Thursday, November 26, 2015

Updates on Charles Erlenkotter, Betty Jorgensen, and William J. Yskamp

Project Update

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Today I'm especially thankful for all the people who've helped out with the project and delighted to present some fascinating new information that's come in recently about several pre-Shortzian constructors—read on!

Charles Erlenkotter

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Donald Erlenkotter, Professor Emeritus of Management at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management (and former fellow Stanford student—M.B.A., M.S., and Ph.D.!).  Charles Erlenkotter, whose February 15, 1942, puzzle was the first crossword ever published in The New York Times, was Don's great-uncle.  Don informed me that the information about Charles's wife contained a couple of errors:

They give her name as Wilhemina Weinachten, whereas it should be Wilhelmina Weinacht.  In almost all records, she used the shortened version Mina.  We haven't been able to track down her death date, but it was after Charles's in 1948 and before her sister Henrietta's in 1951.

Don also enclosed this September 28, 1948, obituary from the Times, along with his current writeup on Charles, which "documents his early history with the Hamburg-American Line at San Francisco (1910–11) and as Southwestern regional manager at St. Louis (1914–17)."

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

In a follow-up e-mail, Don told me that he'd had two other great-uncles in addition to Charles—Walter and Francis—and that none of them had had any children.  Don didn't remember ever meeting Charles, though he did meet Frank once in San Francisco in the mid-1960s.  He added:

From an on-line search, I have the same set of 8 puzzles you have from the NYT.  I searched some other newspapers and turned up a dozen of his puzzles in The Washington Post.  The earliest was on 26 November 1939, and is titled "Meeting Place of the Puzzle Makers."  The last was on 9 October 1944.  Some are captioned "Daily Crossword Puzzle."

There are a number of entries for him on under passenger lists.  I included one in my writeup since it had dates of birth for him and his wife.  There's another for the two of them in 1911 for their arrival from Bermuda - undoubtedly on their honeymoon.

There's also an entry for him in Biography Index for 1949 - probably referencing the NYT obit.

In a subsequent e-mail, Don sent me a notice of Louise Erlenkotter's estate, as published in the January 24, 1937, New York Times:

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

Don noted:

Unfortunately, I don't know of any photographs of Charles Erlenkotter.  Documents are scarce in my family - my grandfather, Herman Erlenkotter, was a West Point graduate and artillery officer, so the family moved frequently and didn't spend much time in NJ or NY.  He died in 1933, and the only photos I have from the family are from about 1912 into the 1920s, mostly of the children.

Don mentioned, though, that while searching for more crossword information on Charles, he'd found more of his puzzles in other papers:  34 Sunday puzzles in the Springfield Republican (Springfield, Mass.) from 1934 to 1945; 4 puzzles in the Pittsburgh Daily Post (9/21/24, 6/11/25, 7/11/25, 11/7/28); 1 in the Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.; 11/5/24); 1 puzzle printed twice in The Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.; 10/19/28 and 10/21/28); 7 puzzles in The Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.; 7/3/32, 12/4/32, 2/19/33, 8/6/33, 1/6/35, 3/24/35, 10/8/35) under the heading "Meeting Place of the Puzzle Makers," as also seen in The Washington Post; and 1 posthumous puzzle published on 7/4/54 in both the Denton Record-Chronicle (Denton, Texas) and The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah).

The Billings puzzle was preceded by this comment:

We haven't seen any puzzles by Mr. Erlenkotter, our Canadian contributor, on this page for some time.  Whenever we do, though, we feel quite pleased about it, because we know that here we have a puzzle that conforms beautifully to all rules of puzzle construction - with some original additions of Mr. Erlenkotter's own.

Have you ever noticed that these diagonally bi-symmetrical puzzles almost invariably have diagonal staircases running from the lower left-hand corner to the upper right?  There must be some strange reason for it, because there's certainly no reason why the diagonals shouldn't run downward and to the right.  Have you any theories on the subject?

Don noted that the posthumous puzzle was copyrighted by Simon & Schuster and wondered whether Simon & Schuster might still have any files on Charles.  He also wondered how puzzles were sold to newspapers:  "It looks like the contributors probably dealt with newspapers individually—there's no indication that puzzles were syndicated like comic strips, or that newspapers copyrighted them."

While researching Charles's puzzles, Don began thinking about how Charles's puzzle was chosen to be the first in the Times and came up with this very interesting theory:

Here's a crossword puzzle "mystery":  why, and how, was a puzzle by Charles Erlenkotter chosen as the first to appear inThe New York Times?  As far as I can determine, there was no advance notice in the paper that puzzles were about to appear.  They just showed up on 2/15/1942 on p. 36 of the NYT Magazine.

The Times seems to have been in something of a state of disarray about this.  It appears that they were revamping the Magazine in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into WWII.  On 2/21/1942, p. 8, they describe its coming features, and below the heading "If We Want to Win This War" they include a list of features "Fashions - Food - Home Decoration - Child Care - Crossword Puzzles" followed by the announcement "Sunday in The New York Times Magazine."

The next day, p. 26, the contents IN TODAY of The New York Times Magazine conclude with "and a brand new Crossword Puzzle Page."  No mention is made of the one the previous week.

Three days later, on 2/25/1942, p. 40, we have:

So, after missing the ball originally, the NYT was trying here to make up the lost ground.

Now, back to the Charles Erlenkotter puzzle.  Certainly the 2/15/1942 puzzle wasn't submitted in response to any call for puzzles in the NYT since there wasn't any before this date.  Surely the key here is Margaret Farrar.  I doubt that she could have used any puzzles she may have already had on hand since there would be a conflict of interest with her other employers for whom she had obtained the puzzles - Simon & Schuster, etc.  Most likely she contacted some of the puzzle constructors she knew and solicited puzzles from them specifically for the NYT.  I would bet that she knew, or knew of, Charles.  They had both been active in producing puzzles since the mid-1920s.  When Charles returned to the U.S. from Canada at the outset of WWII, it's highly plausible that he would have contacted her since she was highly visible through the Simon & Schuster puzzle books, etc.  He then could have sent her this new puzzle, and probably others as well.

Don's theory makes a lot of sense—if only we had more details on exactly what happened back then!  But at least we still have the puzzles and copies (if only digital now!) of the papers, which give us enough to make some very good guesses.

In my most recent e-mail from Don, he reported some new finds:

I've obtained some additional information for Charles from passenger arrivals and border crossings on  Have addresses for him in Irvington, NJ in 1926-1927, and in Montreal from 1928 through 1939.  He was living in the Bronx from 1942 until his death in 1948.  So far nothing on him from 1919 through 1926.

I ran across a 1943 puzzle book in the Library of Congress (not from Simon & Schuster) that lists Charles as a contributor.

Thanks so much again, Don, for all your help with this!  It not only fills in many of the gaps in what we know about Charles Erlenkotter but also brings that whole era back to life.

Betty Jorgensen

Moving on, in early October, Karen Richards of Eugene, Oregon, wrote to me about Betty Jorgensen.  Karen followed up on my October 4 update and contacted Laura Jorgensen, who works at the University of Oregon and might have been a granddaughter of Betty.  Unfortunately, although Laura's grandmother was indeed a Betty Jorgensen, she wasn't a puzzle maker.  Thanks so much anyway, Karen, for following up on this—at least we can cross that lead off our list!

William J. Yskamp

Finally, the morning of November 18 I received an e-mail from Amanda Yskamp, one of William J. Yskamp's daughters.  She had discovered the July 29, 2015, post and confirmed that we had indeed found the right person—William was her father, and he had passed away eight years ago on that very day.  Amanda noted, "He was a wonderful wordsmith, and would have been pleased to know that his legacy lives on."

Then, that evening, an e-mail arrived from Claire Yskamp, William's wife, who wrote:

Yes, that William J. Yskamp was a clever constructor of Sunday puzzles.  He stopped constructing, alas, after one of his puzzles was published erroneously by the Times under someone else's name.

I'm delighted to see that you found him and charmed to see his high school yearbook picture.

Claire also noted that the name of their oldest daughter is Lise (not Lis, as incorrectly listed in a 2003 obituary for Delia Yskamp).  In a subsequent e-mail, she wrote:

Although I met Mr. Maleska only once, at a dinner given him by New England constructors, I have many memories of his editing style.  For example, he labeled Bill's definition of Onan--"he cast his seed on the ground"--as "too seamy" for NYT solvers; and he changed it to "______ even keel."

The Times published a correction the week after the misattribution, but that didn't attach Bill's name to his puzzle. That was his last contribution to the Times.

Although Claire didn't remember when exactly that was, I checked XWord Info and dug through my records again, and the last puzzle William published in the Times was on August 4, 1985; although the puzzle itself was correct, the author and title were incorrectly listed as Bert Rosenfield and "Age 35: Aaugh!"  Bert Rosenfield's puzzle subsequently appeared eight weeks later on September 29.  If only Maleska had correctly printed the author and title of William's puzzle—who knows how many more William J. Yskamp puzzles might have appeared in the Times and been up on XWord Info today?  Thanks so much again, Claire and Amanda, for contacting me about William!

On that note, I'll sign off for now, especially since I smell the beginnings of Thanksgiving dinner!  Although I'll be busy for the next couple of weeks studying for finals, I hope to have another post up sometime in December for the holidays.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In Memoriam: Henry Hook, 1955–2015

Henry Hook, a crossword legend, passed away this week after a period of failing health.  This is the third memorial post I've written now about legendary pre-Shortzian constructors who have died this year—the first two were Bernice Gordon and Merl Reagle—and it doesn't get any easier.  According to my (still incomplete) records, Henry published 33 puzzles in The New York Times under Will Weng and Eugene T. Maleska and 25 in the Shortz era.  His puzzles were unusually well filled for their time and always had something out of the ordinary about them.  I won't say much more other than that it was a thrill for me to finally meet Henry at the 2014 ACPT.  We didn't say a lot to each other, but that didn't matter.  My parents wanted to take a picture of us together, but I'd heard that Henry didn't like posing for photos, so they didn't.  Later, though, they took this candid shot so I could remember meeting him that day.  I always will—rest in peace, Henry.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Updated List of Missing Puzzles, Plus an Olio of Todd Gross Pre-Shortzian Constructor Research

Project Update

After sorting through the pre-Shortzian constructor names and posting the remaining PS Notes on XWord Info recently, I went through my records and put together an updated list of the missing puzzles, whose 143 dates are listed below.  A few other dates not included below were problematic, and some puzzles (such as, but not restricted to, 10/11–10/18/65) have PDFs in ProQuest, but the PDFs aren't of the puzzles that should have run—they show repeats of puzzles that appeared earlier.

If anyone wants to help search for these puzzles, be sure to read the previous posts about the missing puzzles first.  I still think the only places we might find them at this point is in old books of the daily Times crosswords (best bet) or in the Times's International or Los Angeles editions, both of which published the puzzles concurrently.  Unfortunately, now that "everything" has been put on ProQuest, locating actual copies of these old editions, even in microfilm form, may not be possible through traditional channels.  It's always possible, though, that someone somewhere kept copies of all the old International or Los Angeles papers, though after all these years their condition probably wouldn't be good.

1953 (9):  11/30, 12/1–12/8
1958 (17):  12/12–12/28
1962 (4):  12/15, 12/16, 12/23, 12/30
1963 (13):  1/6, 1/13, 1/20, 1/27, 2/3, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24, 3/3, 3/10, 3/17, 3/24, 3/31
1965 (13):  9/18, 9/25, 9/26, 10/2, 10/3, 10/10, 10/11, 10/13, 10/14–10/18
1978 (87):  8/10–8/12, 8/14–11/5

Olio of Todd Gross Pre-Shortzian Constructor Research

Litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross recently sent me the results of some more of his research on pre-Shortzian constructors—here's an olio of those findings, with constructors listed alphabetically in the order of their last names.  (Puzzle totals listed may be less than the actual puzzle totals, since many puzzles lacked bylines.)

Emory Cain

Todd discovered this obituary of Emory Cain, who began his lifelong newspaper career at age 12 and published 10 puzzles in the Maleska era.

William Canine

Todd also found a puzzle published in The Lethbridge Herald [Alberta, Canada] in September 1941 by a William Canine.  The puzzle appeared 40 years before "the" William Canine's first New York Times puzzle, which was published on October 16, 1981, so whether or not this is the same person is unclear, though it seems likely.  William Canine published 65 puzzles in the Maleska era and 2 during Will Shortz's editorship.

Part of 1941 puzzle by William Canine.

Walter Covell

Photo courtesy of Conservatory Craftsmen.

Todd also discovered this obituary for Walter Covell, an entertainer who published 33 puzzles in the Maleska era and 1 in the Shortz era.  Googling a bit, I discovered that Walter also has a brief bio on IMDb, which mentions his 1985 Clue VCR Mystery Game credit (as Colonel Mustard).

Chester (Chet) Currier

Photo courtesy of

Todd found quite a bit on Chester (Chet) Currier, who published 12 puzzles in the Weng and Maleska eras and 6 in the Shortz era.  Here's an excerpt from Todd's e-mail about Chet:

He worked for the Associated Press, and while he did compose many crossword puzzles for them, his main beat was business.  In fact, he worked for Bloomberg after the AP.  Though a native New Yorker, Chet moved . . . [to] Manhattan Beach [California] in 2005 . . . but, alas, didn't get to live there long, having passed away in 2007. . . . Chet wrote crosswords for the AP as well as business articles.  At least once, he wrote an AP article about crosswords. . . .

Here's that article, which appeared in the March 5, 1979, Schenectady Gazette and is about that year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament:

Image courtesy of Google news.

Todd also directed me to Chet's Wikipedia page, as well as to an obituary of him in the American History of Business Journalism, at

Betty Jorgensen

Although he wasn't sure he'd found the correct person, Todd told me about some research he'd done on Betty Jorgensen, who published 69 puzzles in the Maleska era (and under Mel Taub), as well as 8 in the Shortz era.  Here's Todd's report:

An S&S puzzle of hers mentions Oregon, so I used that to try and find her. . . . Well, I found a Betty Jorgensen in Portland, born in 1919 and passed away 2008.  I was able to find her obituary on the Oregonian web site. . . . Alas, the obit made no mention of crosswords, which is odd considering how many she published.  So I can't be sure I have the right person.  I've found other Betty Jorgensens, but they aren't in Oregon and don't seem to be good candidates.  I have found out a fair amount about this Betty Jorgensen . . . but, again, nothing tying her to crosswords.  But she wrote poetry, which seems fitting.

Hopefully we'll be able to identify Betty definitively at some point in the future.

Bob Lubbers

Photo courtesy of Wikia.

Following up on his research on Louise Earnest, Todd discovered some information about Bob Lubbers (who, he noted, is likely the second-oldest living New York Times constructor after Louise).  Bob, a cartoonist, published 1 puzzle under Weng and 4 in the Shortz era.  Todd found this article that, despite the byline at the top, appears to be by Bob Lubbers.  Following up on Todd's lead, I discovered that Bob has his own very extensive Wikipedia page that mentions his crossword activities!  It's a fascinating overview of Bob's creative activities and also links to the National Cartoonists Society Web site, where I found this "bio" in the Members Directory:

Image courtesy of the National Cartoonists Society.

Marjorie (Lamont) Pedersen

Photo courtesy of Medford High School.

Todd also discovered an obituary of Marjorie Pedersen, who published 12 puzzles in the Weng and Maleska eras, as well as a long document about her from the archives of Tufts University, from which she received her B.A. and where she was chairman of the Department of Shorthand and Typewriting.  Here's something that appeared toward the end of the document:

Originally published at Tufts University.

Todd wrote:

I'd never heard of this, so I asked Will about it.  He hadn't heard of it either (though he pointed out such an event wouldn't have been the first ever such meeting, he'd arrange something similar in Fairfield Co., CT in 1977).

He also found more information on someone he thinks was her:

I found a few pictures of a Marjorie Lamont, all of whom look like the same person.  But one is a high school picture from 1939, when she would have [been] 21.  So I'm enclosing a picture from a different (but not far away) high school, when she would have been 17 (almost 18).

I'm pretty sure she was born Marjorie Louise Lamont on 8 Jun 1917 somewhere in the Boston area.  In the 1940 Census she was living with her parents in Medford, MA working as a teacher in a secretarial school.

Here's what appeared next to her photo in the Medford High School 1935 yearbook:

Image courtesy of Medford High School.

Joy L. Wouk

Finally, Todd discovered that a special edition of Random House's Sunday crossword series (volume 25) mentioned that Joy was the "sister of noted novelist Herman Wouk."  Apparently, though, she was actually Herman's sister-in-law—her husband, Victor, was Herman's brother.  Joy, who published 124 puzzles in the Maleska era (and under Mel Taub) and 9 in the Shortz era, passed away in 2008, as documented in this brief Times obituary.

Thanks so much again, Todd, for all your great research and leads!  It's especially nice, too, to finally have photos of some of these constructors!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Prolific Pre-Shortzian Constructor Louise Earnest Turns 100—and 49 More Puzzles Are Identified!

Near the beginning of August, I received an e-mail from litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross, who'd been contacted by Andy and Harriet Earnest, the children of pre-Shortzian constructor Louise Earnest.  Louise published 79 puzzles under the editorships of Margaret Farrar, Will Weng, and Eugene T. Maleska and was approaching her 100th birthday, which is today!  Happy Birthday, Louise!  Louise kept excellent records of her puzzles (and correspondence with puzzle editors), and with Andy's help, I was able to identify 49 more puzzles, previously listed in my records and on XWord Info as having been constructed by "Unknown," that were actually constructed by Louise!  This was truly a bonanza—thanks so much again, Andy, for your help in compiling the list of Louise's works, complete with their 1-Across and 1-Down entries and actual or approximate publication dates!  And thanks again, Todd, for putting me in touch with Andy!  My hope is that there will be other similar "finds" in the future, though perhaps none quite as major as this one!  To see all of Louise's New York Times puzzles on XWord Info, click here.

I hope to have more on Louise in a future post, but in the meantime, please enjoy the following, courtesy of her family.  The photo was taken during a period when Louise was actively constructing puzzles and originally appeared in The Bantam Great Masters Winning Crossword Puzzles, which was published in 1980.

Cruciverbalist Louise S. Earnest Celebrates her 100th Birthday,
September 16, 2015!


The Earnest Family

Louise published her first crossword puzzle in The New York Times on July 16, 1957.  More than 25 years and countless puzzles later, she still “enjoyed the thrill of putting in that final letter.”

Through the years, Louise worked with three editors of the New York Times puzzles:  Margaret Farrar, Will Weng, and Eugene T. Maleska.  Her favorite remains Margaret Farrar, whom she credits with encouraging her to continue constructing puzzles.  Margaret’s handwritten kind words were “all [she] needed to keep going.”  A note from Maleska in 1979 said, “Hereafter, I suggest you place the extra stamp inside the return envelope.  If you continue to send me such fine puzzles, you won’t need a 30 cent reply.”  Clearly Mrs. Farrar was not the only editor who appreciated Louise's puzzles. 

In addition to publishing in The New York Times, Louise was a regular contributor to crossword puzzle book series, including those published by Bantam House, Pocket Books, and Simon & Schuster and edited by Farrar, Weng, and Maleska.  In 1980, she was awarded one Fourth Place prize and two Fifth Place prizes in Bantam’s Great Masters Crossword Puzzle Hunt, edited by Will Shortz.  Her puzzles have appeared in more than 40 books, many of which contain several of her creations. 

Born in Dover, Pa., in 1915, Louise lived most of her life in the same small town.  She married William H. Earnest, a CPA, in 1941, and her family includes a daughter, Harriet Earnest, a CPA in Warwick, N.Y.; and a son, Andrew Earnest (Janet), a retired Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  Finding herself a housewife raising two children, puzzles became a mental sanctuary for Louise.  Her puzzle board (along with a large eraser!) was never far away when she was washing dishes or ironing shirts.  An inspiration would strike, and more blocks on the grid would be filled in.  Constructing the puzzles was the challenge; “writing the clues was easy.”

When asked what gave her the idea to create a crossword puzzle, Louise replied, “The puzzles of the day were so easy, I figured I could do better.”  Explaining her focus on word agility, Louise said, “With two CPAs  and a mathematician in the family, figures were being well taken care of, so I felt words should be given a chance—hence crossword constructing for me.”  Rest assured, family and friends knew better than to expect to win a game of Scrabble from Louise!

In a generation when few women attended college, Louise earned a B.A. in Romance Languages from George Washington University.  She is the recipient of an award from the Republic of France for excellence in French studies.  Louise thoroughly enjoyed her time in Washington, D.C., and took full advantage of all that the city had to offer.  Her first years of marriage found her in Philadelphia, but city life gave way to home town living back in Dover in order to raise her family. 

Louise’s passions include several other areas.  An accomplished painter in oils, her last one-woman show was held at the Lycian Center in Sugar Loaf, N.Y., in 2005 to celebrate her 90th birthday.  Louise began a life-long love affair with traditional jazz as a teenager.  She and Bill spent a lot of time listening to records from their collection of several thousand—many old 78s from the 20s and 30s—and traveled far and wide to search out good live jazz.  For more than 20 years she coordinated a coed “Great Books” discussion group.  Flea markets were always an adventure to seek out an antique doll to add to her collection.  Bill and Louise were also community activists, joining with other parents to ensure that Dover-area schools were accredited.

Her idea of fun?  A trip to New York.  “I really feel deprived if I don’t have several trips a year to check out the museums, shows, and galleries.”  Special travel through the years included a trip to France shared with her daughter to celebrate her 70th birthday, and trips to Sanibel Island, Florida, where she liked to “vacation whenever possible . . . for complete relaxation.”

A cherished puzzle memory was the invitation to attend a luncheon held at the Tower Suite of the Time & Life Building in 1974 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Margaret Farrar’s work as editor of crossword puzzle books for Simon & Schuster.  It was a wonderful opportunity to travel to New York and to meet the lovely person with whom she had corresponded for so many years.  A line from a personal note from Margaret is one of Louise’s favorites to quote:  “Thank you for all the delicious puzzles.”  

Louise now resides in Warwick, N.Y., with her daughter, Harriet.