Friday, August 30, 2013

Litzstarter . . . and Over 11,000!

Ready, set, . . . litz!  Well, not quite, but starting Sunday, September 1, the third litzing contest—dubbed Litzstarter—will begin!  I'm thrilled to announce that for this very special litzing contest, which will run through October 31, we have several great sponsors offering awesome prizes!  (You can navigate to the sponsors' home pages by clicking on their cool logos in the right-hand column.)

This contest's prize structure is loosely modeled after Kickstarter campaigns in that it features a variety of tiers, each of which offers a different reward for "backers" (aka litzers).  Like Kickstarter, we have a precisely defined goal:  to reach 13,000 on the litzing thermometer in two months.  That's approximately 2,000 more puzzles—a bit more than we litzed during the last two-month-long litzing contest, but definitely still achievable!  Unlike Kickstarter, however, Litzstarter's rewards won't be contingent upon our attaining the goal.  So even if we fall short, backer-litzers (or "blitzers"!) will still receive rewards.

Moreover, to encourage "between-tier" litzing, anyone who litzes 14 or more puzzles will receive one virtual raffle ticket for each puzzle litzed and be eligible for the Grand Prize drawing at the end of the contest.  This means that whether you litz 14 puzzles or 1,400, you have a chance of winning this prize.  But the more puzzles you litz, the greater your odds of winning!

Finally, if you qualify for a reward at one tier but would prefer the reward for a lower tier, you can level down and request that reward instead.  Rewards aren't cumulative, though, so each tier doesn't include the rewards of previous tiers.

And now for the rewards, listed in order by number of litzed puzzles:

14 or more:  Eligible for the Grand Prize drawing
25 or more:  Puzzazz e-book of your choice
50 or more:  XWord Info 1-year subscription/renewal
100 or more: American Values Club Crossword (AVCX) 1-year subscription/renewal
200 or more: Crossword Nation 1-year subscription/renewal
300 or more: Fireball Crosswords 1-year subscription/renewal
400 or more: Write a guest blog post for Rex Parker on a day of your choice
500 or more: Grab bag (well, box!) full of puzzly surprises, both old and new
Grand Prize:  Free admission to the 2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT; hotel and transportation fees not included)

Thanks so much to all the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project's generous sponsors!  If you haven't done so already, check out all the great Puzzazz e-books (which founder and CEO Roy Leban has made sure are jam-packed with terrific puzzles) and Rex Parker's [aka New York Times constructor Michael Sharp's] inimitable crossword blog!  And if you'd like to fill your life with all things crossword, be sure to subscribe to XWord Infothe massive database of New York Times crosswords created by former Wordplay blogger Jim Horne and now administered by New York Times constructor Jeff Chen—it's chock-full of invaluable statistical data, analytical tools, and useful commentary.

If you're looking for other great crossword subscriptions, don't miss the American Values Club Crossword (AVCX; cutting-edge weekly puzzles by master constructor Ben Tausig and AVCX leading-constructor crew members Francis Heaney, Tyler Hinman, Aimee Lucido, Caleb Madison, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Byron Walden, and Zoe Wheeler), Crossword Nation (beautiful weekly puzzles by legendary New York Times constructor Elizabeth Gorski), and Fireball Crosswords (45 sizzling-hard puzzles by renowned constructor Peter Gordon, former crossword editor of The New York Sun, and other top constructors)!

Finally, even if you don't win the Grand Prize drawing, do everything you can to attend the ACPTNew York Times crossword editor and puzzlemaster Will Shortz's totally awesome three-day crossword extravaganza of formidable puzzles, wonderful people, and a lifetime's worth of memories!

A few last words about the contest:  Litzstarter is open to everyone, including contest sponsors, though if you haven't litzed before, please contact me for detailed instructions.  You must use construction software or know how to litz in text files.  Contest totals will be updated as frequently as possible; to see them, click on the Contest Totals tab above.  Packets typically contain 7 puzzles, but some may have fewer; you may ask for more than one packet at a time (up to a maximum of 10), but please do not ask for more packets than you'll realistically be able to complete either by the end of the contest or shortly thereafter.  As you finish the packets, send them in and let me know if you'd like another (or several others).  Near the end of the contest, if you are only partway through a packet, simply send in the puzzles you've already litzed—they will count toward your total.  Remember, you must litz at least 14 puzzles to be eligible for the Grand Prize drawing for a free ACPT admission!  The Grand Prize drawing winner will be announced on November 1, 2013.

On to the project update:  Great news—we've passed another major milestone:  11,000 litzed puzzles!  Litzers seem to be flexing their muscles before the contest begins!  On Friday night, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles.  Saturday morning, 10 more proofread puzzles came in from Todd Gross.  Saturday night, Mike Buckley sent in 7 more litzed puzzles, which were followed by 14 more puzzles from Mark Diehl on Monday morning.  Tuesday afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 7 more puzzles.  Thursday evening, Howard Barkin sent in 14 puzzles, which were followed a few hours later by 14 more from Mark, putting us over 11,000 on the litzing thermometer!  And then this morning, Todd sent in another 10 proofread puzzles.  Thanks so much, everybody—great job!  Now it's time to gear up for Litzstarter!

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by McElroy (whose first name is probably Hugh).  This bizarre Maleska-edited crossword was originally published on August 2, 1977, and was litzed by Joe Cabrera.  Like the featured puzzle from two weeks ago, this puzzle is another unusual tribute to the alphabet.  The puzzle's three amusing theme entries are AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA (clued as "Electric-typewriter overtouch"), BBBBBBBBBBBBBBB ("Ms. Stonefinger strikes again"), and CCCCCCCCCCCCCCC ("Heavens!  Why isn't she a riveter?").  In addition, the constructor included ABCS ("Basics") at 1-Across, which isn't clued as a theme entry but serves as a reveal of sorts.  I wonder if the constructor intended for DEFI to be a part of the theme, since it has the next three consecutive letters after ABC.  Either way, I love the theme's eccentricity, and the theme clues are hilarious!  I'm a little surprised that Maleska published this theme, though, since it feels much more in the style of Weng.  Perhaps this was one of the leftover puzzles that Weng had already accepted before passing the baton.  In any case, the fill is also extraordinarily clean considering how many consecutive Bs and Cs the constructor had to work with.  I especially like the entries APLOMB, BALZAC, CHARITABLE (clued as "Eleemosynary," a former entry of the week), and the old-fashioned BABY FROCKS!  In fact, the whole middle section of the puzzle with all the Bs feels particularly elegant; also, I like that the grid includes two long nonthematic down entries, a trend that didn't become a regular feature of thematic puzzles until much later on.  The only two entries that really give me pause are the not-so-great abbreviation RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) and DEFI (assuming it doesn't function as part of the theme and is simply the French for "challenge").  Canadian litzers Jeffrey Krasnick and Martin Ashwood-Smith may disagree with me on the former, though.  In all, this is a stupendous pre-Shortzian puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry, USQUEBAUGH, originally appeared in the October 10, 1967, puzzle, which was constructed by William Lutwiniak, litzed by Mark Diehl, and edited by Margaret Farrar.  According to the Ginsberg clue database, this unusual word has yet to appear in a Shortz-era puzzle.  The original clue for USQUEBAUGH was "Whisky, Gaelic style."; Webster simply defines usquebaugh as "Whiskey," though it does include the Irish & Scottish dialect tag.  Webster goes on to mention that usquebaugh comes from the Irish uisce beatha (water of life) and was first introduced into our language in 1581.  We also get the word whiskey itself from this Irish phrase and from its Gaelic cognate uisge beatha.  When I'm 21, it would be fun to walk into a bar and order some usquebaugh just to see the confused look on the bartender's face!  For now, here's a picture of some homemade usquebaugh:

Image courtesy of Feu de Vie.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Charles Gersch Interview, Over 10,900, and Funny Typos

I'm delighted to announce an interview with master puzzle constructor Charles Gersch in the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews section of this site!  Charles's first crossword was published when he was just 13 1/2 years old (February 21, 1944) in the New York Herald Tribune.  Since then, Charles has built many innovative puzzles that were published in the Farrar and Maleska eras.  To read more about Charles (and his son Jonathan, who is also a prolific Times crossword constructor!), click here or navigate to the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews page.  And be sure to check out today's featured puzzle below, which Charles cited as his personal favorite!

I'm also very happy to report that we're now over 10,900 on the litzing thermometer—as I write this, only 60 puzzles away from 11,000, another big milestone!  On Sunday, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in 14 puzzles, putting her personal total at more than 500 litzed puzzles—congratulations, Nancy!  Later that night, Mark Diehl sent in 14 more, putting us over 10,900—and his own personal total at more than 3,300!  Congratulations, Mark!  Then Monday, Todd Gross sent in 10 more proofread puzzles, and we began sending out the 1980 puzzles for proofreading.  Wednesday evening, Todd McClary sent in 7 litzed puzzles, and a couple of hours later, Mark sent in 28 more.  Awesome job, everyone!

As the 1981 proofreading has continued to progress, the list of funny typos has grown exponentially!  Here's a heptad of my favorites:
    • Wrong:  Gas petal
    • Right:  Gas pedal
  • Entry:  DOLE
    • Wrong:  Fort's running mate
    • Right:  Ford's running mate
  • Entry:  HAE
    • Wrong:  Posses, in Edinburgh
    • Right:  Possess, in Edinburgh
  • Entry:  HEELPOST
    • Wrong:  Item hitched to agate
    • Right:  Item hitched to a gate
  • Entry:  IGOR
    • Wrong:  Plan designer Sikorsky
    • Right:  Plane designer Sikorsky
  • Entry:  MEET
    • Wrong:  Match involving hearts
    • Right:  Match involving heats
  • Entry:  STORM
    • Wrong:  Kind of porch or widow
    • Right:  Kind of porch or window

Today's featured puzzle, "Casablanca at 50," was constructed by Charles Gersch and edited by Eugene T. Maleska.  It was originally published on November 29, 1992, and was litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his team of litzers).  This impressive construction, which was published 50 years and 3 days (the closest to 50 years possible, since the puzzle had to appear on a Sunday) after the movie Casablanca was released, is one of the earliest examples of a tribute puzzle I've seen.  It features a remarkable 17 mostly symmetric theme entries that relate to Casablanca, many of which are stacked or intersect one another!  The symmetrical stacked splits DOOLEY/WILSON (clued as "SAM" [this clue, as well as the clues for all the other actors in the movie, are capitalized]) and AS TIME/GOES BY ("Song that Sam was asked to play") feel particularly elegant, though I also love the arrangement of theme entries in the center!  Another thing that makes this puzzle stand out is the quality of the nonthematic fill, which is jam-packed with interesting entries, such as SPACESHIP (interestingly clued as "Vehicle of the future"), FRESHENED UP, SNEEZE AT, DAISY MAE, POPCORN, RAMPARTS, NORDIC, and OAFISH.  That's a long list for such a theme-dense Sunday puzzle!  There are also some clever, tricky clues, such as "He really makes money" for COINER, "He may be tight" for END, and "Fearsome threesome" for FATES.  The puzzle does contain a handful of tough abbreviations, such as AEA ("Thespians' org."), PDB ("Educator's deg."), IMB ("Worldwide maritime gp."), NDA ("Tooth specialists' gp."), and PFD ("Adj. for some stock"), but overall, this is truly a pulchritudinous pre-Shortzian puzzle, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of Charles's puzzles as the litzing and proofreading continue!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below; the entire puzzle is posted on XWord Info:

I've been keeping my eyes peeled for interesting and clever clues as we continue back in time; here are five that stood out from the Farrar and early Weng eras:
  • September 15, 1967 (constructed by Joseph LaFauci, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Baby sitter, par excellence.
    • Answer:  MAMA
  • November 23, 1967 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Sky lights.
    • Answer:  STARS
  • January 28, 1968 (constructed by Eugene T. Maleska, litzed by Martin Herbach)
    • Clue:  Frenzy for Firenze, e.g.
    • Answer:  ITALOMANIA
  • June 2, 1968 (constructed by W. E. Jones, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  A la mode girl friend?
    • Answer:  COMPUTER DATE
  • March 27, 1969 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  It has tips for good dining.
    • Answer:  ASPARAGUS
The last clue is definitely my favorite of the bunch—it's one of the most brilliant clues I've ever seen, let alone in a pre-Shortzian puzzle!  On that note, below is a picture of some asparagus tips:

Image courtesy of World Community Cookbook.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Project Update, Litzing Contest Teaser, Strange Dream, and Drug References

We're now in the dog days of summer, and litzing slowed a bit this week, perhaps as people dealt with the heat or went on vacation!  We still made great progress, though:  On Tuesday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in 14 puzzles.  Thursday afternoon, Todd Gross sent in 10 more proofread puzzles.  Then late Thursday night, Mark Diehl sent in 27 puzzles.  Thanks so much, everyone!

If you've been litzing or taking a break, mark your calendar:  I'm planning to hold a new litzing contest starting September 1 that will be structured completely differently from any previous ones!  Litzing contests allow us to make an amazing amount of progress really quickly; even though litzing contest puzzles often contain more errors than do regularly litzed ones, they still have remarkably few mistakes.  Besides, our proofreaders wouldn't have nearly as much fun without them!  Stay tuned for details—in the meantime, keep up the awesome litzing and proofreading!

On another note, a week or so ago I dreamt I was having dinner in a giant dining hall with all the deceased pre-Shortzian constructors and editors!  In my dream, Margaret Farrar had just left the hall, so I decided to talk to Will Weng instead.  I asked him if he knew where the rest of his daily puzzle author names were—unfortunately, I woke up before he could respond!  The weird parts were that I had previously met Will Weng in my dream and that Eugene T. Maleska wasn't present.  Perhaps a future dream will result in oneiromancy—then maybe I'll know where all the daily puzzle author names are!

Recently proofreader Tracy Bennett discovered a surprising clue in the December 25, 1981, crossword that appears to be a drug reference.  This puzzle was constructed by C. J. Angio and edited by Maleska.  The clue, "Cause of being lit up like a Christmas tree," leads to the answer TOOT.  Tracy thought this clue might be a cocaine reference.  After doing a little research, however, I decided it could also have been a much more mild reference to alcohol.  Webster lists "[A] drinking bout" as the third definition of TOOT; also, "lit" can euphemistically mean "happy."  Regardless, this is a rather edgy clue for the Maleska era—I would have been much less surprised to see it in a Weng-edited puzzle.  Then again, it is rather apt, considering that the puzzle was published on Christmas.  On a similar note, I was looking through some pre-Shortzian puzzles on XWord Info and was amazed to discover that Maleska allowed the two heroin references SCAG and SKAG into his puzzles.  And no, unlike Farrar, he didn't clue either of them as "Great Lakes boat for duck hunting."

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unfortunately unknown, was originally published on February 11, 1972.  The puzzle was edited by Will Weng and was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  I've seen many pangrammatic puzzles from the late '60s and early '70s, but this is the first pre-Shortzian pangram I've come across that accomplishes this feat with just four theme entries:  The entire alphabet "falls down" in symmetrical chunks!  ABCDEF is clued as "A beginning"; FGHIJKLM is clued as "A middle"; NOPQRSTU is clued as "A middle (continued)"; and UVWXYZ is clued as "An ending."  Even though this puzzle has an 82-word grid, its unconventional gimmick really makes it stand out.  Another thing that distinguishes this puzzle is its nonthematic fill, which is surprisingly fresh and lively.  Its highlights include the awesome entries AWKWARD, WHIMPER, WRAITH, UMBRELLAS, BEDIZENS, and AMETHYSTS!  RAUWOLFIA (clued as "Dogbane") is the most unusual-sounding entry in the grid.  According to Webster, rauwolfia is a pantropical tree and shrub genus whose roots can be used to treat hypertension.  This genus was named after the German botanist Leonhard Rauwolf, who did extensive research in the Middle East.  Back to the puzzle:  The weaker entries in the fill primarily seem to be located in the bottom right, which isn't a huge surprise, since that corner houses the end of the alphabet chain.  These not-so-great entries include a second unusual plant reference, SPURRY ("Chickweed"), as well as USW ("Etc., in Bonn"), SPIV ("Hanger-on, in Britain"), NRS ("Digits: Abbr."), and LCT ("W. W. II ship").  I also don't like the entry ST LOUIS MO ("Midwestern address"), but it feels no worse than any other city/state abbreviation pair.  All in all, though, this is an exceptional Weng puzzle with a novel theme idea!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is NICTITATED.  NICTITATED originally appeared in the October 10, 1967, puzzle, which was constructed by David S. Hogmer, edited by Margaret Farrar, and litzed by Mark Diehl.  According to the Ginsberg clue database, no form of the verb NICTITATE has been reused in the Shortz area.  The original clue for NICTITATED was simply "Winked."  Webster also defines nictitate as "wink," though it does include this unusual verb's etymology.  Nictitate comes from an alteration of the past participle of the Latin verb nictare, meaning "to wink," from which we may also get the word connive.  Below is a picture of a nictitating face:

Image courtesy of The Toyman NY

Friday, August 9, 2013

XWord Info to Continue, Nancy Schuster Interview, In 1964 and Over 10,800, and a Will Weng Photo

Awesome news this week:  As many of you know, Jim Horne had decided to wind down XWord Info at the end of this year.  This would have been a huge loss for the crossword community, and even though the pre-Shortzian puzzles would have continued being posted on his site, there would no longer have been a place where all the New York Times daily and Sunday crosswords could be found.  So I was thrilled to learn on Monday that XWord Info wouldn't be winding down after all—instead, Jeff Chen will be taking over as the administrator.  Thanks so much, Jim and Jeff, for making this happen!

In other news, legendary crossword constructor, solver, and editor Nancy Schuster wrote a lovely piece for the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews page of this site.  Among many other things, Nancy discussed the three main pre-Shortzian editors from her unique editorial stance, which is fascinating!  To read Nancy's interview, navigate to the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews page or click here.

A ton of newly litzed and proofread puzzles came in this week as well, and we're now sending out puzzles from 1964!  Sunday afternoon, Mark Diehl sent in 35 puzzles, putting his own total at more than 3,200 puzzles!  A few hours later, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 more, which were followed by 20 from Howard Barkin that night, and then 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Tuesday afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, putting us over 10,800 on the litzing thermometer!  Then late Wednesday night, Mark sent in another 21 puzzles, followed by 14 more on Friday morning.  Great job, everyone!

Since we're now in a new year, here's a representative photo from 1964.  It's of the New York World's Fair, which actually continued into 1965.  The Unisphere—a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the Earth—is in the center:

Photo courtesy of

While I'm on the subject of photos, Miriam Raphael (aka Ditto) recently sent me a terrific portrait of Will Weng, which I plan to frame and display somewhere in my bedroom!  Below is a scan of the photo, which was taken by Don Christensen:

Photo courtesy of Don Christensen

Now that I'm back from Stanford, I have time to resume the Puzzle/Clue and Entry of the Week features of these blog posts.  This week, I'll be featuring a Will Weng–edited puzzle constructed by Nancy Schuster!  This impressive puzzle was originally published on March 12, 1969, and was recently litzed by Martin Herbach.  It features eight theme entries clued as military-rank fill-ins—for example, OF INDUSTRY is clued as "Captain ___." and PUNISHMENT is clued as "Corporal ___."  I've seen many puzzles with different military ranks starting each theme entry, but never one where the entire theme is in the cluing.  Kudos to Nancy for adding a nice, clever twist to an already-solid theme idea . . . and for filling the grid so nicely!  The nonthematic fill's highlights include SHERBET, SNUFFED, and PIPE STEM.  There are also some interesting tidbits in the clues:  "Destination of some planes." is a historically significant clue for CUBA, and I like the back-to-back parallelism of "French numeral." for ONZE and "French summers." for ETES.  I do wish there hadn't been any other nonthematic fill-in-the-blank clues, since they distract from the theme a bit, but I can see why they were necessary.  Also, COPAS (clued as "Panama gum trees."), TUFA ("Porous rock."), and OLT ("Danube tributary.") aren't my favorite entries.  Overall, though, this is a nice, solid pre-Shortzian puzzle—I look forward to reviewing the rest of Nancy's earlier opuses!  In the meantime, below is the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) for this puzzle:

I've noticed that Margaret Farrar– and Will Weng–edited puzzles contained many clues that started with "Modern."  These clues are always amusing, since the 1960s were so long ago that the answers to the "Modern" clues are now considered commonplace or even obsolescent!  Over the past few months, I've amassed a whole collection of "Modern" clues:
  • October 31, 1966
    • Clue:  "Modern outdoor sport."
    • Answer:  SPACEWALK
  • December 29, 1967
    • Clue:  "Modern fabric."
  • June 5, 1968
    • Clue:  "Modern weapon."
    • Answer:  ATOM BOMB
  • August 2, 1968
    • Clue:  "Modern fabric."
    • Answer:  DACRON [This one was popular!]
  • December 1, 1968
    • Clue:  "Modern convenience."
    • Answer:  CENTRAL HEATING
  • January 10, 1969
    • Clue:  "Modern hero."
    • Answer:  ASTRONAUT
  • July 21, 1969
    • Clue:  "Modern money."
    • Answer:  CREDIT CARD
Below is a picture of something that really is modern these days—I bet I'll be laughing at how old it is 50 years from now!

Image courtesy of Azusa Pacific University

Friday, August 2, 2013

Over 10,700, August Litzer of the Month Joe Cabrera, and Eliot Kieval Finds Article on Eugene T. Maleska and Poem to Margaret Farrar

We're making great progress—this week, we passed the 10,700 mark!  On Saturday, Todd McClary sent in 7 puzzles, then Mark Diehl sent in 5 more.  Sunday morning, another 7 came in from Denny Baker.  Then Sunday evening, Mark sent in 28 more.  Early Monday morning, 7 came in from Jeffrey Krasnick; Monday night, Todd Gross sent in 10 more proofread puzzles, and a short while later, Tracy Bennett sent in another proofread month of puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in 14 puzzles; 7 more came in Wednesday night from Mike Buckley, and then 28 more from Mark, putting us over 10,700!  Thursday morning, Mark sent in another 13 puzzles.  The grand total of newly litzed puzzles for the week was 116—terrific job, everybody!  It won't be long before we're at 11,000!

We're also in a new month, and the August Litzer of the Month is OCR whiz and comics fan Joe Cabrera (who, incidentally, has an awesome cartoon head picture that accompanies all his e-mails!)!  To read more about Joe, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Recently I received an e-mail from solver Eliot Kieval, who wrote that he had found two items he thought might interest me.  The first was an old New York Times article about Eugene T. Maleska having received a promotion at his job; although Maleska had already had crosswords published in the Times, he was not yet the editor.  Here is the article:

© The New York Times, September 15, 1962

The second item Eliot found was a letter to the editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine in poem form after Margaret Farrar's retirement.  Here is that letter:

© The New York Times, January 26, 1969
That was hilarious—thanks so much again for passing these along, Eliot!