1942!  This 23 x 23 puzzle, "Headlines and Footnotes," was constructed by Charles Erlenkotter.  Below is a picture of its filled-in grid; the blank grid appears on the sides of this Web site and on the original Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project T-shirt!


As I've mentioned previously, the puzzles from the 1940s contained a great deal of news and are particularly interesting from a historical standpoint.  And in 2014, we may actually have a parallel to these puzzles:  Peter Gordon's Fireball Fortnightly News Crosswords!  Some of you may have tried his previous Fireball Newsweekly Crosswords; these Fortnightly News Crosswords will be in the same vein but appear once every two weeks.  Peter is running another Kickstarter campaign to fund this endeavor, with a $1 minimum pledge or $6 minimum to receive the crosswords.  I'm looking forward to more of these "topical" (as Farrar would say) puzzles!  If you'd like to help back Peter's project too, click here.

I decided to choose a crossword from 1976, the year that's currently being proofread, for this week's featured puzzle.  "Free Thinking" was published on July 4, 1976; constructed by Anne Fox; edited by Will Weng; litzed by Barry Haldiman or one of his former team of litzers; and recently proofread by Todd Gross.  At 27 x 27, this gargantuan construction is the largest square crossword ever published by The New York Times!  The puzzle appeared on the bicentennial of the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified, and it's jam-packed with symmetrically interlocking patriotic theme entries.  The puzzle was printed with an inspirational Ben Franklin quote, "Games lubricate the body and the mind.," underneath the title, a feature I've never seen before in any other crossword!  The theme entries themselves are snippets from famous American quotes and folklore, and all but two of them are more than 20 letters long.  Getting seven such lengthy across theme entries (along with THEE I SING and LEXINGTON, to boot!) would have made for a perfectly good pre-Shortzian puzzle, but Anne Fox must not have been satisfied:  She symmetrically arranged her theme entries so they would cross the 25-letter reveal THIS DAY TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO.  Once again, Anne Fox's mastery of interlock and grid design without the assistance of computer software blows me away!

The one theme entry that feels a bit unnatural is HUNDRED PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE (clued as "Sixteen ___"), which, in addition to not being able to stand on its own as well as the others, is typically represented numerically (as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue rather than Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania Avenue).  Nevertheless, this puzzle's theme and grid really sparkle in my book!  The nonthematic fill also has an unusually high number of fun, colloquial entries, including YOO-HOO, OH YEAH, HOT WATER, GOOD GRAVY, TINKLY, CHARLES I, HOUND DOG, HIDE-OUT, CEASE FIRE, and GLOW WORM.  I like how CEASE FIRE can be thought of as a quasi-theme entry, and I immediately thought of the Pilgrims, who arrived in America nearly two centuries before the Declaration of Independence, when I saw the entry GOOD GRAVY!  The puzzle does have its share of less-common and/or forced DUDS (98-Across), such as MAMO (clued as "Hawaiian bird."), ADAI ("Louisiana Indian"), TAC TOE ("Tic ___"), TEAGUE ("Texas city"), ETAH ("Greenland base"), PHARO ("___ fig [sycamore of Egypt]"), ZORIL ("African skunk"—a real stinker!), and ANIMI ("Resin: Var."), but they're few and far between and don't really jump out at me.  So in all, the fun, fresh entries far outweigh the less desirable ones in this puzzle.  As for the clues, most are pretty standard, though quite a few have a twisty Weng-esque feel to them that makes the puzzle seem significantly less fusty.  My favorites are "No thing for three" for MATCH, "Chess crisis" for MATE, "Old school item" for TIE, and "Egyptian under wraps" for MUMMY.

It was a pleasure coming across another lovely Anne Fox construction, and I look forward to seeing how awesome this 27 x 27 puzzle will eventually look on XWord Info!  For now, here's the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries):


On the subject of proofreading, here are 10 more funny typos from the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project's growing collection:
  • Entry:  ANTIC
    • Right:  Prank
    • Wrong:  Plank
  • Entry:  CAFE
    • Right:  One kind of society
    • Wrong:  One king of society
  • Entry:  EFE
    • Right:  Letter F, in Spain
    • Wrong:  Letter F, in Spam
  • Entry:  ELIOT
    • Right:  Author of "Four Quartets"
    • Wrong:  Author of "Four Quarters"
  • Entry:  FIB
    • Right:  Little lie
    • Wrong:  Little he
  • Entry:  GREER
    • Right:  Feminist Germaine
    • Wrong:  Feminist Germane
  • Entry:  JOT
    • Right:  Write briefly
    • Wrong:  Wine briefly
  • Entry:  LOTI
    • Right:  Viaud's pen name
    • Wrong:  Viaud's pen
  • Entry:  RAVE
    • Right:  Rapturous praise
    • Wrong:  Rapturous bird
  • Entry:  RILEY
    • Right:  Hoosier poet
    • Wrong:  Hoosier port
My favorite of these typos is the one for RAVE, since I can tell that the litzer thought he or she was transcribing a clue for RAVEN!  Quoth the David "Nevermore"!

Raven image courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Friday, April 11, 2014

1977 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, New XWord Info Feature, Todd Gross's Research, Barry Haldiman's Find, Inquiry from a Solver, and the One-Puzzle Litzing Challenge!

It's been another busy week, starting off with 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd Gross on Saturday morning.  Early Sunday, new digitizer Roy Leban sent in 1 puzzle, which was followed by 2 from Lynn Feigenbaum that afternoon and 1 more from Roy that night.  Monday evening, Peter Broda sent in 1 puzzle.  Early Tuesday morning, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Barry Haldiman sent in 8 litzed puzzles, which were followed by 4 from Susan O'Brien that afternoon.  Early Thursday morning, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, then that afternoon, Lynn sent 2 more litzed puzzles, and Susan sent another 6.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 8 puzzles.  So we're now at 15,747 on the litzing thermometer—thanks so much again, everyone!

Great news:  We've finally finished proofreading the 1977 puzzles, and Jim Horne has now posted them on XWord Info, where they can be viewed, solved, and analyzed.  This year contains the first two months of Will Weng–edited puzzles, so enjoy!  Thanks, Jim!  

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Jim, who announced that he'd created a new feature that allows you to search for keywords in clues as well as entries!  This very useful feature recently allowed Will Shortz to quickly locate all crosswords with word ladder themes (by searching for "word ladder" in puzzle clues) to help a friend with a book.  Jim suggested that I do a similar clue search for "Stepquote," which turned up a surprising number of pre-Shortzian Stepquotes that weren't constructed by Eugene T. Maleska and, even more significant, that were confined to daily puzzle grids!  The clue search also makes researching how current events played into New York Times crosswords much easier.  I did a clue search for "U.S.S.R." and was able to see how crosswords reflected developments in and changing attitudes about the Cold War, which was truly fascinating!  I can't wait to explore the clue search in more detail—thanks so much again for creating it, Jim!

In other news, litzer and proofreader Todd Gross recently uncovered some very interesting articles. He found three on pre-Shortzian constructor James A. Brussel, who, in addition to being a crossword constructor, was also a psychiatrist and a criminologist who helped track down the Mad Bomber!  Todd also found two articles on Jordan S. Lasher, one of which erroneously listed him as Joseph Lasher!  On top of all this, Todd came across a fascinating early article on late crossword puzzle editor and ACPT judge Doug Heller.  Great finds, Todd!  Links to the articles about James A. Brussel and Jordan Lasher can be found on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors page.

This week I also received an e-mail from Barry Haldiman, who noticed that several of the 1940s puzzles he'd litzed disguised a "headline" in the top row!  Here are two he pointed out, along with the clues for each word in the headline.  Both puzzles were constructed by the legendary Jack Luzzatto:
  • February 4, 1945
    • BOMBING
      • "War of attrition."
    • ATTACK
      • "Onset."
    • GROWING
      • "Expanding."
  • March 4, 1945
    • NAZIDOM
      • "Hitler's world."
    • FINALLY
      • "At long last."
    • DOOMED
      • "Is kaput."
Barry also observed that the March 4 puzzle contained the clue "Hitler's next title." for HERR and said he found it odd that Margaret Farrar hadn't steered the puzzles to be a diversion from the war news.  Even with the rampant war references, though, I can see how the puzzles would have been considered diversions—it's hard to think much about the war when many clues obligate you to pore through hefty tomes to get the name of one of the Azores Islands or of an obscure arrow poison!

A couple of days ago Jeff Chen of XWord Info forwarded an e-mail he had received from a solver who had been trying to find a couple of puzzles on XWord Info, one by Frances Hansen and the other by Maura B. Jacobson.  The solver's 200-puzzle omnibus of Maleska-edited puzzles indicated that these puzzles had all originally run between 1979 and 1985, yet he couldn't find them on XWord Info.  I was able to search through my data and find the exact dates for both puzzles, which had actually first appeared in 1976—the year we are currently proofreading.  The solver also wondered why some of the puzzles in his book had different titles than the ones on XWord Info.  I explained to him that puzzle titles, clues, and even grids were often changed in the versions that were reprinted in books and that, where possible, the litzed puzzles on XWord Info reproduced whatever was in the original puzzles, not in reprinted versions later on.  It was gratifying to be able to find the Hansen and Jacobson puzzles quickly for this solver and was yet another instance of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project being able to serve as a resource for the community at large.

On Saturday while I was at the Latin convention, I received an e-mail from Roy Leban of Puzzazz.  Roy is very busy but wanted to digitize at least one puzzle before we were through.  I took one puzzle out of a packet and sent it to him, along with instructions.  Even though one puzzle may not seem like much (especially, as Roy noted, when compared to Mark Diehl's litzing achievement!), it still helps a lot.  Welcome, Roy!

I got to thinking that other people in the crossword community who've been too busy to litz might be interested in trying one puzzle too before we're all done, so I'm officially launching the One-Puzzle Litzing Challenge!  If you'd like to digitize one puzzle to see what it's like and help along the project, just let me know.  If you end up liking it, you can always ask for more puzzles, but if one is enough, that's fine too!

Today's featured pre-Shortzian puzzle was published on March 3, 1964; constructed by Diana Sessions; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Tracy Bennett.  This impressive construction features a five-part Space Age theme in a 70-word grid!  The theme consists of five asymmetrically arranged entries containing a planet (or what was considered a planet at the time this puzzle was published), most of which are clued in a way that doesn't relate to the planet in question.  Thus, this puzzle's constructor largely passed on entries that would directly reference the planets (such as SATURN'S RINGS and NEPTUNE'S MOON) in favor of ones that would more subtly reference them (such as SATURNINELY and NEPTUNE'S CUP).  My favorite theme entry is EARTH MAN, which was clued as "Future moon visitor."  Talk about an optimistic outlook!  What really makes this puzzle stand out, however, is the cleanliness of the nonthematic fill, given the open grid and constraints imposed by the theme.  I particularly like the entries PRANCES, NEPHEW, MOSCOW, SPEAK UP, PRALINE, YOSEMITE, and PUPPET—that's a lot of fun fill!  UNITO (clued as "Joined: It."), UNIOS ("Fresh-water mussels."), and MUR ("Wall: Fr.") are the only real trade-offs, making this pre-Shortzian puzzle very successful in my books!  I look forward to seeing what other masterpieces Diana Sessions has in store as I continue to review packets sent in by litzers.  I've already seen a few Sundays by her that have amazingly open centers and unusually clean fill, such as this one from 1983!  For now, here's the solution to this week's featured puzzle:


Friday, April 4, 2014

Over 15,700, In 1944, New Litzer of the Month Tom Pepper, and a Longtime Mystery Solved

This week's post is going to be shorter than usual since I'm going to be at a Latin convention over the weekend, which would make Maleska proud!  Although I probably won't have a chance to work on many crosswords, I'll be busy competing in a Jeopardy-like game called certamen and puzzling through Latin grammar and derivatives tests.  And, of course, there will be a banquet and party at the end of the convention . . . perhaps I'll hear someone use the pre-Shortzian crosswordese EVOE, even though it's more of Greek exclamation than a Latin one.  (Okay, full disclosure:  That someone would probably be me, and I highly doubt that my knowledge of fusty crosswordese would endear me to the STOLA-clad ladies!)  Anyway, on to less Juvenal (pun intended) matters.

It's been a very busy week on the litzing front!  Friday afternoon, Susan O'Brien sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 10 proofread puzzles Saturday evening from Todd Gross.  Early Sunday morning, Brad Wilber sent in 7 litzed puzzles; that afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 4 more, which were followed by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd and then 31 more proofread puzzles from Tracy Bennett that evening!  Early Monday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 24 Sunday puzzles, then just a few minutes later, Barry Haldiman sent in 14 more puzzles.  Later that morning, Todd sent 11 more proofread puzzles, which were followed that evening by 4 litzed puzzles from Mike Buckley, who put us at 15,700 on the litzing thermometer and into 1944!  Tuesday afternoon, Susan sent 4 more puzzles, which were followed eight minutes later by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd.  Wednesday morning, Todd sent another 10 proofread puzzles, then another 8 puzzles that night, and another 10 Thursday afternoon—way to go, Todd!  Then Thursday night Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 2 puzzles, which were followed by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd Friday morning.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 8 puzzles too.  We're now at 15,714 on the litzing thermometer—thanks so much again, everyone!

As I mentioned, we're now in also 1944, which was the year the first widely used sunscreen appeared!  According to Wikipedia, the product was developed by airman (and later pharmacist) Benjamin Green for soldiers and called Red Vet Pet (for red veterinary petrolatum—no wonder the name got shortened!).  Later, Coppertone acquired the patent and sales soared.  Here's a picture of the original Coppertone girl ad:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

This week I'm also delighted to announce the April Litzer of the Month:  Tom Pepper!  Tom has litzed more than 100 puzzles and is a New York Times constructor and avid Boggle player—to read more about him, click on the Litzer of the Month tab above or here.

I'd like to conclude this post with an inspiring story about how the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project has been able to help the community at large.  Last Saturday I received an e-mail from Elizabeth Sharf, whose great aunt Edna Dampman passed away on January 30, 1977, at the age of 98—after, among other things, solving a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  Elizabeth was interested in seeing the January 30, 1977, crossword, because she was writing Edna's life story and preparing it for her mother, who is now 91 and was an avid crossword solver until her eyes failed.  Elizabeth wondered whether there was a Sunday puzzle that day and hoped to be able to solve the longtime mystery of which puzzle her great aunt had been working on.  The January 30, 1977, puzzle just happened to be the brilliant puzzle by Dorothea E. Shipp I posted on Scribd some time ago.  This crossword is unlike anything I've ever seen before in a pre-Shortzian puzzle and certainly must have been an inspiring conclusion to many years of solving the Times Sunday puzzle.  In any case, Elizabeth was very happy to receive the puzzle, and I was pleased to be able to help her commemorate her great aunt, particularly since her first name (Edna) is very crossword-friendly!  Here's a picture of EDNA Ferber, whose name has shown up in many a puzzle:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.