Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interview with Pre-Shortzian and Shortz-Era Constructor Jim Page

As a very special end-of-year surprise, I'm delighted to present an interview with Jim Page, a very prolific pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor.  Jim published more than 70 puzzles under Will Weng and Eugene T. Maleska, as well as 68, to date, under Will Shortz.  Jim's themelesses are some of the toughest out there, and his themed puzzles always have a creative and clever twist.

Today I'm featuring one of Jim's finest Sunday puzzles, "Playing with Matches."  It was originally published on July 3, 1983, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman.  The puzzle contains nine symmetrically interlocking theme entries that relate to joining things together.  What really makes this puzzle stand out, however, is the cluing gimmick—each theme entry is clued as two examples of the things being joined right next to each other.  For example, "Platterdisk" leads to STUCK RECORDS and "Beannoodle" leads to BUMPING HEADS.  Jim lists a few more brilliant theme clue/entry pairs in his interview.  The nonthematic fill is very nice as well—I especially like the entries LAKE MEAD, BEDAUB, and MIMOSA!  I don't think I've come across the entries DESAND (clued as "Rid of grit") or BEVANS (clued as "British statesman and family").  Nevertheless, this is an outstanding pre-Shortzian puzzle by a masterful constructor!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is URDE.  URDE originally appeared in the above puzzle and was clued as "Like some heraldic crosses."  According to the Ginsberg database, URDE has never been reused in a Shortz-era puzzle; however, XWord Info shows that it has appeared in several other pre-Shortzian puzzles from several years later.  Webster lists urdé as a variant of urdée, which it defines as "[of a cross] having each arm expanding at the end into a form like a lozenge with slightly concave edges."  Wow—that's a mouthful of a definition for such a short word!  Below is a picture of an urdé:

Image courtesy of ClipArt ETC.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Over 6,000, Reminiscences of Alfio Micci by Al Weeks, Sneak Peek

I'm delighted to report that we've now litzed more than 6,000 puzzles—a major milestone on the litzing thermometer!  Three days ago a batch of puzzles from litzer Alex Vratsanos put us at 6,001, and now we're rapidly approaching 7,000.  Great job, everybody!

Today I have something very special from Al Weeks, a longtime close friend of pre-Shortzian constructors Frederick Duda and Alfio Micci.  Al, who constructs crosswords himself as a hobby, is a New York University professor emeritus, author of numerous books on Soviet political history, and frequently published writer of many articles, op-eds, and book reviews in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Al Weeks

Al was kind enough to write down his reminiscences of the amazingly creative and prolific Alfio Micci.  According to my (still incomplete) database, Alfio Micci published 91 puzzles under pre-Shortzian editors; XWord Info records indicate that he also published 11 under Will Shortz, yielding a grand total of 102+ New York Times puzzles!  I hope you enjoy Al Weeks's piece as much as I did.

Alfio Micci

In Memory of Alfio Micci:  Expert Crossword Puzzle Constructor

by Albert L. Weeks

           Al for many years played in the First Violin Section of the New York Philharmonic.  This means he performed under the batons of the likes of Stokowski, Toscanini, Stravinsky, Bernstein, et al.  Anecdotes about his experiences working with these eccentric, talented leaders would fill volumes.
            Whenever he and his wife, Martha, also a musician, visited me in my condo here in Florida, they would bring along Bach scores that included continuo accompaniment parts for Martha to play on my piano to Al's soloing.  Al knew how much I loved Bach, so he and Martha always performed the Master's music right in my living room.  Sometimes over home-cooked spaghetti with clam sauce, he and Martha performed for friends in their own home.
           I mention this in the context of Al's talent in constructing (and, of course, solving) crossword puzzles.  Psychologists and common sense tell us that skill in music is related to skill in the use of words.  Too, crossword construction is, like music, an art.  Al Micci had that talent in spades, or, as in music, in G sharp minor.
          I once asked him how he went about inventing his puzzles; so many of Al Micci's creations are preserved in puzzle books under various editors.  He told me he always started with a "theme."  Around this motif, he would build his puzzle.  To him, it was something like a Tchaikovsky symphony.  A theme would blossom in his mind, like the opening, say, of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.  That would in turn uncork all sorts of related clues.  He once told me:  "I had a lot of time on the road, you know.  We were playing concerts almost as often away from Carnegie Hall as in it.  A lonely, out-of-town hotel room was to me like the reading room of a library.  Your mind automatically turned to thinking and creation."  So, on with the yellow pad and the pen.
            I gathered that Al had no problem developing his Acrosses and Downs.  For him, the theme as well as the required words seemed to fill the blanks as easily as his violin produced the complexities of, say, Bach's A minor concerto.  Not surprisingly, many of Al's clues were related to music—specifically, to opera and to classic musical comedy.  It was not unusual for a Micci puzzle to include some lines from Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein,  or Jerome Kern—or, in Italian, words from Puccini or Verdi.  Micci's being Italian meant that such solutions related to Italian opera came to his mind spontaneously.
           All this reminds me of the unique value, in my opinion, of Alfio Micci's puzzles.  They were always interesting and fun to figure out.  It was as though the constructor liked and respected his solvers.  Al's puzzles were never obscure or taxing.  He was never trying to stump the solver as if to say, "See!  I foxed you!"  As a constructor—unlike a "boa" constructor—Al was for lending enjoyment to solvers' toils, not tying them up in knots (pace some of today's end-of-the-week New York Times Gordian knot puzzles).
          Al would frankly complain to intimates about certain unnamed puzzle editors whom he thought were too much interested in frustrating solvers than in amusing them.
          "Amusing" to Alfio Micci also meant, in a sense, educating solvers and tweaking their minds.  Al would actually instruct people via his puzzles.  He would remind them of literature, music, and public affairs that he thought they might want to recall and run over in their minds.
            He knew that puzzle solvers would rather relive what the words in the grid stand for.  The words are not mere pen scratches, latter-day "runes," or the result of laborious Google searches for the name of a rock group "whose No. 1 song is . . . ?"  
            I mean, who cares?
Thanks so much again, Al, for this lovely tribute to Alfio Micci.

And now for the sneak peek:  Next week there will be an end-of-year surprise—a fascinating interview with another legendary pre-Shortzian constructor!  Another litzing contest, with new prizes and a different award structure, will be held in Jaunary; later in 2013, I plan to construct a 23x metapuzzle related to the Maleska-edited New York Times crosswords.  If this metapuzzle is a success, I may construct Will Weng and Margaret Farrar metapuzzles as well.  We'll have to see what 2013 has in store for us. . . .

I've selected one of Alfio Micci's finest pre-Shortzian puzzles to feature today, "Verbal Hi-Jinks."  "Verbal Hi-Jinks" was originally published on November 16, 1980, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former litzers).  It features eight symmetrically interlocking theme entries that must literally be inferred from their clues.  For example, the clue "WORL" leads to WORLD WITHOUT END [WORLD minus its end, "D"].  Other brilliant theme clues include "1,000,1000" for ONE IN A MILLION, the word "APPLAUSE" on top of a fraction bar on top of a picture of a punching fist for HAND OVER FIST, and


for "SQUARE DEALS."  The nonthematic fill is solid and includes many good entries that rarely appear in crosswords, such as CUSTARDS and COWERED.  Overall, this is a phenomenal puzzle (though a nightmare for typesetters and litzers!).  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

For the clue of the day I decided to count just how many music-related clue/entry pairs Alfio Micci included in the featured puzzle:
  1. "___ Fideles": ADESTE
  2. Double quartet: OCTET
  3. "___ Alone" (Romburg): ONE
  4. Stradivari's teacher: AMATI
  5. Composer of "Comus": ARNE
  6. "Stormy Weather" composer: ARLEN
The six music-related clues almost form a mini-theme of their own!  Usually puzzles without music-related themes have one or two clues related to music, so having six of them in one puzzle is amazing.  Bravo, Alfio!  Below is a picture of an AMATI violin:

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

1987 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, Approaching 6,000 Litzed Puzzles, More Funny Typos

Great news:  The 1987 puzzles have now all been proofread and are up on XWord Info!  Many thanks to Todd Gross, Beth Welsh, and Kristena Bergen for all their work on this monumental task.  Proofreading of the 1986 puzzles is already under way, and after the holidays, I'll be putting out a call for more volunteer proofreaders.

We're also now approaching 6,000 litzed puzzles!  I'm hoping we'll get there by the end of December, even with the holidays being a busy time for everyone.  In January, there will be another litzing contest with new prizes, at least one of which will go to a randomly drawn contestant.  More details soon!

In honor of the 1987 proofreading being finished, below are five more funny typos our proofreaders caught recently:
  • A clue for SEASON was accidentally entered as "Fail, e.g." instead of "Fall, e.g."
  • A clue for SNEE was typed as "Dirk of york" rather than "Dirk of yore"
  • A clue for KLEE was supposed to read "'Fish Magic' painter" instead of "'Magic Fish' painter"
  • A clue for SOL should have been entered as "Cuzco cash" rather than "Cuzco dish" (unless they eat currency in Cuzco!)
  • A clue for ESTAS should have been typed as "These: Sp. fem." instead of "These: Sp. fern."

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Joel D. Lafargue.  It was originally published on April 1, 1987, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former litzers).  This ingenious construction contains six theme entries, each of which must have the direction it reads in added to it in order for it to make sense.  For example,  26-Across (clued as "Go to great lengths?") is REVODNEB; since the entry reads from right to left, BACKWARDS must be substituted in.  The final answer should be interpreted as BEND OVER BACKWARDS.  I also really like the theme entries YGOLOHCYSP (REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY) and GNIKCARG (CRACKING UP)!  Some entries in the nonthematic fill are questionable (DOS A, NIOG, etc.), though most are very nice.  I especially like ENJOYED, SHERPAS, and KAL EL (which feels unusually hip for a pre-Shortzian puzzle—KAL EL didn't appear again until Liz Gorski reintroduced it in 2003).  Overall, this is a stellar pre-Shortzian April Fool's Day puzzle.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below; the complete puzzle is up on XWord Info.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is BROBDINGNAG, which, according to the Ginsberg database, has never been reused in a Shortz-era puzzle.  BROBDINGNAG originally appeared in the March 23, 1978, puzzle by Tepper (we don't know his or her first name for certain, but the constructor was probably Ruth Lake Tepper); the puzzle was recently litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick.  The clue for BROBDINGNAG was "Swift's land of 60-foot giants."  Webster defines Brobdingnag as "a land imagined by Jonathan Swift where everything was enormous."  I remember Lilliput from Gulliver's Travels, but I definitely don't remember Brobdingnag.  Below is a picture in Brobdingnag:

Image courtesy of

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Planted Antonyms" Contest Winner and Answers

The winner of the "Planted Antonyms" contest was Mark Diehl, who was also the only person to get all 11 answers correct!  Congratulations, Mark—enjoy your free e-book courtesy of Puzzazz!

Here are the original answer/grid entry pairs:


Saturday, December 8, 2012

At 5,900, Contest Deadline Approaching, Barry Haldiman's 2012 Litzma, Erik Agard's Awesome Clue, and More Funny Typos

We've just hit the 5,900 mark on the litzing thermometer (though I have to confess that we were at 5,897 and I just had to litz the puzzles that would make it an even 5,900!)!  Also, we're now sending out packets from 1977—the last Will Weng–edited puzzle was published on February 27, 1977, so we should be done with Maleska in the next few weeks.  When this project began, I assumed it would be at least a year or two before we reached Will Weng.  The speed at which the litzing is going amazes me!

On another note, the deadline for the contest I announced in last week's post is tomorrow at 11:59 P.M. Pacific time.  Be sure to get your entries in for a chance at winning a free Puzzazz book!

In other news, Barry Haldiman recently dedicated his 2012 litzma to Nancy Joline, who has published many innovative pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era puzzles.  He posted 13 of her best puzzles from the 1990s, most of which are from his personal collection.  Barry corrected me on the meaning of the term "litzma" as well—I had erroneously assumed that litzma was short for "litzing marathon."  It turns out that litzmas were named for Christmas, the time of year when Barry posts them on his website.  That makes a lot more sense!

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project was mentioned in an unusual (but fitting!) way recently.  On his weekly crossword metapuzzle site Glutton for Pun, Erik Agard clued 29-Down in his most recent puzzle as "Help out at"  We all know the four-letter answer to this clue, of course (and no, it doesn't contain a rebus of OFREAD!).  The puzzle, titled "Butt Heads," is a lot of fun—it's definitely worth heading over to Erik's site to give it a go.

As the 1987 proofreading continues, our proofreaders have come across many more humorous typos.  Here's another hilarious pentad that should leave you riant:
  • A clue for RAVEN was entered as "Foe's bird" instead of "Poe's bird"
  • A clue for NADER should have read "Consumer advocate" rather than "Consume advocate"
  • A clue for CERES was accidentally typed as "Asteroid of goddess" instead of "Asteroid or goddess"
  • A clue for FAROE was supposed to read "___ Islands of Denmark" but was accidentally typed as "___ Islands on Denmark"
  • A clue for ALIDADES should have been entered as "Firefighters' instruments" instead of "Firelighters' instruments"

And now for the puzzle.  Today's featured crossword was constructed by Maura B. Jacobson.  It was originally published on August 4, 1978, and was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  This puzzle contains six theme entries (four of which are almost double-stacked) that relate to tennis but aren't clued as tennis terms.  For example, SERVICE LINES is clued as "G.I. queues" and FOOT FAULT is clued as "Podiatrist's concern."  Two others relate to mixology:  "What clumsy bartenders do" leads to  DROP SHOTS and "What the generous bartender did" yields MIXED DOUBLES.  The nonthematic fill includes many additional tennis-related entries, including WADE, ACED, and LETS, as well as the Scrabbly entries PROXY, OXALIC, and BIJOU.  Overall, this is an exceptional pre-Shortzian puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today's featured clue originally appeared in the November 5, 1988, puzzle by S. E. Wilkinson, which was litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former litzers).  The clue, which led to FOUR, read "Number of fingers per hand."  Maleska probably didn't count thumbs as fingers since they have two phalanges, while all other fingers have three.  Interestingly, Will Shortz ran the clue "Finger count" for TEN in one of my puzzles.  Webster seems to support both clues—it defines FINGER as "Any of five terminating members of the hand: a digit of the forelimb, especially: one other than the thumb."  If you have an opinion on this, please comment—if there are enough responses, I'll post a recap next week on which clue people thought was more accurate.  In the meantime, below is an anatomical diagram of the hand:

Image courtesy of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Old Crossword Books, 5,800-Plus Litzed Puzzles, New Litzer of the Month, and a Contest

Fantastic news:  I just received more old crossword books from Stan Newman!  In addition to helping with the identification of puzzles that appeared without bylines, old puzzle books sometimes provide the only way of determining what a puzzle's clues and entries were if a PDF is illegible.  I'm going to be looking through all these old crossword books carefully over the next few weeks in the hopes of resolving particular problems that have surfaced.

In other news, more than 5,800 puzzles have now been litzed!  We're continuing to make steady progress through 1978 and are almost at 1977, the last year of Maleska puzzles.  I've seen some really interesting puzzles and trends in 1979 and 1978—when we get further into the 1970s, I plan to compare puzzles of these years more closely with those from the 1980s.

December's Litzer of the Month is expert solver Jeffrey Krasnick!  In addition to solving thousands of crosswords, Jeffrey has also litzed an incredible 268 puzzles.  To read more about Jeffrey, click on the above link or the Litzer of the Month tab at the top of the page.

Today's featured puzzle, "Planted Antonyms,"  was constructed by Ernst Theimer.  It was originally published on March 30, 1986, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman's litzer Hugh during the first litzma (litzing marathon) back in 1999.  This litzma consisted of twelve Sunday puzzles that were reprinted in 1992 to celebrate fifty years of New York Times Sunday puzzles.  "Planted Antonyms" is my personal favorite of this dazzling twelvesome; its description read, "What an origami swan is to a paper airplane, this puzzle is to the average crossword."  The puzzle certainly lives up to this description—in addition to the enigmatic reveal MARY MARY QUITE CONTRARY/HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW, it also contains twelve theme entries (coincidence—or not?) that are clued in a way that only makes sense if a part is replaced with its antonym.  For example, the clue "GUSH" leads first to the original answer SPOUT and then ultimately to the grid entry SPIN—so solvers must first determine SPOUT to be the answer to the clue and then replace OUT with its antonym, IN, before entering it into the grid.  Both the original answer to each clue and the final result entered into the grid are legitimate words.  Brilliant!

Instead of explaining them all, I'm going to make coming up with the remaining eleven original answer/grid entry pairs (all Acrosses—the one I explained above was the only Down entry) a contest, which will be on the honor system.  Here are the rules:
  1. Read the description of the puzzle and example above to understand this puzzle's gimmick.
  2. If you have previously downloaded and looked at this puzzle from Barry Haldiman's website or elsewhere, seen it in a printed collection of Maleska puzzles, or solved the puzzle before and remember the answers, you are not eligible to participate.  Please do not try to find the puzzle online or use the Ginsberg clue database to check your grid answers!
  3. All contest submissions must be e-mailed to me at preshortzianpuzzleproject at gmail dot com (using the usual format) by 11:59 P.M. Pacific time on Sunday, December 9, to be eligible to win the prize.  In your e-mail, please include both the original answer and the grid entry for as many of the eleven clues as you can.
  4. The participant with the most correct answers will win a Puzzazz e-book of his or her choice!  In the event of more than one entry with the most correct answers, the winner will be randomly chosen from among those entries.  I will provide an access code that will allow the winner to claim the prize.
Below are the remaining eleven theme clues—use them to figure out the original answers and grid entries.  The first number indicates the length of the original answer to each clue; the second number indicates the length of the grid entry.  For example, the SPOUT/SPIN example I described above would be notated as: "GUSH" (5, 4).

"NOT SO FAST" (6, 6)
"OBTAINED" (3, 5)
"TEMPTRESS" (5, 4)
"LAPWING" (6, 7)
"FIRED" (4, 5)
"DISTEND" (5, 4)
"SLY" (6, 6)

The winner (and answers) will be announced in a special post the week of December 10.  Have fun—and good luck!

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is ANTHROPOPATHISM.  ANTHROPOPATHISM originally appeared in the February 16, 1980, puzzle by Robert Katz, which was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  Not surprisingly, according to the Ginsberg clue database ANTHROPOPATHISM has never been reused.  The original clue for ANTHROPOPATHISM was "Cruel seas, e.g."  Webster defines it as "the ascription of human feelings to something not human."  Anthropopathism comes from the Late Greek anthrōpopatheia, meaning "humanity," and was first introduced into our language in 1847.  Below is a picture of cruel seas:

Image courtesy of Scenario League.