Friday, February 22, 2013

Halfway There!—and Crossword Compiler's Insert Character Window

We did it—we've now litzed more than half the pre-Shortzian puzzles!  On Monday, I litzed 3 puzzles to put us at exactly 8,000, then Thursday Mark Diehl sent in 16 puzzles to get us to 8,100, and this morning Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7, which put us over the halfway mark of 8,113!  It hasn't even been 8 months since I began recruiting volunteer litzers, and in that time we've accomplished an amazing amount!  Awesome job, everybody!

Plus, I've just learned about something that may speed up our litzing even more!  A few days ago, Todd Gross wrote to me about a discovery he'd made by accident while in the clue window of Crossword Compiler.  If you type Ctrl-S, a window appears that will let you select special characters to insert into your clue.  He noted that this was a lot faster than looking up Alt codes.  Here's the example he sent me:

After typing Diarist Ana in the clue window (image bottom), I typed Ctrl-S (hold down the Control key while typing S) and got the Insert Character window you see at the the top.  Notice I selected the ï button in the lower right, and that ï appears in the clue now.

As for Alt really don't need to know about this for Macs, but here goes:  to get that ï in this window, I need to type Alt-0239.  Which is a shortcut for the following:

  1. Hold down the Alt key
  2. While the Alt key is depressed, type 0 2 3 9  {yes the 0 is part of the code}
  3. The character ï now appears, and I can release the Alt key

Great discovery, Todd—thanks so much!  I have a Mac and a PC but do all my crossword construction on the PC because I use Crossword Compiler.  Until now, whenever I'd come across a special character in a clue, I'd just look for an example of it online and then copy and paste the character into the clue.  I bookmarked examples that occur frequently, such as é.  Before that, I was copying and pasting them from a Word document I'd created that had just about every special character that exists.  Unfortunately, Word did something weird to the formatting—even though the characters transferred fine into Crossword Compiler, sometimes they didn't when I later exported the files as Across Lites.

Todd wondered how many other people knew about the Insert Character window and whether there was anything else in Crossword Compiler that most people might not be aware of, and I'm wondering the same thing!  This was a very useful discovery—if you know of some other capability Crossword Compiler has that you think most people probably don't know about, please e-mail me or comment below.  I'll post any tips that come in next week.  In the meantime, I've created a poll, which you'll find beneath the litzing thermometer in the righthand column.  I'll be interested to see what percentage of people knew about Crossword Compiler's Insert Character window—results next week!

Today's featured puzzle, "Doing the Scales," was constructed by Jordan S. Lasher.  It was originally published on September 22, 1974, and was recently litzed by Howard Barkin.  Once again, Lasher managed to add a whole new twist to a standard type of theme (repeated word, in this case)—the whole center block arrangement in this 23x looks like a set of staircases!  Also, many of the theme entries feel particularly fresh and lively—I especially like THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS and ROGER BANNISTER.  I also like that the constructor placed the theme entry ESCALATOR DOWN running straight down the center of the puzzle.  The nonthematic fill has a handful of really nice entries, but it also has some that feel particularly contrived and/or obscure.  On the positive side, the grid includes ROPE LADDER (which may or may not have been intended as a theme entry), BASTILLE, IN A FLASH, TORPEDOES, and B COMPLEX.  The weaker entries include IAO (clued as "Wattlebird"), ISHES ("Exits, in Scottish law"), SICES ("Dice numbers"), TESTONES ("Old Italian coins"), and SNELLY ("Chilly, in Scotland").  My least favorite entries, however, are the more-than-five-letter prefixes SINISTRO and GRAECO, partials THREE ON A and ENTER AT, IIOOIO ("Twice 55,005"), and MRS. ASTAIRE ("Fred's wife"—this may have been a homophonic theme entry, especially since it balances ROPE LADDER).  Despite these shortcomings, this is still an exceptional Jordan Lasher puzzle with an innovative visual gimmick!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

The Will Weng–edited March 3, 1973, puzzle (constructor unknown), which was recently litzed by Todd Gross, contains two very unusual entries, so I'm featuring both of them this week.  According to the Ginsberg database, these entries—PEPSISSEWA and ASAFOETIDA—have never been reused in Shortz-era puzzles.  PEPSISSEWA was clued as "Evergreen shrub"; Todd Gross noted that this shrub is sometimes used as a flavoring in root beer.  Webster defines pepsissewa as "any of a genus (Chimphila, especially C. Umbellata) of evergreen herbs of the wintergreen family with astringent leaves used as a tonic and diuretic."  ASAFOETIDA was clued as "Gum resin used medically"; Todd Gross researched it and reported that it is mainly used for breathing and digestion problems.  Webster lists asafoetida as a variant of asafetida, which it defines as "the dried fetid gum resin of several west Asian plants (genus Ferula) of the carrot family used as a flavoring especially in Indian cooking and formerly used in medicine especially as an antispasmodic and in folk medicine as a general prophylactic against disease."  Below are pictures of pepsissewa and asafoetida:

Image courtesy of VisitRainier.
Image courtesy of


  1. Congratulations to the entire PSPP team for hitting the 50% milestone. Bravo!

  2. ASAFOETIDA may be unusual, but it isn't as unknown as you might think: it's the source of ASAFITIDY, which was a kind of folk remedy. See here for more information.

  3. ROPE LADDER in the Sunday puzzle is definitely a theme. There's a strong pattern of unmatched extra theme entries across many puzzles, where the constructor strives for symmetry, but then fits extra theme answers wherever possible, even if theme symmetry is broken. Often extra "theme" answers may even be 3-4 letters long, sometimes with a thematic clue as an additional bonus.

  4. Nice observation, Howard—I've noticed a lot of extra theme entries without symmetrical counterparts too. I don't see that nearly as often nowadays.