Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another Contest Update, a New Litzing Record, and More Publicity

There are only three more days until the October litzing contest comes to a close!  Since the last update on Thursday, litzers have converted many more puzzles—there has been such a rapid influx this week that we passed both the 5,000 and the 5,100 marks and are only a few packets away from 1979!

Now for the current contest totals:  Mark Diehl has litzed 247 puzzles; Jeffrey Krasnick, 121; and Bob Jones, 81.  Mark Diehl has now litzed so many puzzles that he's passed Barry Haldiman and his former team of litzers in the litzer totals!  With a total of 1,266 puzzles, Mark is now officially the King of Litzing!  Congratulations, Mark, and thanks for all your amazing work!  Thanks, too, to everyone else—every litzed puzzle gets us closer to our goal, and we're always looking for more litzers.  Even if you only have time to litz one week—or just part of a week—we want to hear from you, because that will really help!

In other news,  New York Times Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen recently used the XWord Info database with the pre-Shortzian puzzles to track the history of the entry TOSSPOT in New York Times puzzles.  She found that TOSSPOT had been used more frequently in pre-Shortzian puzzles than in Shortz-era puzzles!  I'm amazed that Maleska puzzles used this entry so much more frequently, especially since TOSSPOT is more risqué than what Maleska traditionally allowed in puzzles.  Then again, I've come across a surprising number of edgy, even potentially offensive, entries in Maleska puzzles, such as SLUT (used in at least three puzzles), the pun SEX CYMBAL, and ECDYSIAST.  Maleska was known for being on the more traditional/old-fashioned and literary side—he was very averse to brand names and even went so far as to reject one puzzle solely because he didn't feel that CAR SEAT was in the language!  So I find it very interesting that Maleska allowed these edgy entries.

Before I get to the puzzle of the day, here are a few more news items and updates:
  • Litzer Jeffrey Harris has generously agreed to type up all of the index and Rolodex cards containing the full names of pre-Shortzian constructors.  These cards belonged to Eugene T. Maleska and Will Weng and were passed on to Will Shortz.  The cards will be extremely helpful in deciding on spellings of certain constructors' names and in determining the first names for constructors for whom we only have last names.  Thanks so much, Jeffrey and Will!
  • I posted a new feature that allows readers to subscribe to this blog's posts, comments, or both.  The gadget is just below the litzing thermometer and Litzer of the Month announcement, so if you'd like to subscribe, just click on it.
  • Last week's poll malfunctioned because of a widespread problem with Blogger's poll gadget—for some reason, all the votes were erased.  Luckily, though, I checked the poll frequently and so had a pretty clear idea as to what the results were.  The last time I checked, three respondents didn't care whether the posts were short and more frequent or long and less frequent, and two preferred shorter, more frequent posts.
  • Since the poll gadget is buggy, I've removed it.  If you have a particular question related to this site and/or to pre-Shortzian puzzles that you'd like me to put in a poll, please comment or send me an e-mail with the question and answer choices and I'll consider using it after I find a more reliable poll gadget.
  • Some time ago, I mistakenly thought that Hume R. Craft might be a pseudonym.  Both Will Shortz and Hume's grandson informed me that Hume was indeed a real person—my apologies for any confusion this may have caused!
Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Jim Modney.  Jim Modney's style was sort of like that of George P. Sphicas—he tended to use wide-open grids with well-researched, interesting, and groundbreaking themes.  This puzzle, which was originally published on April 17, 1982, and which was recently litzed by Andrew Laurence, is certainly no exception.  The puzzle is very elegantly constructed—not only does it contain many more X's than average (7), but the blocks near the center of the puzzle also form an X shape, making it the only pre-Shortzian puzzle I've seen so far to use grid art!  Naturally, the fill is very Scrabbly—I especially like the entries FLEXING, SANDBOX, and SPHINX.  Interesting entries without X's include FLATTOP, TRAFFIC, and NABBING.  Overall, this is a very innovative and unusual pre-Shortzian puzzle!  The answer grid, with highlighted X's, can be seen below (for a more modern take on the X theme, be sure to check out this impressive Oliver Hill puzzle from 2007):

From now on, I plan on alternating between a clue of the day and an entry of the day.  Since last week's post contained a clue of the day, this week's contains an interesting entry:  MEPHISTOPHELIAN.  MEPHISTOPHELIAN originally appeared in the July 11, 1984, puzzle by William Jarvis, which was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  According to the Ginsberg database, MEPHISTOPHELIAN has never been reused in a Shortz-era crossword.  The original clue for MEPHISTOPHELIAN was "Devilish."  Webster defines Mephistophelian as the adjectival form of Mephistopheles, who was "a chief devil in the Faust legend."  Mephistopheles comes from German and was first introduced into our language around 1590.  Below is a frightening picture of Mephistopheles:

Image courtesy of AmiaWiki.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Litzing Contest Update and Rules Clarification

As we near the end of the litzing contest (see the new countdown gadget above the litzing thermometer), the competition between the top six or seven litzers has gotten much more intense!  The top three litzers remain the same, though their totals have increased dramatically:  Mark Diehl has litzed a whopping 220 puzzles this month; Jeffrey Krasnick, 94; and Bob Jones, 75.  C. G. Rishikesh has litzed just four puzzles less than Bob, and Nancy Kavanaugh and Andrew Laurence aren't too far behind.  As predicted, we passed the 5,000 mark very early on in the week—we're now closing in on 5,100!

Some questions about the contest rules have come up, so I'll try to clarify everything below:
  • You can ask for as many packets as you want and think you can litz by the deadline, and you can request additional packets before you've finished the ones you have so that you always have a backlog of packets readily available.
  • Packets can be submitted one at a time or more than one at a time, and you can submit them whenever you want (though they need to arrive by the deadline to be counted in the contest).
  • If you submit multiple packets at the same time, each packet needs to be complete—you can't save the Sunday puzzles until after the contest. ;)
  • If you're partway through the last packet you plan on submitting as part of the contest, you can submit just the puzzles you've completed from that packet.  So if you have a packet that contains a Sunday puzzle but you only have time left to litz the Monday through Saturday puzzles, you can send just those in (or however many you have—it can be less than six).
  • All puzzles received before midnight Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, October 31, will be included in the totals.  (If any puzzles are incomplete, though—missing grids, information fields, multiple clues, etc.—they won't be counted.)  I'll use the date and time Gmail gives me for your e-mail to determine whether puzzles came in before the deadline.  Please keep in mind that e-mail isn't always instantaneous and try to allow enough time for it to arrive by the deadline—also, be sure to remember to attach your puzzles to the e-mail!
  • October 31 is a school night for me, so I won't be up when the contest ends.  I get up early, though, and will try to update the totals the morning of November 1.  If I'm not able to, I'll update them later that day.
  • In the case of ties, all litzers in the top three positions will win free T-shirts.  So, for instance, if two or more people are tied for third place, all will get T-shirts.
  • Winners will be contacted after the contest ends, and the T-shirt order will be placed as soon as possible thereafter.  The T-shirts will be shipped to me, and then I'll ship them out individually to the winners and to everyone who has placed an order.  Updates about the status of the T-shirts (when the order has been placed, when I've received the T-shirts, when the individual shirts have been shipped out, etc.) will be posted on this site.
Good luck, everybody—and great job!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

1989 Puzzles on XWord Info, More Publicity, Contest & Progress Updates, and Poll Results

The 1989 puzzles have now been posted on XWord Info!  Our proofreaders did an excellent job, and Jim Horne made some of the more unusual 1989 puzzles look fantastic!  My favorite puzzle Jim fixed is Frances Hansen's FACE rebus—he was able to insert images of a happy face where they belonged and, as in the original puzzle, even put in an image of a sad face for the entry PULL A LONG FACE!

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more great publicity this week!  Amy Reynaldo blogged about it on Tuesday, and Jim Horne wrote another blog post with an awesome Pre-Shortzian crosswordese quiz (which I'm ashamed to say I failed miserably!).

As the month winds to a close, the October litzing contest is still going strong!  Mark Diehl remains in the lead with 187 litzed puzzles; Jeffrey Krasnick, who is in second place, has litzed 73 puzzles so far; and our current third-place litzer, Bob Jones, has litzed 61 puzzles.  C. G. Rishikesh has moved up in the ranks very fast and is only a few puzzles behind Bob, and Nancy Kavanaugh isn't far behind Rishi.  There are still 11 more days to continue litzing—third, second, and even first (well, not likely!) place could easily change over this time period.  Keep up the great litzing, everybody—the contest should have a very exciting finale!

I'm also happy to report that we just sent out the first few packets from 1980!  In addition, we're rapidly approaching the 5,000 mark on the litzing thermometer—we whizzed past the 4,800 and 4,900 marks earlier this week.  At this rate, we should hit 5,000 before the end of next week!

In addition, the fourth poll has come to a close.  The poll asked readers which features of the weekly blog posts they liked best (or wanted to see, if the features didn't already exist).  No feature received all 7 votes, though funny typos came awfully close with 6 (85%).  Other popular features, each with a total of 5 votes (71%), included project news updates, trends in old puzzles, and the still-to-be-developed clue of the day (which I've decided to make a regular feature because of the poll!).  Publicity updates, poll results, and the puzzle of the day received 4 votes apiece (57%), while only 3 respondents (42%) voted for the entry of the day.  Overall, the results of this poll are inconclusive—it seems like all the features in the weekly posts are generally well liked.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

I've just posted a new poll, which asks you to vote on whether you'd rather read shorter posts twice a week or longer posts once a week.  If you have an opinion about this, be sure to vote!

As the proofreading has continued, we've come across many more humorous typos!  Below are a few of the funnier mistakes we've caught over the past few weeks:
  • A clue for OVENS was accidentally typed as "Oasis" instead of "Oasts"
  • A clue for ENTER should have read "Join a competition" rather than "Join a composition"
  • A clue for STRIPS was entered as "Airport runaways" instead of "Airport runways"
  • A clue for WONT was supposed to read "Custom" but was accidentally typed as "Cushion"
  • A clue for CLEO should have been entered as "Goldfish in 'Pinocchio'" rather than "Golfdish in 'Pinocchio'"
Perhaps the most amusing recent typo was a clue for LOPE that was entered as "Easy cantor" rather than "Easy canter"!  I can't think of a single legitimate entry for the clue "Easy cantor"—if you have any ideas, please comment, and I'll post a recap next week!

Today's featured puzzle, "Fractured Phrases," was constructed by Charles M. Deber.  It was originally published on October 30, 1988, and was litzed some time ago by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former litzers).  I'm a huge fan of Charles M. Deber puzzles, and this one was certainly no exception.  It features ten symmetrical phrases about fracturing that are "broken" with blank squares.  Even better, all the breaks literally occur within the word being fractured.  Best of all, the five blank squares are consistent with the Across and Down entries!  For example, DIVISION OF LABOR is fractured between the "L" and "A"; crossing it is PART COMPANY, which is fractured between the "M" and "P."  The fill is almost spotless and very lively in parts—CRANBERRY and LOTTERY are particularly fun entries.  This is definitely one of the best pre-Shortzian puzzles of all time, and I hope to encounter many more like it as we continue to approach the Will Weng era!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

In lieu of an entry of the day, today's featured clue originally appeared in the June 7, 1984, puzzle by Edward Bobb, which was recently litzed by Barry Haldiman.  The clue for WIRE was "Litz, e.g."  According to the Ginsberg database, this clue has never appeared outside of pre-Shortzian puzzles!  Webster defines "litz wire" as "a wire composed of individually enameled copper strands braided together to reduce skin effect and consequent high-frequency resistance."  Litz derives from the German litzendraht (not from Litsoft, as one would like to believe!).  "Litze" means braid, cord, or lace; "draht" means wire.  Below are pictures of the two different definitions of litz.  Litz as a noun appears on the left; litz as a verb appears on the right.

Image courtesy of Mark Diehl.
Image courtesy of RU Rail.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Contest Updates, 3 T-shirt Prizes, Poll Results, More Publicity, and Early 1980s Trends

We've made amazing progress this past week, whizzing past the 4,500, 4,600, and 4,700 marks within just days and sending out more than half of the 1981 puzzles!  This Monday must have been the record for the greatest number of litzed puzzles received in a single day:  66!  I was busy looking at newly litzed puzzles for more than an hour after getting back from school.  Mark Diehl is still in first place to win one of the three T-shirt prizes this month, with an incredible 123 litzed puzzles in just 14 days!  Jeffrey Krasnick is in second place, with 46 puzzles; and Bob Jones is in third, with 42 puzzles.  Nancy Kavanaugh, who has litzed 41 puzzles this month, is right behind Bob, with other litzers not far behind—it's going to be an exciting race to the finish!  Remember, there will be free T-shirts for the top three October litzers!

In other news, the results of our third poll are now in.  The poll asked readers to vote for which features and gadgets they liked the best and wanted to see continue on the site.  This time we had a total of eight respondents.  The most popular features and gadgets, with seven votes (87.5%) each, appear to be the Litzer Totals and Pre-Shortzian Editors pages.  Other popular features, with six votes apiece (75%), include the Litzing Thermometer, Litzer of the Month, and Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews.  Not too far behind these are the Poll and Meet the Litzers, with five votes (62.5%) apiece.  Surprisingly, the least popular feature, with only three votes (37.5%), is the T-shirt!  I'm wondering why the T-shirt received so few votes—whether it was because voters weren't interested in T-shirts or participating in the contest or because they didn't like the design.  If you didn't vote for the T-shirt and have suggestions for improving the design in the future, when we may make an additional T-shirt, please send me an e-mail.  Thanks to everyone who voted—your opinions are very helpful as I continue to develop this site!

I've just posted a new poll, which asks you to vote for your favorite features (or possible features) of the weekly blog posts.  As with last week's poll, be sure to vote for all your favorites.

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project just received some more great publicity!  The Orange County Register interviewed me about the project, among other things—the part about the project is about halfway through the article.

As litzers have continued to send back puzzles from the early 1980s, I've noticed several interesting trends and differences between these Maleska-edited puzzles and those from the later 1980s and early 1990s.  First, there appear to have been many more puzzles (both dailies and Sundays) with snappy original verse themes published during the early 1980s.  For example, a 1982 puzzle constructed by C. J. Angio featured the original joke I PLAYED THE ORGAN/BUT MY MONKEY DIED; similarly, a 1983 puzzle constructed by Eugene T. Maleska himself featured the original verse THAT CIGAR TASTED/LIKE SOME OLD ROPE/O WELL JUST SKIP IT.  As time progressed, constructors seem to have moved away from these verse puzzles.  To my knowledge, the only constructor who consistently published original verse puzzles throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was the brilliant and humorous Betty Jorgensen.

Also, themelesses from the early 1980s seem to be of much higher quality—they generally had fewer words and less esoterica than Maleska puzzles published later on.  Many of these themelesses were built by constructors who had been publishing puzzles in The New York Times since Margaret Farrar's editorship, such as Louise Earnest and Kathryn Righter.  Even better, some of these themelesses had clever minithemes!  A few of my favorite themeless/low word-count constructors from this time period are William Lutwiniak, George P. Sphicas, and Ernst Theimer.  The latter, for example, published a 1983 puzzle that had just 68 words featuring the four interlocking theme entries TREASURE MEASURE, GRUESOME TWOSOME, GLUTTONS BUTTONS, and PLEASURE LEISURE!  The puzzle had a remarkably clean fill as well.  George P. Sphicas admirably filled wide-open grids, not uncommonly stacking three 13- to 15-letter theme entries on top of each other.  And William Lutwiniak published many Scrabbly (and often pangrammatic) themelesses around this time—he was the Barry Silk of the Maleska era!

The early 1980s did yield better themelesses and a whole slew of original quote themes, though I must say that many of the Sunday puzzles from back then were not as high quality or original as the ones from later on.  There was an occasional Charles M. Deber, Maura B. Jacobson, A. J. Santora, Alfio Micci, or Anne Fox masterpiece to spice things up; the Sunday puzzles from back then, however, were generally much more literal and less creative.  I read somewhere that Maleska even published a Sunday repeated word theme early on during his editorship!  Speaking of repeated word themes, I was surprised to notice that they were published almost equally as often during the early 1980s and late 1980s—I'd been expecting there to be many fewer repeated word themes in the later years, since themes had had more time to develop.  All in all, I've concluded that repeated word themes were an indispensable early-week staple throughout the Maleska era.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Maleska's style in the late 1970s was like (and eventually to finding trends in Will Weng and Margaret Farrar puzzles from even earlier)!

In the spirit of litzing the earlier Maleska puzzles, today's featured puzzle is from the first batch of 1981 puzzles I received.  It was constructed by Anne Fox, originally published on December 27, and litzed by Bob Jones.  Anne Fox was the grandmaster of verse themes—the puzzle below features nine intersecting 23-letter seasonal verses and messages!  She constructed this and many other puzzles so elegantly that I now use the adjective "Foxesque" to describe puzzles with amazing theme density and interlock!  This is a truly incredible feat of construction—just imagine how much research and time must have gone into getting theme entries of the right length to perfectly intersect each other without the Internet.  Plus, in addition to the nine intersecting 23-letter theme entries, this puzzle is also a pangram and has a relatively clean fill.  I especially like the entries EQUALIZE, SLEAZY, ALONZO, and PIRACY.  All in all, this is an outstanding pre-Shortzian puzzle that would still be daunting to construct, even with computer software.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is POPOCATEPETL.  According to the Ginsberg database, POPOCATEPETL has never been reused in a Shortz-era crossword.  It originally appeared in the March 5, 1983, puzzle by Kay Sullivan, which was recently litzed by Vic Fleming.  The clue for POPOCATEPETL was "Mexico's 'Smoking Mountain.'"  Webster defines Popocatepetl as a "volcano 17,887 feet (5242 m) SE cen Mexico in Puebla."  Britannica notes that Pococatepetl, after being inactive for 70 years, erupted in 1994, 1996, 1997, and 2000, forcing thousands of villagers to evacuate.  Below is a picture of this very active and unpredictable volcano:

Image courtesy of Mysterious Universe.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Contest Update, New Litzer of the Month, Publicity, Poll Results, and Some Funny Litzing Mistakes

Great news:  The October litzing contest has been a real success so far!  It's incredible that litzers have sent in 161 puzzles in just five days—I have a feeling it's going to be a real tooth-and-nail battle for the free Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project T-shirts!  This rapid spurt of litzing pushed us way past the 4,400 mark; as of right now, Mark Diehl is in first place with 36 litzed puzzles, Barry Silk has 25, and Joe Cabrera has 21.

October's Litzer of the Month is super-fast typist Angela Halsted!  In addition to being a New York Times crossword constructor, Angela has also found time to litz 199 puzzles—great job, Angela!

Recently the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity!  Jim Horne wrote another interesting blog post featuring Bert H. Kruse's brilliant "Please Think Twice!" puzzle!  And Tuning Spork announced the project on his Blather Review blog.  Finally, Ray Hamel added the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project blog to his list of crossword-related blogs.  Thanks so much, everyone!

In other news, the results of our second poll came in on Tuesday!  The poll asked which pre-Shortzian editor published the best puzzles.  Coincidentally, we had the same number of respondents to this poll as to the last poll.  Of the seven readers who voted, one (14%) preferred Eugene T. Maleska.  Will Weng and Margaret Farrar got three votes (43%) each.  I'm a little surprised that only one respondent voted for Eugene T. Maleska, especially since we've primarily been litzing Maleska-edited puzzles.  As we've seen, very high quality puzzles can be found throughout the pre-Shortzian era.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

I just posted a new poll, which asks you to vote for pages and gadgets you like and would like to see continue on this site.  Be sure to vote for all your favorites—pages and gadgets that don't receive any votes may end up on the chopping block.  If you have suggestions for additional pages or gadgets, please comment or shoot me an e-mail (for the address, please refer to the Contact page).

Before getting to the puzzle of the day, I thought I'd share a few more funny typos our proofreaders have caught:
  • A clue for ABCDE was typed as "F's foregunners" instead of "F's forerunners"
  • A clue for AERO was supposed to read "Kind of plane or dynamics" but was accidentally typed as "Kind of plane or gymnastics"
  • A clue for MANTA was entered as "Devilish" instead of "Devilfish"
  • A clue for SAFE EDGE should have been entered as "Kind of file" rather than "Kind of life"
  • A clue for STEVES should have read "Martin  and Allen" but was mistakenly typed as "Martin and Alien"
My personal favorite of the recent litzing typos, though, was the clue "Telepathic sounds," rather than "Telegraphic sounds," for DITS!  Usually litzing mistakes are few and far between—in fact, our proofreaders have come across many error-free puzzles.  But it's always a nice change of pace when we find humorous typos!

Today's featured puzzle, "No Big Deal," was constructed by Charles M. Deber, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the ACPT this year!  The puzzle was originally published on August 22, 1982, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former litzers).  This brilliant puzzle features ten symmetrically interlocking pairs of theme entries with card-related clues but with no connection to cards!  Each pair of theme entries is divided up by an ampersand.  For example, "Pair of queens" leads to MARIE & ELIZABETH, and "Pair of jokers" leads to HOPE & BALL.  Some other very clever theme entries/clues are "Pair of aces" for EVERT & BORG and "Pair of jacks" for SPRAT & KENNEDY!  There is hardly any obscurity in the nonthematic fill, which is very impressive considering the quantity of intersecting theme entries.  I'm not overwhelmingly fond of ACIDE (clued as "Tart, in Toulouse") or SORB (clued as "Service tree"), though the awesome entries LIBIDO and WINE LIST certainly make up for the more arcane ones.  All in all, this Sunday puzzle is a masterpiece!  The answer grid with highlighted theme entries can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is DEIPNOSOPHIST.  Not surprisingly, DEIPNOSOPHIST has never been reused in a Shortz-era puzzle (though it has appeared in a pre-Shortzian 1993 puzzle).  DEIPNOSOPHIST originally appeared in the June 23, 1984, puzzle by I. Judah Koolyk, which was recently litzed by Garrett Hildebrand.  The clue for DEIPNOSOPHIST was "One adept at table talk."  Webster defines a deipnosophist as "a person skilled in table talk."  Deipnosophist is derived from "Deipnosophists," a work published in 200 A.D. by the Graeco-Eygptian author Athenaeus about a banquet where long discussions  take place.  Etymologically it comes from the Greek words "deipnon" (meaning "meal") and "sophistes" (meaning "wise man").  Since I couldn't find a great picture of a deipnosophist, below is a picture of an ancient banquet:

Image courtesy of The Garden of Eaden.