Friday, July 26, 2013

Over 10,600, OCR with Martin Herbach, Puzzazz Solving App, and Funny Typos

Great news—we've now litzed more than 10,600 puzzles!  Here's a recap of the week:  On Friday afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh started us off by sending in 14 puzzles; that evening, Howard Barkin sent in another 14, putting us over 10,500!  The grand finale for the day was Mark Diehl sending in 14 more puzzles.  Then on Saturday, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Joe Cabrera.  Sunday morning, Joe sent in another 5, and that night, Mark sent in 35 more puzzles!  Early Monday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 10 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Monday evening, Howard sent in 7 more puzzles, and Tuesday night, Mark sent in another 21 puzzles, putting us over 10,600!  Then Thursday evening, Mark sent in another 5 puzzles—and a short while later, 5 more!  Awesome job, everyone!

As I've mentioned, I'm currently up at Stanford taking an artificial intelligence course.  Before it started, I had the pleasure of visiting with litzer Martin Herbach in Saratoga, which is about half an hour south of Stanford.  He and his wife, Elaine, are terrific cooks and made a delicious salmon meal, after which Martin demonstrated how he litzes puzzles using OCR technology.  Although I'd read his description of the process before, actually seeing it in action was fascinating!  The script that tidies up the file was particularly cool; I also hadn't realized that he litzes the grids manually.  Here are a couple of photos:

Martin Herbach demonstrating OCR litzing 

Clues litzed using OCR

Last week litzer/proofreader Todd Gross and I published a puzzle in The New York Times that many solvers had difficulty with, in part because of glitches in their solving apps.  [Spoiler alert for the 7/18/13 puzzle if you haven't already solved it.]  After the puzzle appeared, I received an e-mail from Roy Leban, who informed me that the Puzzazz app had supported this unusual puzzle properly:  The 23 was in the right place, the apostrophe worked correctly, and the diamond was highlighted in gray.  In addition, clicking on 23-Across highlighted the entire diamond and allowed solvers to write or type the whole title in order.  This software is a remarkable achievement and might just be the solving app of choice, not only for today's puzzles but for some of the trickier pre-Shortzian ones as well!  Here's a photo of what this puzzle looked like on an iPad:

Photo courtesy of Puzzazz

Thanks again for letting me know about this, Roy!

In other news, the 1981 proofreading has continued to progress—with just a few more months to go, our indefatigable proofreaders are working hard to finish up the year.  The funny typos list mushroomed when proofreaders began looking over puzzles from the first litzing contest!  In one of these contest puzzles, Todd Gross found one of the funniest typos of all time.  Here are some typical clue typos, followed by some "variety typos," followed by Todd's pièce de résistance:

  • Entry:  TRACER
    • Wrong:  Kind of ballet
    • Right:  Kind of bullet
  • Entry:  ASSET
    • Wrong:  Brians or beauty
    • Right:  Brains or beauty (though I'm sure litzer Brian Tyler would prefer the first one!)
  • Entry:  NAIVE
    • Wrong:  Ingenious
    • Right:  Ingenuous
  • Entry:  HOMER
    • Wrong:  Slugger's request
    • Right:  Slugger's quest
  • Entry:  EGO
    • Wrong:  Kind of trap
    • Right:  Kind of trip
  • Double typo:  Entry:  ELS
    • Wrong:  Chi. loop loppers
    • Right:  Chi. Loop loopers
  • OCR mistake caught by Joe Cabrera:  Entry:  OLAN
    • Wrong:  Pearl suck heroine
    • Right:  Pearl Buck heroine
  • Copyright Field
    • Wrong:  © 1971, The New York Times.  Editor: Will Went.
    • Right:  © 1971, The New York Times.  Editor: Will Weng.
  • Copyright Field
    • Wrong:  © 1969, The New York Times.  Editor: Margaret Farrah.
    • Right:  © 1969, The New York Times.  Editor: Margaret Farrar.
  • Ultimate typo:  Entry: DAMAGED
    • Wrong:  Married
    • Right:  Marred

Great typos—LOL!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Project Wins Davidson Institute Award, Interview with Metaleska First Prize Winner Jeffrey Harris, Approaching 10,500 and In 1965, and Mark Diehl Tops 3,000

This week I have some very big news:  The Davidson Institute for Talent Development just awarded me a $25,000 Davidson Fellows Scholarship for the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!  This is a huge honor and is especially gratifying because it shows that other people, not just those in the crossword community, understand and appreciate the project's value.  I will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to accept the award in September—thanks so much to my advisory board and everyone else who has helped make this monumental undertaking a success!

I'm also delighted to present an interview this week with Metaleska First Prize Winner Jeffrey Harris, who zipped through the metapuzzle in record time!  Here are his comments:

You correctly solved Metaleska in just 1 hour and 32 minutes, which is amazing!  Which component of the metapuzzle took you the longest?

Far and away the most time-consuming portion was matching up the new theme answers to the old puzzles.

Was there anything you weren't sure about?

I was pretty sure that the SPORTS CAR answer corresponded to the "Stand-Ins" puzzle—none of the other puzzles from that year even came close to allowing something that bizarre—but even knowing the gimmick, I had no idea how to get from {Large scale cover-up} to SPORTS CAR in two steps.  I just assumed I missed the roll-out of the Toyota Watergate or the Chevrolet Conspiracy or something.

What were your favorite and least favorite parts about Metaleska?

I got a kick out of the STEP/QUOTE Easter egg.  My least favorite part was that despite having written down SUNKEN (and apparently mis-writing the remaining letters), my brain was stuck on the Magi-gift-that-didn't-make-it FUNKENCENSE and I ended up using an anagram generator to help me see the final clue.  Shame on me, shame, shame.

What was the most interesting pre-Shortzian Sunday puzzle you encountered while solving?

I don't really remember any of them, they were all a blur!

Which aspect of the eventual database of pre-Shortzian puzzles are you most excited about?  As a constructor and editor, how do you think it will come in handy?

I'm not sure how useful the database will be as a puzzlemaker, but for posterity purposes it is invaluable.

Thanks so much, Jeffrey!  If anyone else has thoughts about Metaleska, feel free to comment below.

Meanwhile, we've now litzed nearly 10,500 puzzles!  On Friday afternoon last week, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles.  Then at midnight, Stephen Edward Anderson sent in another 7.  Sunday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7, followed by 35 a few hours later from Mark Diehl.  Later that night, Mark sent in 14 more, putting us over the 10,400 mark!  On Tuesday afternoon, Denny sent in 7 more puzzles, and that evening, Mike Buckley sent in another 7.  Later on, Mark sent 14 more puzzles, making his personal litzing total more than 3,000 (3,014, to be exact—congratulations, Mark, on this amazing achievement!).  Thursday night, Mark sent in another 28 puzzles, putting us at 10,475 on the litzing thermometer!  It's been a great week—thanks so much, everyone, for all the litzed puzzles!  Thanks, too, to Todd Gross, who sent in another 10 proofread puzzles on Wednesday!

All this litzing has put us into a new year—we're now in 1965!  This year was notable for many things, but one of the best was the August 15 Beatles concert at Shea Stadium in New York.  According to Wikipedia, it was "the first stadium concert in the history of rock."  Here's a picture of the concert's poster:

Image courtesy of Amoeba Music.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Project Update, Peter Abide, Kenneth Haxton, Arthur Schulman's Response to a Maleska Rejection, and the War on Fill

Despite the summer heat, we're continuing to make steady progress on the litzing front!  Friday night, Mark Diehl started off the week with 14 puzzles and put us at exactly 10,300 on the litzing thermometer!  Sunday morning, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, and then on Tuesday, Tom Pepper sent in another 7.  Mark wound up the week with a mega-batch of 28 puzzles on Wednesday!  And on the proofreading front, Todd Gross sent in 21 puzzles.  Thanks so much, everybody!

After the metapuzzle contest was over, I received an e-mail from New York Times constructor Peter Abide.  Peter mentioned that Kenneth Haxton, a musician, writer, and pre-Shortzian constructor who also published one puzzle in the Times during the Shortz era, had lived in Peter's hometown in Mississippi.  To Peter's knowledge, he and Haxton are the only Mississippians to have had their crosswords published in The New York Times.  Peter directed me to a fascinating Web page about Kenneth Haxton's life and work.  To read the Kenneth Haxton biography and interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructors tab above.  Thanks again, Peter!

I've long been seeking one of Maleska's famous rejection letters to post on this blog.  Arthur Schulman, whose interview is currently third from the top on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews page, generously offered to send along some correspondence he had with Maleska back in 1977, which happened to include a Sunday puzzle rejection.  At first I was most excited about the rejection letter; I soon discovered, however, that the discussion between Arthur and Gene about the crossword puzzle scene at that time was far more interesting!

I find it fascinating that crossword solvers' attitudes have changed so much over the years—at first, solvers were leery of new, twisty gimmicks; nowadays, many are much more focused on the quality of the nonthematic fill and clues.  This attitude shift seems to have been an outgrowth of the revolutionary creativity "new wave" constructors and editors brought to crossword puzzles.  With the place of innovative, ingenious puzzles now assured, constructors, editors, and solvers have been able to turn their attention to perfecting nonthematic fill.  The so-called war on nonthematic fill has been bolstered, if not led, by crossword bloggers as well.  After you read the correspondence below, you may want to check out (or reread) Tyler Hinman's "The War on Fill," an excellent piece written more than 30 years later about the attitudes of many modern solvers.  Whether or not these attitudes represent majority opinion is unclear—I suspect that plenty of people would rather deal with a few less-than-stellar, or even downright bad, entries in an otherwise stunning puzzle than spend their time on a solidly filled construction with a more ho-hum theme.  Casual solvers can overlook or forgive a lot if they love a puzzle's gimmick, but if they're bored, they lose interest; serious or competitive solvers, on the other hand, may feel quite the opposite.  Ultimately, the best puzzles combine terrific themes with sparkling—or at least solid and fair—fill.

Without further ado, here is the correspondence:

Over Jordan
Wareham, Mass, 02571
Oct. 15, 1977

Dear Arthur,

     Times change!  As soon as I received your “UP” puzzle, I farmed it out to three test-solvers in the hope that the response would be favorable.  However, all three turned thumbs down.  One summed it up by saying:  “A feat for the constructor, but a bore for the solver!”  After carefully examining your puzzle, I must admit that this tour de force does not meet the demands of my present fan mail.
     Incidentally, the reaction to “Change of Pace” was negative.  We are definitely in a different era!
     Have you ever tried a quotation puzzle?  I’m looking for a good one.  Take a look at my S&S Crossword Book of Quotations at your bookstore.
     May I use your puzzle in the Farrar-Maleska books?

All best,


19 October 1977

Dear Gene,

     I appreciate your frank note, but feel obliged to reply.
     I wouldn’t bother with Sunday puzzle constructions unless I thought they were publishable.  Obviously you and your three “test-solvers” don’t share my high estimation of my UP-puzzle.  Equally obviously, you as the Editor have the right and responsibility to set the tone of and standards for the puzzles you publish.  Still, the following points should be borne in mind.
     (1)  The more densely thematic a puzzle, the more difficult its construction.  It is easy to put together a puzzle with only a few long entries relating to its central theme.  If construction standards were thrown out the window—if, e.g., unkeyed letters and asymmetry were permitted—puzzles could be made more thematic, doubtless with greater “interest” to the solver, but at a cost I doubt you’d be willing to pay.  During Will Weng’s reign, construction standards were sacrificed to Weng’s idiosyncratically horrendous sense of humor.  The best constructors were repelled, and we still are suffering from his taste in themes and definitions.
     (2)  One can be too sensitive to letters of criticism from solvers.  Only a tiny percentage of solvers would think of writing letters to The Puzzle Editor, and these are almost certainly not a random sample of typical solvers.  It seems to me that the Times should cultivate taste for good crosswords of several kinds, rather than pander to the lowest common denominator among its solvers.  (Here in Charlottesville, the local newspaper recently was attacked by many letters to The Editor for switching from the mindless 13x13 syndicated puzzles to those edited by M. Farrar.)
     (3)  A related point to (2).  If The NATION, HARPER’S, The ATLANTIC, and NEW YORK Magazine polled its readers, I’m sure that a large majority would prefer American-style puzzles to the British-style puzzles they now publish.  Yet I hope you’ll agree that these outlets would be making a mistake if they responded to the majoritarian view.  It is also almost certainly true that, as a result of their efforts, the “market” for British-style puzzles is much larger than it was before.
     (4)  When I submitted my CHANGE-OF-PACE puzzle, it was meant merely as a sample of the genre, and I admit to have been astonished that you published it so readily.  Far better constructions of its type are possible.  What I fail utterly to understand is how or why reaction to this particular example should determine its future.  The puzzle was unthematic.  Its potential, it seems to me, lies more as an occasional substitute for The Times’ dailies than for its Sunday puzzles.  What I hoped would be clear from CHANGE-OF-PACE was that new words and new word-combinations are made possible with a construction in which word boundaries are marked by bars instead of by black boxes.  It thus gives constructors more flexibility and thereby provides solvers with greater interest than could be met by standard black-box constructions.
     (5)  I would be surprised if many solvers shared the view of your test-solver that my up-puzzle was boring.  It would be helpful to know what bores and what interests this solver; I’m sure our tastes differ.  Be that as it may, a puzzle is a problem-solving exercise.  The interest in my up-puzzle is that, even when the solver has learned that an entry is almost certain to contain the word UP, he still has to figure out what the entry is.  It is seldom obvious, since many entries are idioms.
     (6)  Under Margaret Farrar’s editorship, only four of my puzzles were initially rejected.  One contained the word LEWD, which Margaret felt too risqué; one LIPOMA, which was thought to remind solver shut-ins of their plight, apparently by remote association; and one ALEXANDER DUBCEK, which would have served to remind readers of the “bad news” they got enough of on the first page of The Times.  The LEWD and LIPOMA puzzles were easy to modify, and Margaret finally published them in The Times.  The A.D. puzzle was published in one of the Series M.F. edited at the time.  The only puzzle I have ever submitted which did not see the light of day contained a spelling error (EAST “LYNN”), my fault obviously, and one that could not be rectified.  I say all this because I think my puzzles are pretty good, and because I think that much of what The Times has published in recent years (largely under Weng’s editorship) has been decidedly second-rate.  I welcome your comments here.
     I would not wish to be misunderstood.  You are one of the best constructors the U.S. has known, and I am delighted that you are editing puzzles for The Times, a job for which you clearly have great skill and talent.  I hope that the foregoing remarks will be taken in the light of this high esteem.

Best regards,


P.S.  Go ahead and use the UP-puzzle in a book, if you wish.  But let me know how much you’ll pay.


Dear Arthur,

     Thanks for taking the time to write me such a long letter.  I wish I had the hours to reply in full.   All I can say now is that I will carefully consider your advice.
     An excellent British-style puzzle will appear on Dec. 4.  I do hope I get an avalanche of “More!” letters because I like that type of puzzle myself.  But the straight P.&A. fans are a vociferous bunch who resist change.  Of course, I’ll overrule them if the rest of the fans give me the green signal.
     Times daily puzzle fans are even more conservative.  Also, I wonder if you know that the dailies are syndicated in 35 newspapers from California to Florida and Maine.  My mail indicates that the vast majority are delighted with the present daily puzzles.  Would you rock such a boat if you were editor?  How many “subway solvers” would immediately turn away if they were presented with bars instead of those familiar, comfortable block squares?  Let the mags experiment.  Their clientele is far different from mine.
     Yes, Will Weng published some second-rate puzzles.  He also pioneered in giving fans new twists.  The strange thing is that a lot of them are gung-ho for such stuff.  The Easter puzzle by Hansen, in which fans were required to draw eggs, caused a flood of favorable mail and only two on the negative side.  The same thing occurred when I published Maura Jacobson’s NOT SO SYMBOL AS π in which the defs were symbols like .  for SEPARATE CHECKS.  Times do change, Arthur, whether we veterans like it or not.
     As for payment in the Farrar-Maleska series, I frankly don’t know.  Margaret handles that end of the deal.  I imagine it’s about half of what the Times pays.  As soon as I hear from her, I’ll let you know.

All best,


P.S.  Thanks so much for your kind words re my own puzzles!

Thanks again, Arthur, for sending this piece along and allowing me to post it!  Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Metaleska Results and Explanations . . . and XWord Info

Metaleska was a huge success—thanks so much to everyone who entered the contest (and thanks again, Jim, for hosting the puzzle and instructions on XWord Info!)!  The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive, which means I'll definitely consider constructing another Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project metapuzzle next year.

Overall, 548 solvers downloaded the Metaleska Instructions PDF, 177 downloaded the puzzle PDF, and an unknown number downloaded the Across Lite file.  Of those people, 18 submitted solutions to the contest, and 10 of these were completely correct; several other people wrote that they had enjoyed trying the puzzle but had been unable to finish it.

The first-prize winner, Jeffrey Harris, correctly solved Metaleska just 1 hour and 32 minutes after it was posted, which is incredibly fast!  The other two winners were selected using an online random-number generator.  Here are the winners:

First Prize:  Jeffrey Harris
Random Prize #1:  Todd McClary
Random Prize #2:  David Stein

Congratulations Jeffrey, Todd, and David—and everyone else who submitted a correct entry!  Metaleska proved to be a real challenge!  Now that the contest is over, I'm posting a complete explanation of the metapuzzle.  First and foremost, here's the filled-in puzzle grid:

Next, here are the theme entries and the puzzles I intended them to fit into, in order from top to bottom and left to right:
    • Clue:  *1960 hit written in 1930 [1993]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Brief Statements
    • Publication date:  May 23, 1993
    • Constructor:  Alfio Micci
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  F
    • Clue:  *Grade for a former Cardinal [1988]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Possessive People
    • Publication date:  May 22, 1988
    • Constructor:  Bernice Gordon
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  E
    • Clue:  *"Much appreciated!" [1986]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Decimal Descriptions
    • Publication date:  November 30, 1986
    • Constructor:  Harold B. Counts
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  C
    • Clue:  *Cyclical spinner [1991]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Plus Signs
    • Publication date:  August 18, 1991
    • Constructor:  Jeanne Wilson
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  N
    • Clue:  *Dish for cannibalistic West Asians? [1990]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Mideast Monkeyshines
    • Publication date:  April 22, 1990
    • Constructor:  Maura B. Jacobson
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  E
    • Clue:  *Lyrical Gere/Ryder flick? [1987]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Un-Authorized Poetic License
    • Publication date:  April 19, 1987
    • Constructor:  Bert H. Kruse
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  U
    • Clue:  *Leadership position? [1989]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Greek Sandwiches
    • Publication date:  August 6, 1989
    • Constructor:  Kenneth Haxton
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  N
    • Clue:  *GOOGAAPL [1992]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Stick-To-It-Iveness
    • Publication date:  January 5, 1992
    • Constructor:  Jim Page
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  S
    • Clue:  *Real estate agent's dish? [1984]
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Workman's Compensation
    • Publication date:  April 22, 1984
    • Constructor:  Tap Osborn
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  K
    • Clue:  *Large-scale cover-up [1985]
    • Stand-in:  ECLIPSE
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  Stand-Ins
    • Publication date:  April 14, 1985
    • Constructor:  Bert H. Kruse
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  N
    • Clue:  *Crash-investigating org.
    • Puzzle it would fit into:  A Spell of Letters
    • Publication date:  April 24, 1983
    • Constructor:  Alfio Micci
    • Link:
    • Extracted letter:  E

When the eleven extracted letters are combined and anagrammed, they form the meta-clue "Sunken fence."  The meta-clue leads to the meta-answer HAHA (which Tyler Hinman pointed out was reused in this sense of the word, though with a different clue, in the Shortz era in one of his own puzzles).  The better clue is "Laughter," which is hidden inside the clue "Slugger Slaughter" (24-Across).  This better clue tripped up almost all the incorrect entrants, many of whom were very close.  Incorrect submissions included "April fool," "Monkeyshine," "Histrionics," and "Laugh."  Test solver Todd Gross initially came up with "April fool" as the better clue, which I hadn't noticed when constructing the puzzle.  I modified the instructions to eliminate this possibility by stating that the better clue was a single word longer than five letters.  This specification also eliminated "Laugh" as a possible answer.

The puzzle contains several Easter eggs (hidden bonuses).  The first is the inclusion of two pieces of uniquely pre-Shortzian crosswordese, TAA ("Chinese pagoda") and UNAU ("Entry a slothful constructor might use"), the latter of which was traditionally clued as "Two-toed sloth."  Both these entries were very common in pre-Shortzian puzzles but have yet to show up in a Shortz-era puzzle.

The second Easter egg (which I feel is much cooler) is the STEP/QUOTE hidden at 60-Across/63-Down, which reads in a Stepquote fashion.  The Stepquote is a crossword form that was invented by Dr. Maleska himself and was first published in 1964 under Margaret Farrar's editorship.  Stepquotes have been widely criticized recently for their lack of thematic material, though they were quite revolutionary back in the day.

The third Easter egg is the entry GENE, which was clued as "Maleska, to friends."  I read that Maleska's longtime girlfriend and first wife was named Jean—in fact, the two of them were often referred to as a "Chromosome" (two genes, homophonically).

I didn't discover the fourth and final Easter egg until I'd begun to research possibilities for Metaleska—the meta-clue (and a major hint to the better clue) is hidden within another pre-Shortzian Sunday puzzle with a theme similar to "Stand-Ins"!  This puzzle, titled "Trace the Transitions," was constructed by T. W. Underhill and was originally published on August 21, 1988.  This added twist, which I think is quite elegant, proves that the puzzle is entirely pre-Shortzian!

One of the goals of Metaleska was to expose today's constructors and solvers to some of the brilliant pre-Shortzian puzzles published in the Maleska era.  Even though the crossword puzzle scene has dramatically changed since Will Shortz became editor, these puzzles still possess remarkable aesthetic value.  I hope generations of crossword puzzle fans explore and learn from these pre-Shortzian puzzles as much as I have!  As Maleska traditionally signed off, "Pax, amor et felicitas" (Peace, love and luck).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

With the conclusion of the Metaleska contest, this seems like a particularly apt time to comment on Jim Horne's news this past week that his wonderful site, XWord Info, will be winding down in its current form.  For me, XWord Info has always been there, a treasure trove of puzzles, statistics, charts, observations, and analytic tools—everything anyone could possibly want in a New York Times crossword site.  It's hard to imagine a crossword world without XWord Info, and I hope that someday it will ramp back up again.  My dream has always been to have all the New York Times crosswords—Shortz-era and pre-Shortzian—available on one site.  Thanks so much for creating XWord Info, Jim, and keeping it going for the pre-Shortzian puzzles.  It is truly a masterpiece and will be deeply missed by many.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Metapuzzle Coming to a Close, July Litzer of the Month Todd McClary, Project Update, and Summer at the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project

Metaleska, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project's first anniversary metapuzzle, is coming to a close—be sure to submit your entry by tomorrow at 11:59 p.m. (right before midnight) Pacific Time to be eligible to win an awesome prize!  I'll be posting the results, as well as an explanation of the puzzle, on Sunday, so check back again then for that update.

The July Litzer of the Month is Autofill Project creator and blogger Todd McClary, who has also been constructing crosswords for more than 25 years!  To read more about Todd, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

This week almost 50 more puzzles were litzed!  Friday night, Mark Diehl sent in 14, then late Monday afternoon, Mike Buckley sent in 7.  Wednesday night, Mark sent in another 28 puzzles, putting his personal total at more than 2,900 litzed puzzles—congratulations, Mark!

And the proofreading is progressing as well!  The 1982 puzzles were sent off to XWord Info, where they'll be fully posted after the Metaleska contest is over.  (Thanks again, Jim!)  In addition to finishing off the last month of the 1982 puzzles he was proofreading, Todd Gross also started in on 1981 and sent a batch from that year.  In addition, Tracy Bennett sent in her first month of 1981 puzzles and is now at work on her second.  Thanks so much, everyone!

As you can see, even though it's summer, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project continues apace!  This coming week I'll be flying to Austin for the National Puzzlers' League convention and immediately thereafter heading to Stanford, where I'll spend three weeks taking a course on artificial intelligence.  I'm really excited about this opportunity and hoping to learn a lot more about how machines like Dr. Fill "think"!  The litzing, proofreading, and packet-sending will continue without interruption, and I'll be posting here as time permits.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian puzzle, "Having the Last Word," was constructed by Will Weng, edited by Margaret Farrar, and litzed by lightning-fast litzer Martin Herbach (a dazzling trio indeed!).  Will Weng constructed many hilarious and brilliant pre-Shortzian puzzles for Margaret Farrar—just imagine how many interesting and unusual pre-Shortzian puzzles would have been published if Weng had been an editor.  Oh, wait—I've already had the pleasure of reviewing almost every single crossword from the Weng era!  All joking aside, this rather macabre Weng puzzle, which was published on November 10, 1968, features nine interlocking (albeit not quite symmetrical) theme entries that are clued as different working professionals' famous last words.  All nine of the theme entries are chuckle-inducing—two of my favorites are LET'S PICK OUR OWN MUSHROOMS (clued as "Gourmets' last words") and IT'S LIKE MONEY IN THE BANK ("Horseplayer's last words")!  I DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS LOADED ("Famous last words") is pretty good also, though it's a bit dark for my taste.  The nonthematic fill is quite nice on the whole—I especially like the entries KERCHOO, SADDLEBAG, LANDLINES, TWEEZES, DOODAD, and DAGWOODS ("Big sandwiches"), the last of which makes my mouth water!  I also find it quite elegant that Weng managed to squeeze the semithematic entry DEATH into the grid, which he cleverly disguised in the clue "Bored to ___."  Some of the nonthematic clues are also brilliant and further exemplify Weng's sense of humor, such as "Punch's advice to those about to marry" for DON'T.  Not-so-great clues/entries include the longish partials A HAND ON, LIKES AND, A TOTAL, LOST IN, and TOASTS OF; the abbreviations EVNGS (evenings) and STP (stamp); AMN'T ("Relative of ain't"); and the contrived phrase PAR IT ("Advice to golfer starting a hole").  In sum, this is a very interesting and unusual Weng puzzle that I consider a harbinger of all the great puzzles he edited!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

As we've continued back into the Farrar era, when many more of the puzzles were themeless, I've noticed an increasing number of unusual-yet-awesome-sounding entries.  Here's a trio of wacky ones from Farrar-edited puzzles:
    • Date:  October 10, 1968
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Denny Baker
    • Clue:  Old firearm.
    • Webster:  [A] matchlock gun invented in the 15th century which was portable but heavy and was usually fired from a support
    • Etymology:  From the Middle French harquebuse, which comes from the Dutch hakebusse (hake, meaning "hook" + busse, meaning "tube; box; gun"), which ultimately is derived from the Late Latin buxis, meaning "box"
    • Date:  October 15, 1968
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Denny Baker
    • Clue:  Type of dungeon.
    • Webster:  [A] dungeon with an opening only at the top
    • Etymology:  From the Middle French oublier, meaning "to forget," which can ultimately be traced back to the deponent Latin verb oblivisci, also meaning "to forget"
    • Date:  December 30, 1968
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  View from Interlaken.
    • Webster:  [M]ountain 13,642 (4158 m) SW cen Switzerland in Berner Alpen between Bern & Valais cantons
    • Etymology:  Not listed
HARQUEBUS is my personal favorite of these three—here's an awesome illustration of a harquebusier:

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons