Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts, Progress Update, More Publicity, Funny Typos

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!  I'm especially thankful for all the litzing, proofreading, downloading, and other help I've received.  Without it, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project would never have been able to move forward so quickly.  Thanks again, everyone!

I'm also very happy to report that nearly 5,700 puzzles have now been litzed!  Soon we'll be at 6,000, another major milestone.  We've also whizzed through 1979 and are now almost halfway through 1978, a relatively short year because of a long newspaper strike.

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity this week on a new blog, MetaRex, which will comment on Rex Parker's blog and which is written by pre-Shortzian constructor Wayne Eastman (who contributed puzzles under the name Wayne Hall-Eastman).  Thanks, Wayne!

Before getting to the puzzle of the day, here are some more humorous typos our proofreaders have caught as we continue to move through 1987:
  • A clue for ARTE should have read "Commedia dell'___" instead of "Cornmedia dell'___"
  • A clue for DEAD was typed as "Another kin of duck" instead of "Another kind of duck"
  • A clue for ERE was entered as "Prior, to Pope" rather than "Prior, to Poe"
  • In a copyright field, Eugene T. Maleska was accidentally typed as Eugent T. Maleska (the litzer obviously thought very highly of Mr. Maleska!)
  • During the October litzing contest, a litzer in a hurry typed the entry RUSHED as RUSEHD

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Tap Osborn.  It was originally published on February 12, 1979, and was recently litzed by Denny Baker.  This puzzle is certainly one of the most elegant pre-Shortzian Monday puzzles I've seen so far.  It features five symmetrical 15-letter dog breeds perfectly interlocked with the 15-letter reveal WESTMINSTER SHOW, which runs right down the center.  Just imagine all the hours of research Tap must have put into this puzzle to get it to work so neatly!  That said, some of the fill feels a bit tough for a Monday—I could do without EAR-ROT (clued as "Corn disease"), AAC (clued as "In the year before Christ: Abbr."), and YNE (clued as "Chemical suffix").  Nevertheless, it's amazing that Tap was able to pull off this brilliant Monday puzzle without any computer software!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

As the litzing has progressed, I've come across a number of not-so-great abbreviations that pre-Shortzian constructors were forced to use when stuck in a particular section of a grid.  Of all these abbreviations, here are a few worth calling out:

ABN (clued as "Carried by air: Abbr.")
BGHT (clued as "Opp. of sold")
TTS (clued as "Nondrinkers: Abbr.")

My least favorite of these three is definitely TTS, which doesn't even appear in the dictionary!  ABN isn't great either, but at least it's legitimate.  Please comment if you've encountered other questionable pre-Shortzian abbreviations either while litzing or while looking at pre-Shortzian puzzles on XWord Info—maybe there will be enough for a recap next week!  In the meantime, below is a picture that TTS would appreciate:

Image courtesy of Sisters Running the Kitchen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

T-shirts Arrived, More Publicity, Link to Pennsylvania Gazette Profile of Bernice Gordon, Interview with Husband-Wife Litzing Team Barry Haldiman and Beth Welsh

The October litzing contest T-shirts have finally arrived, and they look totally awesome!  Everyone who won or ordered a T-shirt should be receiving it soon—below is a picture of me in my T-shirt:

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity this week, first in an article in the Palos Verdes Patch, then a write-up in The Puzzler (which can also be seen on Tumblr).  Thanks, everybody—it's great that more and more people are finding out about the project!

In other news, my family gets The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of the University of Pennsylvania, and I was thrilled to discover a profile of the amazing pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Bernice Gordon in this month's issue!  "Longtime Puzzler (2 words, 13 letters)" was written by Penn alumna Molly Petrilla, who also directs readers to a crossword created by Bernice especially for the Gazette titled "Across the Green and Down the Walk."

And now for my interview with Barry Haldiman and Beth Welsh, the first husband-wife litzing team for the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!

Beth Welsh and Barry Haldiman, not litzing

Barry, how does it feel to have Beth litzing and proofreading now too?  You're the first husband-wife litzing team ever!

Initially, a bit annoying.  She’s helped occasionally in the past when I came across particularly thorny conversion issues or whenever I really needed a second look at puzzles.  But she never showed much interest, especially if they were Maleska puzzles.  At least I have my beer-tasting hobby that she won’t join in.   ;)

Beth, you started litzing and proofreading for the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project relatively recently.  What got you interested in it?

I thought it was pretty interesting from the time Barry first told me about it (when he originally got involved), but it didn't occur to me at the time to participate.  I guess it finally occurred to me that, since I already knew how to litz and I'm very good with details, plus I have the time to help since I work part-time—why shouldn't I volunteer?

Do you prefer litzing or proofreading, and why?

Litzing is more active, since you're typing a lot, and I feel a little bit like I'm creating something when I litz an old puzzle.  However, my typing skills have gone way downhill, and I make too many mistakes to be efficient.  Proofing is fun in its own way because it's like a treasure hunt:  finding each error is a little reward.

Barry, you litzed/obtained some of the puzzles Beth has been proofreading a long time ago.  Do you remember and discuss the puzzles?

I think Beth would come across particular puzzles in a collection that she thought were particularly good and she’d mark it “to litz.”  I don’t recall her converting very many, as we know it’s pretty labor intensive.  None of the puzzles come to mind, as it’s been quite a few years since then.

Do you ever litz together, or do you basically each stick to your own tasks on your own machines?

BETH:  Really, it never occurred to me to litz together.  I suppose we could try it, but I'm sure it's more efficient working separately like we do now.

BARRY:  Nope.  I’m pretty sure we litz differently anyway.  I put in the answer grids for the whole week of puzzles first, then enter the clues later and solve the puzzle regularly as an editing check.  I think Beth does more of a copy editor type of review.

Do you usually solve crosswords separately or together?

BETH: We solve certain crosswords together—tough ones.  Barry collects the printouts, and we usually do them when eating out, while we're waiting for our food to arrive.

BARRY:  And [we solve] many of the variety crosswords seen as the second Sunday New York Times puzzles and in the Saturday Wall Street Journal, though I’ve not gotten her to solve cryptics.  Finally, we do the New York Times and Wall Street Journal acrostics online together as well.  Still, we solve the large majority of our crosswords separately.

Beth, Barry already answered this question in his Litzer of the Month interview, but which aspects of the eventual pre-Shortzian database are you most excited about and why?  

The scale of the project itself is the most impressive thing to me.  I'm not a constructor, so the database won't be of practical use to me—although, who knows?  By the time it's done, I may have taken up constructing. . . .

Thanks so much, Barry and Beth—it's great to have you both on board!

Before the puzzle of the day, here are a few more funny typos our proofreaders have caught:
  • A clue for PALM was typed as "Lifetime location" instead of "Lifeline location"
  • A clue for OCARINA should have read "Wind instrument" but was accidentally typed as "Wing instrument"
  • A clue for POMADES was supposed to be "Hair ointments" instead of "Hair ornaments"
  • A clue for SOHNE should have been entered as "His boys, to Vater" instead of "His boys, to Water."
  • A clue for TRIGRAPH was entered as "Cluster of three leaves" rather than "Cluster of three letters."

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by William Lutwiniak.  It was originally published on July 28, 1979, and was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  This puzzle's gimmick is so subtle I almost missed it altogether, though it is very clever!  It features eight theme entries with the same letter four times in a row, clued as if they were sounded out.  For example, UUUU is clued as "Woolly beasts?" (ewes), and CCCC is clued as "Understands?"  The nonthematic fill certainly makes up for lack of symmetry in some of the theme entries—I love the entries CORN POPPER, MATADORS, HOT PLATE, and SAWED OFF!  Overall, this puzzle is a real gem—to my knowledge, its brilliant theme wasn't reused until well into the Shortzian era!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Instead of highlighting a single entry or clue of the day, I'm featuring several theme entries that appeared in the February 17, 1980, puzzle by Jordan S. Lasher.  This puzzle, titled "The Name of the Game," was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  It featured the names of eleven unusual games beautifully woven into one of Jordan Lasher's signature wide-open, well-filled grids!  Below are four of the more bizarre-sounding games:


Original clue:  Version of a game also called mill or merels

Further description:  Webster didn't define nine-men's morris very well, so I did some more research.  Nine-men's morris is a two-person strategy board game.  Players first take turns placing their nine game pieces on the board's twenty-four spaces.  If a player places three pieces in a row (called a mill), he can remove one of his opponent's pieces from the board.  After all the pieces are placed, players take turns moving their pieces to try to form more mills.  The first person down to just two pieces (or with no legal moves) loses!  Below is a picture of nine-men's morris:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


Original clue:  Card game also called "Earl of Coventry"

Further description:  According to Webster, snipsnapsnorum is "a game in which one player lays a card on the table, the others in turn must match its rank if able, the first to do so says snip, the second snap, and the third snorum, and the winner is the one who gets rid of all his cards first."  Below is a picture of snipsnapsnorum:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


Original clue: British keno or lotto game

Further description:  Webster lists housey-housey as a variant of the British card game house.  I hadn't heard of house either, so I looked into it some more.  Apparently house is a gambling version of bingo or lotto played with paper and a pencil.  The game was usually played by soldiers.  Below is a picture of housey-housey:

Image courtesy of Book Drum.


Original clue:  Poorly played whist

Further description:  Webster defines bumblepuppy as "whist [a trick-taking card game that was a forerunner of bridge] played poorly or without regard for the rules."  Who knew there was a special word for an unusual card game played badly?  Since I couldn't find a good picture of bumblepuppy, below is a picture of what whist is supposed to look like:

Image courtesy of NewMachar.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Litzing One-Third Complete, 1988 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, More Publicity, T-shirts Ordered, List of Constructor Names, and Interview with Original Litzer Denny Baker

Great news—we're now more than one-third done with all the litzing!  Even though things slowed down a bit after the October litzing contest ended and Sandy temporarily left some litzers without power, we're still moving at an amazing pace.  Thanks, everybody!

The proofreading is also going well—all the 1988 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  Be sure to check out Jim Horne's awesome animation of Ralph G. Beaman's "Space Saver" puzzle that was featured a month or two ago.

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more great publicity this week!  Patrick Merrell announced the project on his blog Pat Tricks.  In addition, the Palos Verdes Peninsula News recently ran a great article that included more information about the project.  That part is about halfway through the article.

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project T-shirts have been ordered and should be arriving soon!  As soon as they do, I'll be sending them to everyone who won or ordered a T-shirt.  Since the design on the current T-shirt is geared toward litzers, I'm considering creating a second T-shirt design that should have broader appeal.  If you have any design suggestions, please let me know!

Last but not least, litzer Jeffrey Harris finished typing up all the Will Weng–era constructor names from Will Shortz's index and Rolodex cards.  He sacrificed many lunch breaks to do this, and I really appreciate it.  Great job, Jeffrey, and thanks so much to you and Will again!

A week and a half or so ago, I received an e-mail from Denny (Holden) Baker, a Shortz-era constructor and one of Barry Haldiman's original litzers.  Denny converted many puzzles from 1957, and I thought readers might be interested in his reminiscences of litzing "back in the day."

You were one of the first-ever litzers—how did you become involved with litzing?

The New York Times’s Crossword Forum was moderated (for a couple of years at least) by Hex (i.e., Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon).  Many constructors were participants on the forum; we called ourselves the CRU.  One of the things that happened on the forum was that people would post their own puzzles, or, sometimes, puzzles from sources other than The New York Times, for the delectation and consideration of other CRU.  Somebody on the CRU—I’m thinking it may have been Lloyd Mazer—coined the term litzing for what we were doing.

You litzed 79 puzzles back then, which was a lot!  Did you have a particular goal in mind, and what software did you use for litzing?

I did my litzing starting in late 2002 and on up until at least Jun 18, 2003.  I had no software for doing this.  I basically copied a puzzle by hand—entry by entry, clue by clue—into Crossword Compiler and then sent it to Barry Haldiman, who put it in the proper format for posting.  I used as my source Daily Puzzles, Crosswords from The Times, edited by Margaret Farrar, #11 in the series, published in 1964.  (Most of the puzzles were from 1953.  Barry did a great job of figuring out the original publication dates of almost all of those puzzles, as well as those of other books in the series.)  I litzed a few cryptics (my favorites) from a collection I had from the old Saturday Review of Literature, but I gave up on that due to the copyright difficulty.

How many other litzers were there, and did you see each other or mainly communicate by e-mail?

I knew the other litzers by name only, though the names were familiar to CRU members, and I met some of them at various ACPTs.  I met Barry on a trip west as we passed through KC, because he shares with me an interest in birding.  We had a great KC barbecue lunch, and he gave us some excellent suggestions on birding sites in Kansas.  A couple of years later, we again stopped for a barbecue lunch with Barry.  (Then he put up Denny’s Den on the Internet!  And it’s still there!)

What are the best and worst entries you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I have no particular least favorite or most favorite entry from those days; the puzzles were pretty dull, no themes whatsoever, no punning clues, in fact, few interesting clues or answers.

Which aspect of the eventual pre-Shortzian database are you most excited about?

It will be interesting to see what the pre-Shortzian word list looks like.  It might occasionally be helpful in filling difficult corners.

Thanks so much again, Denny!

Today's featured puzzle, "Svittles," was constructed by Phyllis Fehringer.  It was originally published on October 21, 1990, and was litzed a few months ago by Andrew Feist.  This phenomenal construction features ten symmetrically interlocking food-related terms that take on a humorous meaning when an S is added to the front of them.  For example, SMOCK TURTLE SOUP is clued as "Dinner course, dressed up?" and SHAM BURGERS is clued as "Grill counterfeits?"  My personal favorite theme entry/clue is "Inebriated vege-taters?" for SMASHED POTATOES.  In addition to all these theme entries, the blocks in the center of the puzzle (which were shaded a different color in the PDF) form a giant S!  On top of all this, the fill is remarkably clean considering how open the grid is—I especially like the entries SLOWS UP, EXTRUDE, and AGITATOR.  TELEMARK (clued as "Skier's turn") and KERNITE (clued as "Important ore of boron") are a little obscure; overall, though, this is a fine pre-Shortzian puzzle.  The complete puzzle can be seen on XWord Info, and the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is TATTERDEMALION.  TATTERDEMALION originally appeared in the November 21, 1979, puzzle by William Jarvis, which was recently litzed by Beth Welsh.  According to the Ginsberg database, TATTERDEMALION has been reused in a few Merl Reagle puzzles, though never in a Shortz-era New York Times puzzle.  The original clue for TATTERDEMALION was "Ragamuffin."  Webster defines a tatterdemalion as "a person dressed in ragged clothing."  It also lists tatterdemalion as an adjective meaning "ragged or disreputable in appearance" or "being in a decayed state or condition."  The origin of tatterdemalion is unknown, though it is known that the term was introduced into our language around 1608.  Below is a picture of a tatterdemalion flag:

Image courtesy of

Friday, November 2, 2012

Progress Update, New Litzer of the Month, Pinterest, and Interview with Litzing Contest Champion Mark Diehl

I'm thrilled to report that even though the litzing contest has ended, litzers have continued to send in puzzles at a rapid clip!  We've now sent out the first few packets from 1979, which is very exciting!  I've already started noticing some fascinating trends in the puzzles from 1979 and early 1980.  For example, as we continue to litz back in time, we've started to convert puzzles by some of the other masters who stopped constructing puzzles around this time period, including Herb L. Risteen, Jordan S. Lasher, and Louise Earnest.  Pretty soon we'll be litzing some Jack Luzzatto puzzles!

November's Litzer of the Month is animal lover Nancy Kavanaugh!  In addition to being a professional dog groomer and New York Times crossword constructor, Nancy has also found time to litz an incredible 250 puzzles.  She only needs to litz one more batch to pass me—great job, Nancy!

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project recently received some publicity on Pinterest, a website whose mission is "to connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting."  The blurb is currently on the far right of the top row, though it may move around a bit.

Finally, October litzing contest champion Mark Diehl has revealed the secret to his amazing litzing pace!  Below are his very inspiring answers to my interview questions:

You litzed 289 puzzles this month and have now litzed 1,327 puzzles total.  How do you do it?

By litzing a few puzzles every day.

Do you have a regular litzing schedule, or do you just litz whenever you have the time or inclination?

I try to litz at least one puzzle every morning before going to work.  It gets my mind limbered up to start the day (I've never been a coffee drinker).  After dinner and while watching TV, I'll litz some more—I find it a nice way to unwind from the hectic pace at work.  I try to average a week's worth every day.  On the weekends, I aim to average a bit more.

You've even litzed while traveling—how does that work?

I take my laptop with me and try to keep up the daily schedule, unless it conflicts with away time with family and friends.

What's the most unusual place you've ever litzed?

I've litzed a few puzzles while flying.  I'm not a fan of flying and litzing has been a nice way to distract me from running crash scenarios during the flight.

What motivates you to keep litzing so many puzzles?

There are still lots of puzzles to go, yet there is a definite end point.  As a community we're making good progress, and I will stick it out to the end.

You also did a great deal of work on The 21st Century Crossword Puzzle Dictionary with Kevin McCann, who said somewhere that the project would never have gotten finished if not for you.  Was that work similar in some ways to litzing, and did you get a similar sense of enjoyment or satisfaction from doing it?

The 21st Century Crossword Puzzle Dictionary was a huge data-crunching undertaking that required analyzing all the clues used during a multiple-year period from several major newspaper sources, looking for identical (or very similar) clues used to describe the same answer.  Each entry was typed into a database that eventually became the dictionary.  I set aside a few hours every day to slowly tackle the job, and after more than a year, it came to fruition.  The letter "S" took at least a month by itself!  The dictionary required more decision making than litzing (which is strictly copying like a scribe), but both are/were satisfying in a detailed, compulsive sort of way.

Do you have any tips for other litzers hoping to win or place in future litzing contests?

Litz several puzzles a day, every day, and your numbers will pile up just as quickly.

Thanks again, Mark—this is a great strategy not just for litzing, but for any other monumental goal that can seem daunting at times!  

Today I am featuring two puzzles whose themes relate to sports team names.  These puzzles were only published a year apart, though their executions are surprisingly different!  The first was constructed by A. J. Santora.  A. J. Santora published many brilliant pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era puzzles, almost all of which were jam-packed with theme entries and lively fill!  This puzzle, which originally appeared on April 8, 1981, and was recently litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick, is an exceptionally well-done Santora opus.  It features an incredible 10 symmetrical, interlocking theme entries, some of which are triple-stacked, in a standard 15 x 15 grid!  Each theme entry is a word or phrase that contains a member of a major sports team; also, the theme clues cleverly hint at the locations of the teams hidden in the theme entries.  For example, "Man in an L.A. shelter?" leads to TAX DODGER and "Minnesota cots?" leads to TWIN BEDS.  The nonthematic fill is fantastic as well—I love the entries SLOBBERED, WINE PRESS, and SEXY!  My only small complaint about the puzzle is that the theme entry DEEP REDS contains REDS in the plural, while all the other theme entries contain a singular team member.  Nevertheless, this is an outstanding pre-Shortzian puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

The second puzzle was originally published on June 25, 1982, and was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  It was constructed Bert Rosenfield, another masterful pre-Shortzian constructor who published many puzzles with novel, interesting themes!  This puzzle also features 10 symmetrical, interlocking theme entries, though the sports team theme is much more subtle.  Each sports team in the puzzle is clued in a way that's not related to sports in all caps (probably to ensure that solvers don't miss the ingenious gimmick altogether!)—for example, BREWERS is clued as "COFFEE MACHINES," and BRAVES is clued as "STANDS UP TO."  This 74-word wonder also has some very nice entries in the nonthematic fill, such as UNMANLY and EYELASH.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Both the Bert Rosenfield and A. J. Santora puzzles are exceptional—these puzzles' thematic similarity is a great example of how crossword constructors both think alike and think differently.  It will be very interesting to track the development and evolution of various themes over the years when the pre-Shortzian database is complete!

Today's featured clue originally appeared in the December 5, 1982, puzzle by Virginia P. Abelson, which was recently litzed by Barry Haldiman.  The clue for EMAIL was "Enamel."  I was really surprised to see the entry EMAIL appear in such an early puzzle—it must have been considered atrocious fill back in 1982!  In fact, according to Merriam-Webster, the term EMAIL as we know it was first introduced into our language in 1982.  Apparently, EMAIL means "enamel" in French . . . good thing we don't see that clue anymore!  According to the Ginsberg database, Maleska also used the clues "Bleu Louise" and "Blue-green color" around this time period.  In 1993, Maleska finally modernized and  used the clue "Telecommunicated messages."  Though this clue is a bit clunky, it was certainly progress!  Below is a picture of some blue French enamelry:

Image courtesy of Barbara Stroud.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Litzing Contest Results

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project's October litzing contest is over and was an amazing success!  In just one month, litzers digitized 1,001 pre-Shortzian puzzles (approximately 1/16 of all 16,226 puzzles), bringing the total number of litzed puzzles to 5,306!  All of our litzers did an awesome job getting us so far in only 31 days—thanks so much, everyone!  First place in the contest went to litzing legend Mark Diehl, who litzed 289 puzzles; second place, at 135 puzzles, to Jeffrey Krasnick; and third place, at 100 puzzles, to C. G. Rishikesh.  All three will be getting free Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project T-shirts!

If anyone else would like to order a T-shirt, please e-mail me no later than Monday, November 5, since I'm planning to place the orders on Tuesday.