Friday, December 27, 2013

Over 14,200, In 1954, Centennial Talk Recap, and Solution to Mark Diehl's Puzzle

As 2013 winds to a close, we've now litzed more than 14,200 puzzles!  This past week started off with 7 puzzles from Mike Buckley on Saturday afternoon, which were followed by 14 more from Jeffrey Krasnick that evening (putting his total at more than 800 litzed puzzles!)!  Sunday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 7 puzzles, then in the afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 7 more.  Early Monday morning, Jeffrey sent in another 7, which were followed by 10 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Monday afternoon, Denny sent in 6 more litzed puzzles, and that night, Tracy Bennett sent in another month of proofread puzzles.  Tuesday afternoon, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles.  I got lots of litzing presents on Christmas:  7 more puzzles from Lynn in the morning, 14 more from Jeffrey in the afternoon, and another 11 proofread puzzles from Todd in the evening!  Then Thursday morning, Jeffrey sent 7 more puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Denny that afternoon.  Finally, this morning, Lynn sent in 7 more puzzles, putting us over 14,200 on the litzing thermometer, and Doug Peterson sent in 5 Sunday puzzles from 1942!  Awesome job, everybody—way to wrap up the year!

We're now also in 1954, and since we're in the midst of a holiday season, it seemed fitting that a representative photo from that year would be of a Swanson TV dinner!  Swanson coined the phrase TV Dinner and produced the first hugely successful frozen meal that year.  According to Wikipedia, it consisted of turkey, cornbread dressing, frozen peas, and sweet potatoes.  Though it may not seem particularly appetizing to us nearly 60 years later (especially as our holiday fare!), it's not all that different from the microwaveable meals many of us pick up these days at Trader Joe's!

Photo courtesy of

Last Saturday I gave a talk at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library on the crossword centennial, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and crossword editing and constructing.  It was a lot of fun (and included OREOs I brought!) and quite well attended, considering the time of year—some 20 people took a break from their holiday revelry and came out in the middle of the afternoon, including litzer Todd Gross, who drove all the way from Mesquite, Nevada!  Thanks so much again, Todd!  The presentation was videotaped, and I may be able to post a link to it soon.  I'm hoping to give the talk again at a couple of other libraries next year.  Here's a picture of the display case I set up in the library:

Last week I posted the puzzle litzer Mark Diehl constructed in response to one of the New York Herald-Tribune's constructing challenges.  The solution to his puzzle is now also on Scribd—to see it, click here.

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was edited by Margaret Farrar, litzed by Denny Baker, and originally published on April 22, 1966.  As litzing has continued, I've come across many themeless puzzles with more than 72 words (usually 74) that contain a handful of lively entries.  I don't typically record the dates of these themelesses, since my list of puzzles to feature here is already 44 pages long; occasionally, however, I'll come across a puzzle that appears to be a high-word-count themeless but that actually has a nifty little theme.  This week's featured puzzle, for example, has a wide-open grid with a high word count but also contains a subtle gimmick involving seven theme entries that start with RH and a reveal (RHO)!  RHO is clued as "Greek letter, feature of this puzzle."; according to Webster, RHO is pronounced as either R- or RH- in English.  The theme entries themselves are all fun and lively words—I particularly like RHYTHM, RHETORIC, and RHODESIA!  The nonthematic fill also has many highlights, including SAD TO SAY, HACIENDA, YAHOO, CUSHY, MARINATE, and the old-fashioned ETHERIZE.  That's a lot of good fill!  There are, however, a few entries solvers might have found mysterious:  OSTRACON (clued as "Athenian ballot, used in banishing Aristides."), UNGULATE ("Having hooves."), and HOSE CART ("Fire company's wagon.").  HOSE CART, which Webster defines as "a wheeled vehicle for carrying the fire hose," intrigued me so much that I had to find a picture of one:

Image courtesy of Woodside 36.

In addition to the mysterious entries, this puzzle also contains a few not-so-great entries, including OCRA ("Vegetable: Var."), IRANIC ("Persian"), ECTAL ("Exterior: Anat."), and the clunky 8-letter partial SEES ONE'S ("___ way (clear)").  The cluing is mostly standard, though there are several interesting tidbits:  HACIENDA and ESTATE are both clued as "Country place.," VENUS has the Space Age-esque clue "NASA target.," and SUSAN is clued as "Name meaning 'a lily.'"  In all, this is a particularly strong pre-Shortzian daily puzzle—I look forward to spotting similar not-so-apparent themes as I continue to look through packets litzers send in!  In the meantime, here's the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) for this puzzle:

I've seen a number of "Name meaning ___" clues in puzzles from the mid-to-late '60s, such as the SUSAN clue in this week's featured puzzle.  I always appreciate seeing these "Name meaning ___" clues, as they're much more interesting than the standard "Man's name." and "Woman's name." fare.  Here are a few I've spotted in puzzles from the mid-to-late Farrar era:
  • June 19, 1963 (constructor unknown, litzed by Ed Sessa)
    • Clue:  Girls named after a lily.
    • Answer:  SUSANS
  • May 8, 1966 (constructed by Jack Luzzatto, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Girl's name meaning "fair of speech."
    • Answer:  EULALIA
  • June 1, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning "archer."
    • Answer:  IVAR
  • June 7, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning "blackbird."
    • Answer:  MERLE
  • December 13, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning true.
    • Answer:  VERA
  • April 27, 1967 (constructed by Louise Earnest, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Garment named after a French aerialist. [A reverse name clue!]
    • Answer:  LEOTARD
  • February 6, 1968 (constructor unknown, litzed by Joe Cabrera)
    • Clue:  Name meaning gazelle.
    • Answer:  LEAH
Since I've neither met nor heard of anyone named Eulalia, I looked online and found a picture of a woman named Eulalia Perez, whose picture was reportedly taken at the age of 139!

Image courtesy of Los Encinos
State Historic Park.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crossword Centennial Talk Tomorrow, Orange County Register Centennial Crossword, Article on Todd Gross, Mark Diehl Accepts the New York Herald-Tribune's Challenge, and Article on Arthur Hays Sulzberger's Collaborator Charles Merz

Tomorrow is the crossword centennial, and I'll be giving a talk about it and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library from 2 to 3.  For more details, click here.  I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Also, The Orange County Register asked me to do a special crossword for the centennial.  It appeared in today's paper and can be seen here—have FUN!

And litzer Todd Gross just sent me a link to an article about him and the centennial puzzle he and I constructed for The New York Times—to read it, click here.

Last week's post included Todd's awesome article on the New York Herald-Tribune, and litzer Mark Diehl decided to accept the Herald-Tribune's challenge and construct a crossword using the parameter it specified—great job, Mark!  I've posted the puzzle on Scribd, and you can download a PDF of it here.  I'll post the solution next week.

Arthur Hays Sulzberger was the publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961, but not many people are aware that he was also a crossword constructor!  According to my records, Sulzberger was a co-constructor on the June 14, 1942, New York Times crossword.  To read an article about his co-constructor, New York Times editor Charles Merz, click here.  Here's the solution to the puzzle they constructed, whose title was "United Nations":

This puzzle contains an impressive number of country names, but it also has many two-letter words, which were considered bad style even back when Margaret Farrar was editing in 1942.  The crossword also has left-right symmetry, which I don't recall seeing in any other Farrar-edited puzzle.  I wonder whether Margaret felt compelled to publish this puzzle because Sulzberger and Merz both held important positions at The New York Times.  The puzzle certainly isn't poorly constructed, but it feels different from any other Farrar puzzles I've seen so far.

On to litzing—it's been another very busy week!  Saturday morning, Ed Sessa sent in 7 puzzles, then that afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 41 puzzles, putting us over 14,000 on the litzing thermometer!  Late Saturday night, Mark Diehl sent another 21 puzzles.  Sunday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed that afternoon by 7 from Denny Baker.  Tuesday morning, Mark sent in 7 more puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Denny Baker sent in another 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Jeffrey that evening and which put us over 14,100 on the litzing thermometer!  Thursday afternoon, Denny sent in another 7 puzzles, then Friday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent 7 more.  And Howard Barkin sent 20 more puzzles this week too!  Great job, everybody—it won't be long before we only have 2,000 more puzzles to go (about the right amount for the next litzing contest!)!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Todd Gross on New York Herald-Tribune Crosswords, and In 1955

Today I'm delighted to present a fascinating article by litzer Todd Gross on the New York Herald-Tribune crossword!  Todd has been researching the Herald-Tribune for several years and has discovered what may well have been the first precursor of today's highly interrelated crossword community—enjoy!

An Introduction to the New York Herald-Tribune
By Todd Gross

This is a blog about The New York Times crosswords, and I’m sure everyone here knows that the first modern crossword was published in the New York World.  This article, however, is about another New York newspaper that played a role in the development of crossword puzzles but that isn’t as well known by solvers and aficionados:  the New York Herald-Tribune.

About four years ago, I started getting microfilm copies of the Herald-Tribune via interlibrary loan.  For no particular reason, I decided to start in January of 1928 and have since seen about two years’ worth of the paper, from January of 1928 to early March of 1930.  The crosswords themselves were, with a few notable exceptions I discuss later, the same sort you’d find in the World or Simon & Schuster books of the time:  themeless, mostly 15x15, some two-letter entries and unkeyed letters (but fewer than, say, five years earlier).  What makes the Herald-Tribune important in crossword history is the puzzles editor, Helen Haven, and how she created a kind of community, including constructors and solvers.

This is the only picture I have of Ms. Haven, taken immediately after the Herald-Tribune’s 1928 Cross-Word Puzzle Contest.  The caption below reads “At the Wanamaker Auditorium yesterday, left to right, J. Van Cleft Cooper, new champion; Helen Haven, puzzle editor; Colonel William Haskell, manager of the contest, and D. J. Wernher, runner-up.”

Nowadays, thanks to online blogs and mailing lists, interaction between constructors, editors, and solvers can happen in real time in a variety of ways.  But in the 1920s, your average crossword solver knew little more about puzzles’ constructors than their names and certainly couldn’t ask them questions or offer opinions to them.

But in the Herald-Tribune’s daily puzzle column, Ms. Haven included a paragraph or so of text every day.  And it wasn’t just about the puzzle printed below—it could be about puzzles in general, or interesting stories about people who solve puzzles, or questions and/or comments addressed directly to the readers.  It could even be content from readers themselves.  Through this limited channel, six times a week, readers were able to comment about puzzles, and their comments might be incorporated into future columns, even future puzzles.

I’ll give just a few examples here.  Starting in June of 1928, the daily puzzle column regularly included a cryptogram.  It all started innocently enough, with Ms. Haven writing the following:
With the advent of the cryptogram into general favor—(it has long been the delight of dyed-in-the-wool puzzlists)—we offer one herewith, and promise the solution to-morrow:  QGUUOK  QZRRKVPF  WZRK  YKKP  CDVK  RZVAKX  ZPX  RWKVKLDV  CDVK  APRKVKFRAPM  DL  OZRK.   Do you want some more?
And it turned out that the readers did want more:  The first reader-submitted cryptogram was printed two days later, and the day after, Ms. Haven wrote the following:
Enthusiastic response has met our suggestion that we have occasional cryptograms along with the daily puzzles.  G. B. C.'s question in cryptogrammese (or would it be cryptogrammar?) was "would not the Sunday page be more complete with one corker like this?"  Now here's an easy one for to-day:  IRTZT HZT VHBN LHNU IW GZTHQ HBF UWAKT H YZNXIWEZHV, HU VWUI WS NWJ XZWGHGAN RHKT SWJBF WJI.
Note the quick turnaround here:  A reader’s response was printed two days after the original comment.  But back to crossword puzzles.  On April 22, 1929, the first day constructors’ addresses (!) were published with the puzzle, the puzzle included this comment:
Advice to constructors from one who says he writes from experience:  Keep away from six-letter words ending in "ose."  He says there are very few to go 'round that make good interlocking.
On May 2, ten days later, the comment referred back to this piece of advice (the question marks are for parts I couldn’t make out because the picture I took was too fuzzy—I don’t have the kind of setup used by Recordak Corp. (the division of Eastman Kodak that created these microfilm reels)).
It seems that several days ago we p???ed a warning against the use of six-letter words ending in "ose," as there were few of them that could be interlocked successfully: The letters should have read "???" but before we had time to make this correction one ambitious contributor accepted the challenge and sent us a puzzle full of six-letter words ending in "ose."  We'll publish it soon.
I’m pretty sure this is the May 20 puzzle by Charles Griffen, which appears to contain at least six such words (probably eight, but again, the picture I took was too fuzzy to be certain).  Another comment challenging constructors to use PHENOMENON as their 1-Across entry resulted in several such puzzles being submitted.  The first one was published on August 26, 1929, and constructed by Ed Ward of Saugerties, New York.  This was the accompanying paragraph:
Here is the first of the puzzles made in answer to our challenge.  It is an interesting fact that many who accepted it by sending puzzles with this No. 1 across are new to this department.  Evidently we have brought out some hidden talents.
As far as I know, this kind of forum-like community, with interaction between solvers, constructors, and the column’s editor (of which I give just a few examples here), is the first of its kind in the crossword world.  This might explain why Eugene Maleska published his first crossword in the Herald-Tribune in 1944 and why he kept a voluminous correspondence with constructors and solvers alike in the days before e-mail and text messages.

By the way, once constructors’ addresses were given with the puzzle (one wonders if readers ever used these addresses to contact a constructor . . . I haven’t found any collaborations or mentions of this kind of contact yet), Ms. Haven often made comments on the various places constructors hailed from, such as the following:
Today we welcome another Far Western state into our records.  So far we have Washington, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and, of course, New York—not to mention Campobello, S. C. and New Brunswick, Canada.
And here’s a typical example of what these addresses looked like, from frequent contributor R. E. Thayer, who lived in Middletown, Connecticut:

Finally, I want to return to my comment about the puzzles themselves.  As I said, most crosswords were the standard kind of the period, but every now and then a more experimental kind of puzzle would be published.  I've reprinted two examples here, both by the same innovative constructor:  Bruce J. Davidson.  First, an early circular crossword, published in September of 1929:

And lastly, an even stranger grid published in November of ’29.  This puzzle has a checkerboard grid: the 4 isolated white squares are part of two diagonal 5-letter answers each, whose clues are in a separate section in the lower right below the grid.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at the New York Herald-Tribune.  I hope more folks will do their own investigating using interlibrary loan.  There’s a lot I haven’t gotten to yet (the Herald-Tribune started as a merger of papers in 1924 and lasted until 1966), and judging from what I’ve seen so far, there should be lots of interesting history left to uncover. . . .

Thanks so much again, Todd, for this enGROSSing journey into crossword history!

Back to the present, it's been another very busy litzing week, with nearly 100 new puzzles litzed!  The puzzles started coming in on Saturday afternoon, with 7 from Lynn Feigenbaum.  Sunday morning, Todd McClary sent in another 7; that night, Mark Diehl sent in 20 more, (putting us over 13,900 on the litzing thermometer!), and just 11 minutes later, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in another 7.  Tuesday morning, Barry Haldiman sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 from Denny Baker on Wednesday morning (putting his total at more than 700!).  Thursday morning, Jeffrey sent in 7 more puzzles, and that night, Mark sent in another 21.  Finally, this morning, Denny sent in another 7 puzzles, which were soon followed by 7 more from Lynn.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're almost at 14,000 now!

And with all this litzing, we've moved into a new year:  1955!  This year was notable for many historical and cultural events, but perhaps the happiest of all (especially for litzer Jeffrey Krasnick!) was the opening of Disneyland.  Here's a map of Disneyland as it was on its July 17 opening day:

Image courtesy of

Friday, December 6, 2013

Crossword Centennial Talks at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library and San Diego Central Public Library, New Litzer of the Month Ralph Bunker, and Jeffrey Krasnick's Links to Toronto Star Crossword Articles

It's been another busy week on the litzing front!  Saturday night, an anonymous litzer sent in 6 puzzles.  Then Sunday afternoon, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 7 more, which were followed by another 7 that night from Mike Buckley, putting us over 13,800 on the litzing thermometer and Mike's own total at more than 200!  Monday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 42 puzzles, bringing her total to more than 900 puzzles!  That afternoon, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Tuesday morning, Denny Baker sent 7 puzzles, and very early Wednesday morning, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles.  Thursday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed that afternoon by 7 more from Denny, and a bit later, 11 more proofread puzzles from Todd.  Finally, this morning Mark Diehl sent in 14 puzzles.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

I'm delighted to announce that Ralph Bunker is the December Litzer of the Month!  Ralph is an avid cyclist who has litzed more than 700 puzzles in just 10 weeks!  To read more about him, click here.

Event alert:  In two weeks, I'll be giving a talk at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library on the crossword centennial and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!  To see the details, click here.

And litzer Todd Gross recently told me about another crossword centennial talk by verbivore Richard Lederer this coming Monday at the San Diego Central Public Library; for details, click here.

Litzer Jeffrey Krasnick posted links to three awesome Toronto Star articles on Facebook today, including one about pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Charles M. Deber and the history of the crossword, "The crossword is 100 years old and thriving."  If you click on the link, you can also watch a fascinating video of Charles discussing his construction process.  Jeffrey himself is featured in the second article, "Canadian trio are rivals at American crossword contest"—congratulations, Jeffrey!  And the third article, "Canadiana crosswords compete with U.S. puzzles," is an interesting look at Canadian crosswords geared to Canadians.  Thanks so much for letting everyone know about these articles, Jeffrey—great weekend reading, eh?

Any blog about pre-Shortzian New York Times crosswords would feel incomplete without highlighting a Stepquote, one of the most iconic and controversial theme types published in the Farrar, Weng, and Maleska eras!  The Stepquote was first introduced in 1964 by none other than Eugene T. Maleska himself; in subsequent years, New York Times solvers saw many more Stepquotes and variations on this twisty gimmick, such as the Slidequote and the Boxquote, in their Sunday magazines; the vast majority of these were constructed by Maleska.  In recent years, the Stepquote, which declined in popularity after Will Shortz became editor, has become the epitome of a substandard pre-Shortzian puzzle.  Critics have denounced the Stepquote for having low theme density and unchecked theme squares in the quote; also, many modern solvers and editors feel that quote themes as a rule are hackneyed.

The Stepquote certainly isn't my favorite type of pre-Shortzian puzzle, but I do appreciate how Maleska shook things up with a novel gimmick and produced some of the earliest examples of puzzles with entries that bend around corners.  Today's featured puzzle, which was titled "Stepquote, Punny Style," was constructed by (drumroll, please!) Eugene T. Maleska; published on September 25, 1966; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Martin Herbach.  This Stepquote features a particularly amusing and tongue-twisting quip:  IS IT HARDER TO TOOT OR TO TUTOR TWO TOOTERS TO TOOT?  The rest of the puzzle plays out like a themeless, though Maleska did manage to toss in the quote's author CAROLYN/WELLS, albeit asymmetrically.  The wide-open corners allowed Maleska to incorporate many fresh and interesting entries into the grid.  My favorites include SCHISM, AIR-COOL, DRIES UP, DESIDERATA, RADIATOR, STAIRCASES, SKEETERS, CASHEWS, and TREMOLO—what a lovely ennead!  On the other hand, the puzzle does include a handful of entries I'm not so fond of:  the partials COP ON (clued as "The ___ the beat."), IDES OF ("___ March."), and RULES OF ("___ order."); the roll-your-own entries DENUDERS ("Strippers."), DEPARTER ("Goer."), SNARER ("Man with a gin."), and RERIDE ("Go cycling again."); poetic spellings OERTAKE ("Catch up with: Poet.") and ERENOW ("Previously: Poet."); and an olio of lesser-known entries such as OMBERS ("Mediterranean food fish."), TRENAIL ("Wooden peg."), and SAI ("Capuchin monkey.").  Also, AASA ("Initials of school group.") probably isn't the most famous of organizations, though I'm not surprised Maleska used it, since he was also a school administrator.  In all, this is a solid pre-Shortzian puzzle—it doesn't knock my socks off, but I certainly enjoy seeing it more than another themeless Sunday.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Almost at 13,800, Puzzazz Thanksgiving Weekend Black Friday Puzzle Sale, and PuzzleNation's Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

I hope you all had a wonderful, puzzle-filled Thanksgiving!  This week the litzing machine has continued to chug along—I received more than 100 puzzles, and we're now almost at 13,800 on the litzing thermometer!  Just minutes after last week's blog post went live, Todd McClary sent in 7 puzzles.  Then late Friday night, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in her first batch of 7 puzzles—welcome, Lynn!  Sunday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles, followed by another 11 Tuesday morning.  Four minutes later, Ralph Bunker sent in 28 puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Ralph sent in 28 more puzzles (putting his total at more than 700!), which were followed by 31 proofread puzzles from Tracy Bennett that afternoon and 15 more litzed puzzles from Mark Diehl that night.  Mark sent in another 13 late Thursday night (putting his total at more than 4,100!), and this morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 more.  Awesome job, everyone—we should definitely be over 13,800 by next Friday!

In other news this week, two very timely sales came to my attention:  the Puzzazz Thanksgiving Weekend Black Friday Puzzle Sale, which has great deals on puzzle e-books and apps and features two free Logic Crossword books by Roy Leban just for using the Puzzazz app any time between now and Monday; and PuzzleNation's Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, which contains a list of many fun gift options for down time over the holidays not already taken up by litzing and proofreading!  Fluxx: The Board Game stood out to me the most.  Crossword constructor extraordinaire Mike Shenk introduced me to the card game Fluxx, whose rules get created differently each time the game is played, at the most recent National Puzzlers' League convention.  The game was loads of fun, and I'm sure the board game is a treat as well!  PuzzleNation also has a link to Dell's 100 Years of Crosswords, which of course includes puzzles by pre-Shortzian constructors!

Today's featured puzzle, "Thanksgiving Fare," was constructed and edited by Will Weng (who modestly used the byline W. W.), published on November 23, 1969, and litzed by Todd McClary.  In his Litzer of the Month interview from July, Todd cited this puzzle as the most memorable one he had litzed.  I wholeheartedly agree that this puzzle shines, not only because it's a quintessential Weng puzzle in terms of his style as a crossword constructor and editor but also because the theme is eccentric, fun, and even historically significant!  In this masterpiece, Weng dished up eight mostly symmetric, interlocking theme entries that take a dig at what was then considered a modern Thanksgiving meal:  PLASTIC TABLECLOTH (clued as "Holiday dining decor"), BISCUIT MIX ("Mom's baking standby"), PAPER NAPKIN ("Table decor"), FREEZE-DRIED COFFEE ("Repast topper"), INSTANT POTATOES ("Holiday menu item"), CANNED PEAS ("Vegetable for mom's table"), DEFROSTED TURKEY ("Crux of a holiday meal"), and BURNT BEANS ("Home-cooked item").  To me, the puzzle feels like a rueful homage to the old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner when all the food items were fresh rather than artificial and pre-made.  It presents a bittersweet yet sardonic view on the evolution of an impatient, fast-paced modern society—a view that may have been reflective of his generation's take on the baby boomers as a whole.  (Just imagine how Weng might have felt about today's society!)  I am somewhat surprised that Weng didn't include an additional theme entry where SNOWMOBILE is, though the entry itself and its wacky clue ("Sleigh for today's grandma") could be considered thematic by a stretch and make up for the paucity of theme entries in that section of the grid.

The rest of the nonthematic fill has its ups and downs—I like the semi-thematic entry SALIVATE a lot, and entries like BOLOGNA, ROB ROY, ROMANTIC, SNIPING, and GIRAFFE give the fill a fresh and lively feel.  Also, although I've never heard of the word ERISTIC ("Controversial"), I feel it's an interesting word that's worthwhile knowing.  According to Webster, this rather unusual term can ultimately be traced back to the Greek eris, meaning "strife," which is also the name of the Greek goddess of discord.  The fill does, however, contain a sizable number of entries I'm not overwhelmingly fond of:  the partials THE DAY ("Officer of ___"), A DAY'S ("___ work," which also overlaps with THE DAY), and NOSE IN ("Stick one's ___"); the abbreviations RNWYS ("Airstrips: Abbr.") and OPR ("Girl with a headset: Abbr."); the hardcore crosswordese UINAL ("Mayan month"), ENTAD ("Inward: Anat."), and EDAR ("Biblical tower"); and the gallimaufry of prefixes and suffixes featuring ATOR ("Doer: Suffix"), ESCE ("Verb suffix"), AMIDO ("Of an acid"), IERS ("Comparative suffixes"), and OZON ("Oxygen prefix").  Also, SPOT-FREE ("Like a freshly-cleaned suit") feels a bit roll-your-own.  Many of the nonthematic clues, as in most Weng-constructed puzzles, have a lovely wry, clever twist to them.  My favorites are "Creators of jams" for AUTOS, "Social bore" for EGOIST, and the timely "1969 champs" for METS.  In all, despite a few setbacks in the nonthematic fill, this is a beautiful, meaningful construction and a harbinger of the brilliance and creativity that would flourish in the late Weng and early Maleska eras.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Following up on the nostalgic note of the featured puzzle, I thought I'd close off this post with some clues that reflect the changing times in the '60s:
  • March 31, 1964 (constructor unknown, litzed by Ed Sessa)
    • Clue:  Memento of the trolley age.
    • Answer:  CAR TRACKS
  • October 18, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue: Vanishing vehicle.
    • Answer:  STREETCAR
  • January 6, 1967 (constructed by Arthur Schulman, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Slogan of today's youth.
    • Answer:  A-GO-GO
  • February 22, 1967 (constructed by William Lutwiniak, litzed by Martin Herbach)
    • Clue:  Movie stars of the good old days.
    • Answer:  VAMPS
  • May 16, 1969 (constructor unknown, litzed by Howard Barkin)
    • Clue:  Anyone over 30, to the new breed.
    • Answer:  OLDSTER
  • And finally, my favorite, from July 18, 1967 (constructed by Helen Fasulo, litzed by Martin Herbach)
    • Clue:  Ever-rising item.
    • Answer:  HEMLINE
Below is a picture of some miniskirts from the '60s:

Image courtesy of Everything About Fashion.

Friday, November 22, 2013

20th Anniversary of Will Shortz's Editorship (and of the Post–Pre-Shortzian Era!), Lynn Feigenbaum's 1993 Interview with Will Shortz, Eric Albert's "The World's Most Ornery Crossword," Project Update, Looming Litzing Challenges, and More Publicity

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Will Shortz's editorship of the New York Times crossword—and, hence, of the post–pre-Shortzian era!  The past 20 years have truly been the golden age of Times crosswords—congratulations, Will!

November 21, 1993, New York Times announcement.

And, serendipitously, yesterday I received an e-mail from our newest litzer, Lynn Feigenbaum, reportedly the first journalist to interview Will after he became puzzle editor of the Times.  Lynn's article, "Bill Clinton Of The Crossword Puzzle World," appeared in December 1993 in Editor & Publisher.  She writes:  "I had met him at the 1986 U.S. Open Crossword Championship (where I came in an inglorious 203rd out of 250 puzzlers . . . I've never gotten much better) and was appalled that the press didn't know what a revolutionary change was ahead.  I hoped writing the article for E&P, a newspaper trade mag, would spread the word.  I like to think it did. . . . "  You can read Lynn's fascinating piece here.

If you enjoyed Eric Albert's "Crosswords by Computer" article last week, you may want to try your hand at solving "The World's Most Ornery Crossword."  This computer-created puzzle by Eric has two independent sets of clues—"Hard" and "Easy"—so you can choose the challenge level you prefer.  The puzzle appeared in the same issue of Games and can be viewed and downloaded here.

On the litzing front this week, Howard Barkin sent in 7 puzzles (putting his total at more than 800 litzed puzzles!).  Saturday morning, Joe Cabrera sent in 6 more.  Then Sunday morning, Alex Vratsanos sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Denny Baker that afternoon and 8 from Mark Diehl that night.  Monday morning, Alex sent in 7 more puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Denny on Wednesday afternoon.  Friday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Great job, everyone—by next week at this time, we should be over 13,700!

As we get into the final stretch of litzing, we're facing some new challenges.  Several litzers have already been sent some unusual packets—instead of containing a typical week of Monday through Sunday puzzles, some packets now may have just a few daily puzzles or a few Sunday puzzles with no dailies.  Soon we'll be entering the Sunday-only phase, which will begin (moving backwards in time) on September 10, 1950.  Packets from then on will consist of 4 to 5 Sunday puzzles.  Although this will mean that individual litzing totals will increase more slowly, the Sunday puzzles from this time period had so many fascinating historical and cultural references that they should still hold our interest!

Another looming litzing challenge is the number of missing puzzles, either because of newspaper strikes or because we simply couldn't find PDFs of certain puzzles.  Although these problematic puzzles comprise a relatively small percentage of the total—I recently counted 129 newspaper strike dates, for example—in the not too distant future I'll be soliciting help to track them down.

Finally, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity this week in Deb Amlen's November 19 post on Wordplay—thanks so much, Deb!

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by George Laczko, edited by Margaret Farrar, published on March 13, 1967, and litzed by Mark Diehl.  This remarkable construction features six symmetrically interlocking theme entries that contain an article of clothing but that are either idiomatic and/or have nothing to do with the articles of clothing in and of themselves, such as SLIPS OUT and IN ANOTHER'S SHOES.  TIES INTO and SNOW CAPS are positioned particularly elegantly since they intersect two other theme entries apiece, a feat that would be exceptionally challenging even with the word lists and other resources available to 21st-century crossword constructors!  What really makes this puzzle extraordinary and way ahead of its time, however, is the inclusion of the reveal entry GARMENT DISTRICT (clued appropriately for The New York Times as "Part of New York City.").  I haven't seen very many daily puzzles from the '50s and '60s with themes as solid as this one, but I don't think I've seen any that go so far as to include a reveal entry!  The theme density did, however, necessitate a barrage of crosswordese and unusual entries in the nonthematic fill, which include ORLO ("Flat plinth."), PINNI ("Feather: Prefix"), ALME ("Egyptian dancing girl."), STYR ("Ukrainian river."), and DTHS ("Theological degrees.").  The weirdest-looking entry has to be WHEYEY ("Like thin milk."), a word that I've never seen before within or outside of crosswords!  Nevertheless, Mr. Laczko did a brilliant job with this puzzle, and I look forward to seeing more puzzles that are 20–30 years ahead of their time as litzing continues!  For now, here's the solution (with highlighted theme entries):

Friday, November 15, 2013

Eric Albert's "Crosswords by Computer," Mark Diehl Litzes One Quarter of All the Pre-Shortzian Puzzles, In 1956, and Cogito Article on the Project

This week I'm delighted to present a link to Eric Albert's classic article, "Crosswords by Computer—or 1,000 Nine-Letter Words a Day for Fun and Profit," on his experiences in the early years of crossword construction software.  This fascinating piece originally appeared in February 1992—more than 20 years ago!  To read it, click here.  Thanks so much again, Eric!

I'm also thrilled to announce that on Sunday litzer Mark Diehl reached a major milestone:  He litzed his 4058th puzzle, meaning he has now litzed more than one quarter of all the pre-Shortzian puzzles!  This is truly an amazing feat—congratulations, Mark, and thanks so much again!

Lots of other puzzles came in this week too, starting off on Saturday afternoon with 7 from Ed Sessa.  Twenty minutes later, Brian Kulman sent in another 7.  Sunday afternoon, Ralph Bunker sent 28 puzzles, putting us over 13,500 on the litzing thermometer (and his own total at more than 600 litzed puzzles—since mid-September!)!  Then later that night, Mark sent in the batch of 22 puzzles that brought his record-breaking total to 4058!  Monday afternoon, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 more puzzles.  Tuesday morning, Denny Baker sent 7 puzzles, which were followed that evening by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Wednesday morning, Ralph sent in 28 more puzzles.  Thursday afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent a mega-batch of 42 puzzles, putting us over 13,600 on the litzing thermometer and into 1956!  A short while later, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, which were followed by 11 litzed puzzles from Mark later that night.  Then late this afternoon, Todd sent in 11 more proofread puzzles, which were followed 15 minutes later by 7 litzed puzzles from Mike Buckley.  Super job, everyone—we're really whizzing through the 1950s!

We're now in 1956, the breakout year for "the King" (no, not the Litzing King, Mark Diehl!).  Elvis Presley rocketed to superstardom with the January release of his first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel."  Here's a picture:

Image courtesy of HowStuffWorks

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity recently!  Kristi Birch's article, "Project Spotlight:  Getting a Clue," features an interview with me about the project and is on the site of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.  To read it, click here.

Today's featured puzzle, "Sweet Talk," was constructed by the legendary A. J. Santora, edited by the legendary Margaret Farrar, and litzed by the legendary Mark Diehl!  The publication date, which was November 27, 1966, isn't particularly legendary, though this puzzle is from one of the first batches of litzed puzzles I reviewed in the year 1966.  The theme, which involves different types of candy clued in ways that don't relate to candy, is a solid representation of what Sunday puzzle themes were like from this time period (category members with alternate meanings).  I've noticed that there were relatively few themeless Sundays published in the late Farrar era, and the ones that did appear seem to have all been constructed by the same person (the exceptionally prolific William A. Lewis, Jr.).  Anyway, my favorite theme entries in this puzzle are CHOCOLATE CREAM SOLDIER (clued as "'Arms and the Man' man."), ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP (clued trickily as "Temple song of years ago."—Mr. Santora was referring to Shirley Temple rather than to the place of worship!), CRACKERJACK ("First-rate: Slang."—which, interestingly, is a brand name of sweets), and BUTTERSCOTCH ("Yellowish-brown.").  I haven't personally heard of the first two of these theme entries, but I like that they're both 21 letters—and besides, who can split hairs over such a sweet theme?  The only theme entry that feels a little weak is PEPPERMINTS ("Pungent plants."), since its clue isn't that far off in terms of meaning from the candies.  The nonthematic fill, which feels fresh and lively, makes up for this slight inconsistency and really shines because of the puzzle's relatively low theme density.  I especially like the entries TAMMANY, ZEALOT, EXODUS, BABOONS, CROUPIER, UPROAR, and, most of all, BALLYHOO!  That said, this puzzle review would feel too treacly if I neglected to mention the slew of partials in the grid, which include TAKING A ("___ back seat"), REAP THE ("___ whirlwind"), and the repetitious À-TÊTE ("Tête ___"), as well as the unpleasant TRAUMAS ("Emotional stresses") and the lesser-known SEGETAL ("Growing in fields of grain."), RORIC ("Dewy."), and TSHI ("Gold Coast language.").  In sum, however, this is a fine construction with a mouth-watering theme—I look forward to seeing some more of A. J. Santora's earlier constructions as litzing continues!  For now, here's the answer grid with highlighted theme entries.  Time to go grab some candy!

Friday, November 8, 2013

1980 Puzzles Up, Ralph Bunker's "Evolution of a Litzer," and Site Changes

Great news:  The 1980 puzzles are now all proofread and up on XWord Info!  Thanks so much again to proofreaders Todd Gross, Tracy Bennett, and Kristena Bergen, who toil quietly in the background getting the litzed puzzles ready for prime time—and to Jim Horne, for solving technical issues and then posting the puzzles on XWord Info!

And in our first post-Litzstarter week, more proofread and litzed puzzles have continued to come in, starting off very early Saturday morning with 10 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross and 3 litzed puzzles from C. G. Rishikesh (Rishi).  Sunday morning, Rishi sent 3 more, and then that night, he sent another.  Monday night, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles, and Tuesday morning, Ralph Bunker sent in 28 litzed puzzles.  Early Wednesday morning, Todd sent in 11 more proofread puzzles, and shortly thereafter, Ralph sent in 28 more litzed puzzles, putting us over 13,400 on the litzing thermometer!  Very early Thursday morning, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles, then later sent 10 more, putting us into 1979 with the proofreading!  Thursday night, Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles, and early this morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 more.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much again!

This week I'm delighted to feature a piece by litzer Ralph Bunker, who burst onto the scene a quarter of the way through Litzstarter and, using programs he writes, has been able to litz an amazing number of puzzles in a very short period of time.  Here's his article:

Evolution of a Litzer

by Ralph Bunker

Phase 1
Printed out puzzles, typed them using only CrossFire.

Phase 2
Did not print out puzzles. Used a second computer to display the clues and answers for a puzzle side by side.

Phase 3.
Got tired of typing in the title, author and copyright and not being able to hit return to get to next line of grid in CrossFire, so I wrote a program to overcome thiese annoyances. I copied the email David sent with the one line descriptions of the puzzles to a text editor and typed the grid under each line, getting something that looked like this:

2/28:  Unknown

The program read the file containing the grids and did the following:
1. Expanded the one line header into Title, Author and Copyright lines.
2. Verified that each line of a puzzle was the same length.
3. Printed a warning if the puzzle was not square.
4. Printed a warning if the puzzle was not symmetric.

Note: every such warning was actually an error. All puzzles that I have entered are square and symmetric.

5. Analyzed the grid to determine clue numbers.
6. Generated an empty clue for each across and down answer.
7. Produced an XML file that could be read by CrossFire.

Phase 4.
Got tired of switching back and forth between entering a month's worth of grids in a text editor and then using CrossFire to enter the clues, so I asked David for a year's worth of puzzles. I spent a couple of days entering all the grids, then spent the rest of the time entering the clues.

Note: Maybe people without construction software could enter the grids and somebody else enter the clues.

Phase 5.
When I type clues I find the clue on the computer displaying the puzzles, then type in the clue looking at the screen because that is how I am used to typing when I program. This allows me to verify that the clue and the answer make sense together. However, sometimes I get into a zone where I am just typing clues and when I do a pass through the clues on completion of a puzzle, there are answers that I have no recollection of seeing. This concerns me, so I wrote a program that collects all the distinct answers and displays all the ways that each answer was clued. For example,

  Urge on. 36A[600425]
  Help, especially in wrongdoing. 12D[600506]
  Aid. 57D[600805]
  Urge on. 57A[600812]
  Support. 11D[601118]
  Second; support. 53D[610211]
  Countenance wrongdoing. 11D[610318]
  Aid's partner. 54D[610927]
  Sanction. 62D[611002]
  Aid and ___. 17D[611008]
  Second. 21D[620508]
  Aid's partner. 6D[630112]

which looks pretty good, but then there is something like

  Math subject: Abbr. 27A[600907]
  Branch of math. 53A[601003]
  African country: Abbr. 49A[601101]
  Math area: Abbr. 14D[610115]

and I wonder if I missed the Abbr in the answer for puzzle 601003.

Phase 6 (in progress)
Analyze the answer file produced in Phase 5 to find possible errors, e.g.
1. Missing periods.
2. Incorrect spacing of ellipsis.
3. Clues that include the answer (i.e. I typed the answer instead of the ___)
4. Answers in which most but not all clues include Abbr., etc.

I can correct errors such as mispellings in the file and then write another program to apply the corrections to the CrossFire files. I can also convert the puzzle dates into links that will display the PDF files for the puzzle.

Phase 7 (thinking about as I type)
Write a program that floats over the PDF file so that an answer is directly above it as I type.

Thanks so much again, Ralph, for this fascinating piece about the evolution of your litzing process!

You may have noticed some minor changes in the site's sidebar on the right.  Now that Litzstarter is over, I've removed the sponsor logos; I've also put in a link to XWord Info, since that's where you'll find the pre-Shortzian puzzles, and moved up the Subscribe button.  In addition, I've removed the PayPal Contribute button, since it was rarely used and took up important "real estate" in the sidebar.  (You can still contribute, though, by clicking on the Contribute tab above and following the instructions.)  All these changes have moved the Litzer of the Month gadget back into its former more prominent position.

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Harold T. Bers, edited by Margaret Farrar, litzed by Brian Kulman, and originally published on February 21, 1959.  This prodigious puzzle contains just 64 words and, unlike the precious few other pre-Shortzian puzzles with low word count I've encountered, uses an eye-catching grid with no cheater squares.  On top of all this, the puzzle is filled much more cleanly than the average pre-Shortzian themeless with 72 or more words, making it a true tour de force!  Some of my favorite entries are LOVE SEAT, TERRA FIRMA, CREEPS UP, LANDMINE, and SEE STARS.  HEBETUDE (clued as "Dullness; lethargy") is an interesting-sounding entry as well, though I'd never heard of it before this puzzle.  Webster notes that hebetude and its adjectival form, hebetudinous, come from the late Latin hebetudo, which can ultimately be traced to the second-conjugation Latin verb hebēre, meaning "to be dull."  The puzzle does contain a few entries that Amy Reynaldo would designate as "roll-your-own," including PRECASTS ("Selects actors without a tryout."), RESTAMP ("Imprint again."), ENNEADIC ("Of a group of nine."), and ASAS ("Men named for a king of Judah."), as well as a few unusual terms, such as the partial-like ARLESIENNE ("Famous Van Gogh painting, with "L."), ADEEMS ("Revokes, as a legacy."), and RACEME ("Floral structure, as lily of the valley."), though none of these entries feels glaringly bad.  The clues are fairly standard on the whole, though the clue for SKEE ("Engage in winter sport: Var.") surprised me, since SKEE-Ball was definitely around back then and would have made for a better clue.  Then again, it seems that Maleska didn't introduce the Skee-Ball cluing approach until 1990—perhaps the pre-Shortzian editors felt Skee-Ball was too much like a brand name.  Nevertheless, this is an exceptionally strong, smooth pre-Shortzian themeless that would still be considered high-quality today, and I'm looking forward to seeing other ahead-of-their time Bers masterpieces as litzing continues further back into the '50s!  Here's the answer grid:

Friday, November 1, 2013

2,355 Puzzles Litzed During Litzstarter, Nancy Kavanaugh Wins ACPT Grand Prize, Mark Diehl Tops 4,000, New Litzer Extraordinaire Ralph Bunker, November Litzer of the Month C. G. Rishikesh, and In 1957

Litzstarter is now officially over, and it's been a tremendous success!  With an ambitious goal of reaching 13,000 on the litzing thermometer in just two months, we not only met that goal but surpassed it, hitting 13,363 by 11:59 p.m. PDT on October 31.  A total of 2,355 puzzles (counting 97 of my own, which weren't listed in the contest totals) were litzed—an astounding achievement!  Thanks so much again to everyone who participated—awesome job!

And many thanks again too to our generous sponsors:  the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT), American Values Club Crossword (AVCX), Crossword Nation, Fireball Crosswords, Puzzazz, Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, and XWord Info.  The awards were terrific incentives and helped make this the most successful Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project contest ever!

The winner of the Grand Prize drawing for free admission to the 2014 ACPT was Nancy Kavanaugh—congratulations, Nancy!  Contest litzers were assigned numbers between 1 and 2258 based on the number of puzzles they'd litzed during Litzstarter, and a random-number generator produced the winning number.

Now for a recap of Litzstarter's final six days:  Ralph Bunker got us off to a fast start on Saturday morning with 28 puzzles.  Late that night, Mark Diehl sent in 25 more.  Then Sunday morning, Ralph sent in another 28, putting us over 13,100 on the litzing thermometer (and his personal totals at more than 500!)!  Sunday night, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 20 more from Mark.  Monday evening, Vic Fleming sent in 21 puzzles.  Then Tuesday afternoon, Brian Kulman sent in 7, which were followed by 28 more from Ralph that night, putting us over 13,200 on the litzing thermometer!  About half an hour later, Mark sent in 35 more puzzles (putting his contest total at more than 600!).  On Wednesday afternoon, Tracy Bennett sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed a little over an hour later by a mega-batch of 42 from Nancy Kavanaugh.  That night, Mark sent in 28 more puzzles, putting us over 13,300 on the litzing thermometer (and his contest total at 650 and regular total at more than 4,000!)!  Very early Thursday morning, Todd Gross sent in 11 more proofread puzzles, then later, Brian sent in 7 litzed puzzles.  Thursday night—the last night of the contest—Todd McClary sent in 7 more puzzles, which were followed by 24 more from Mark about an hour and a half before the midnight deadline.  And Howard Barkin sent in an additional 21 puzzles this week as well!  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

As I mentioned, Mark Diehl reached a major milestone this week in his regular total, which now comes to 4,036—nearly one-fourth of the total pre-Shortzian puzzles!  Congratulations, Mark, on this amazing achievement!

And many of you may have noticed the sudden appearance of new litzer extraordinaire Ralph Bunker, who first contacted me on September 14 (two weeks after Litzstarter had begun) about litzing and who has since litzed an astounding 539 puzzles—in just six weeks!  Ralph has written programs to speed up his litzing, and next week I'll be publishing a fascinating piece he wrote about that.  Thanks so much again, Ralph!

In other news, we have a new Litzer of the Month:  C. G. Rishikesh (Rishi)! Rishi lives in India and is a prolific constructor of cryptic puzzles.  His response to my question about which aspect of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project database he was most excited about was particularly eloquent:
To be able to go to old puzzles and see those old references.  To marvel at some things that are still fresh.  To mourn over things that have died a silent death.  To recall a half-forgotten quote, to be reminded of a movie that you saw years ago with a cousin who is no longer alive, to find an echo from a distant song. . . .  The possibilities are endless.
To read more about Rishi, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

With all this litzing, we've whizzed into another year:  1957.  This was a year of many major historical events, but in honor of the speed at which we've zipped through the litzing, I've decided to highlight the record-setting run by British race car driver Stirling Moss on August 23, 1957, in the MG EX181.  Reaching a speed of 245 mph—almost as fast as litzers!—Moss broke the class F world land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  Here's a picture of the MG EX181:

Photo courtesy of Auto Heritage

Friday, October 25, 2013

Litzstarter Goal of 13,000 Puzzles Reached 1 Week Early, 6 More Days of Contest, In 1958, PuzzleNation Interview, and Margaret Farrar's Delightful Invitation

Great news:  Late last night—a week early!—we reached the Litzstarter goal of litzing 13,000 puzzles by the end of October!  At 10:57 p.m., Mark Diehl sent in 21 puzzles that put us over the top—awesome job, everyone!  We've now litzed exactly 13,021 puzzles, 356 of which came in this past week!  The puzzle deluge started off very early Saturday morning, with Mike Buckley sending in 7.  Later that morning, Ralph Bunker sent in 28 more puzzles, putting us at exactly 12,700 on the litzing thermometer!  Saturday evening, Vic Fleming sent in 14 puzzles.  Then Sunday morning, Mark Diehl sent a 42-puzzle mega-batch, which was followed 17 minutes later by 28 more from Ralph . . . and then another 28 from Ralph that evening, putting us over 12,800 on the litzing thermometer!  Monday morning, Brian Kulman sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed that night by 28 more from Mark.  Tuesday afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in another mega-batch of 41 puzzles, putting us over 12,900 on the litzing thermometer (and her regular total at more than 800 and contest total at more than 300!)!  That night, Vic sent in 6 more puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed one minute later by 28 from Ralph.  That afternoon, Vic sent in 1 more puzzle, and then in the evening, Todd Gross sent in 7 proofread puzzles.  Thursday afternoon, Vic sent 7 more puzzles.  A short while later, Tracy Bennett sent in 7 more puzzles, which were followed 23 minutes later by 7 more from Vic.  A few hours later, Ralph sent in 28, then Mark sent in 21 more, putting us over 13,000 on the litzing thermometer (and his own regular total at more than 3,900!)!  Late this afternoon, Mike sent 7 more, and Howard Barkin sent in an additional 14 this week as well—thanks so much again, everyone!  We're now on our way to 14,000!

For those of you reading this who haven't been able to litz during the contest, there's still time!  By litzing 2–3 puzzles a day for the remaining 6 days of Litzstarter, you can be eligible for the Grand Prize drawing of free admission to the 2014 ACPT!

With all this litzing, we've moved into another year:  1958!  In searching for a representative event from that year, I discovered that 1958 was the year 14-year-old Bobby Fischer won the U.S. Chess Championship.  At 14, he was the youngest to have done so, and even after all these years, his record still stands.  Arguably the greatest chess player who ever lived, Bobby Fischer died in 2008.  Below is a photo of the young Bobby Fischer:

Photo courtesy of

In other news, yesterday PuzzleNation published an interview with me in which I discuss the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, among other things.  To read it, click here.

A few days ago, I received another e-mail from Lyn Silverstein, the daughter of pre-Shortzian constructor Jules Arensberg.  She had attached a copy of a charming invitation—decorated with crosswordese!—Margaret Farrar had sent to Lyn's mother 10 years or so after Jules died.  The invitation was to a celebration of 50 years of Simon & Schuster crossword puzzle books (April 10, 1924, to April 10, 1974).  This amazing event took place at the Private Dining Room of The New York Times—here's the invitation:

Thanks so much again, Lyn!  If anyone remembers attending this party, please comment!

Today's featured puzzle (whose constructor is unknown) was edited by Will Weng, litzed by Todd McClary, and originally published on April 1, 1969.  I think Will Weng started the tradition of running an unusual puzzle on April Fool's Day each year, as the April Fool's Day puzzles I've seen so far from the Farrar era seem like ordinary puzzles.  If so, then this was the first of the bizarre April Fool's Day puzzles!  This wacky and novel crossword features 12 theme entries that contain actual apostrophes in them, such as ENTR'ACTE, DON'T, and WE'RE, a gimmick not reused in The New York Times for many years thereafter.  In fact, this is the earliest puzzle I've seen with punctuation marks in the grid!  Aside from the interesting theme, the nonthematic fill has some very nice longer entries, such as WINE TASTER, ADORABLE, and RESEMBLING.  The rest of the fill, however, feels rather strained, which is most likely a by-product of the theme density.  The not-so-great entries include a host of pre-Shortzian crosswordese (SAIC, ANANA, ARADO, et al.); MARMORA (clued as "Turkish sea."); ABT ("German composer."); ONE O ("___'clock), which, in addition to being an awkward partial, also has an apostrophe that isn't in the grid; and MSTA ("River to lake Ilmen.").  Despite these clunkers in the fill, I appreciate that Will Weng took a risk and published this ground-breaking April Fool's Day puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

I've come across several clues with debatable stereotypes about teenagers in crosswords from the middle to late 1960s, which makes sense since teenagers were heavily involved with the counterculture back then (much to the chagrin of their parents).  There is some truth to these teenage-stereotype clues, though I was disappointed not to see a clue referencing teenagers who build crossword puzzles!  In any case, here are the clues I've found, along with a 21st-century teenager's assessment of each one:
  • April 29, 1967 (constructed by Louis Sabin, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Almost any teenager.
    • Answer:  REBEL
    • Commentary:  Almost is the key word here!
  • June 26, 1967 (constructed by Dorothy M. Hall, litzed by Martin Herbach)
    • Clue:  Teen-agers' monopoly, in many homes.
    • Answer:  TELEPHONE
    • Commentary:  I can count the number of times I've used a telephone, as opposed to a cellphone, on my fingers.
  • January 31, 1968 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Teen-age preoccupation.
    • Answer:  DATING
    • Commentary:  No comment. ;)
  • April 4, 1968 (constructor unknown, litzed by Denny Baker)
    • Clue:  VIP in the family.
    • Answer:  TEENAGER
    • Commentary:  Darn straight!
  • January 29, 1969 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Member of the go-go set.
    • Answer:  TEENAGER
    • Commentary:  You mean the set of teenagers who have used GO-GO as a crossword entry?
I didn't have to look too far to find a picture of a teenager—in fact, I even found a picture of one carrying a telephone in his backpack like his contemporaries did before cellphones were invented!

Image courtesy of!