Saturday, January 19, 2013

Contest Standings, Almost at 6,900, More Publicity, Politically Incorrect Terms

We're making terrific progress in the second litzing contest!  Currently Mark Diehl is leading the pack with a total of 130 litzed puzzles, Howard Barkin is hot on his heels with 123 litzed puzzles, and Jeffrey Krasnick holds a solid third place with 87 litzed puzzles.  On Thursday, Jeffrey put us over 6,800 on the litzing thermometer, and we're now almost at 6,900—well on our way to the halfway-point goal of 8,113 litzed puzzles by the end of February.  Every litzed puzzle helps, so thanks and great job, everybody!

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity recently, first in Tyler Hinman's article "Touch of Genius:  Puzzazz Brings Puzzles to Your Touchscreens" in Wired, in which he interviews Puzzazz founder Roy Leban, who mentions the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.  Then, in Amy Reynaldo's Diary of a Crossword Fiend, the project was lauded by T Campbell for The Honorary Orcas award for best work in crossword scholarship.  Thanks, Roy and T!

Recently I've received numerous comments from litzers about politically incorrect terms that found their way into Weng-edited crosswords.  One litzer noted a puzzle that contained the entries MORON (clued as "One of low I.Q."), MANIC ("___-depressive"), and HOLO ("Prefix for caust")!  In the same batch, the litzer found a puzzle with its entire theme based on negativism, as well as a puzzle that contained the entry COOLIES.  Another litzer commented that he'd litzed Weng-edited puzzles with references to the Nazis, the KKK, and even fill-in-the-blank clues for racial slurs.  I took a look through Maleska's clues on XWord Info for potentially offensive terms and found that he bent over backwards to avoid cluing them like Weng did—he only clued MORON in reference to an Andalusian city, HOLO as the combining form for complete, and MANIC as a synonym for frenzied.  It should be interesting to see how Margaret Farrar approached clues for such entries—I'm a little leery, though, since I've already seen that she referred to the Japanese as Japs.  But that seems to have been common back then; in general, the clues and entries seem to have become more politically correct over time, no doubt reflecting changes in our society as a whole.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian puzzle was constructed by Jordan S. Lasher.  It was originally published on November 29, 1975, and was recently litzed by Todd Gross.  On the surface, this puzzle looks like a pretty typical Lasher opus—the grid is very open, the theme is concise, and the fill is better than average.  When I looked more closely, however, I realized that there was much more going on in this one—in addition to the theme entries WEIGHTLIFTER, PAUL ANDERSON (who, as Todd pointed out, once lifted more than three tons on his back!), and BARBELL, the blocks in the center of the grid are shaped like a weight!  This ingenious construction is a surprisingly early example of grid art in a standard 15 x 15!  The complexity of this puzzle's theme blows me away—Lasher seems to have been decades ahead of his time.  As I mentioned above, the nonthematic fill is admirable—I especially like the entries CHASSIS, HAIRCUT, RUN AMOK, and GATLING (a type of gun one of my teachers described to our class in lurid detail).  All in all, this is a groundbreaking pre-Shortzian puzzle—I hope to see many more Weng-edited crosswords that are this innovative!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

I was recently looking through some Margaret Farrar–edited puzzles from the 1950s and came across the historically significant clue "Cause of chaos in the entertainment world" in the December 9, 1950, puzzle.  The answer?  COLOR TELEVISION!  Wikipedia notes that back when color television was first being developed in 1950, there were many technical glitches and inaccurate color reproductions; also, at one point, just one hour of color television was shown per day!  On top of all this, the prototype color receivers were only available in the New York area.  I can definitely see why color television might have caused a lot of chaos back then.  Nowadays we'd laugh at a clue like this!  Below is a picture of an early color television set:

Image courtesy of CT-TV Vintage Television.

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