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!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Over 12,600—and Mark Diehl's New Random Factoid Clue

It's been an awesome week on the litzing front, with more than 300 puzzles sent in—probably the most ever!  As I write this, we've now litzed 12,665 puzzles, so we're definitely on track to hit the 13,000 mark by the end of this month.  The week started off with a whopping 28 puzzles early Saturday morning from Ralph Bunker.  That afternoon, Vic Fleming sent in 7 more, then in the evening, Ralph sent in another 28, putting us over 12,400 on the litzing thermometer (and his own total at more than 200!)!  Sunday morning, Mark Diehl sent in 21 puzzles, then late that afternoon, a mega-batch of 42 puzzles came in from Nancy Kavanaugh (putting her in the number 3 position in the regular totals, after Mark Diehl and Barry Haldiman et al.!).  Sunday evening, Ralph sent in 28 more puzzles, which put us at more than 12,500 on the litzing thermometer, and Monday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Monday afternoon, Vic sent 7 more litzed puzzles, then a little over an hour later, 7 more came in from Denny Baker.  Tuesday morning, Brian Kulman sent in 7 more.  Wednesday evening, another 28 puzzles came in from Ralph, and then early Thursday afternoon, he sent 28 more!  Thursday evening, Vic sent in 14 puzzles, putting us over 12,600 on the litzing thermometer, then another 28 came in 9 minutes later from Mark (putting his personal total at more than 3,800 litzed puzzles—he should be topping 4,000 soon!).  Friday morning, Ralph sent another 28 puzzles (making a ginormous total from him of 168 for the week and 315 overall!), which were followed less than half an hour later by 7 more from Brian.  Terrific work, everyone—thanks so much again!

To those of you who haven't sent in any puzzles so far during Litzstarter, there's still time!  In addition to all the great rewards starting at 25 or more puzzles, after litzing just 14 you become eligible for the Grand Prize drawing for free admission to the 2014 ACPT!  Though your chances increase the more puzzles you litz, anyone who's litzed at least 14 puzzles could win this awesome prize!

In other news, Mark Diehl came across another clue that's a bit vague, to say the least!  The clue, for the entry SMITH, read "2,457 girls."  Well, I'll bet that one became outdated pretty fast!

Today's featured puzzle (whose constructor is unknown) was edited by Margaret Farrar, litzed by Mark Diehl, and originally published on May 14, 1968.  This nifty construction features six symmetrically interlocking theme entries that start with a color and end with an animal, such as WHITEHORSE and PURPLE COW.  As a bonus, the theme entries aren't simply more specific varieties of their respective animals—that is, the constructor passed up on entries like GRAY WHALE and YELLOW WARBLER that have very limited cluing options.  The puzzle definitely feels a cut above its contemporaries in terms of theme—it was rare to see a puzzle with even a simple animals or colors theme back in the late 1960s, let alone a combination of the two!  The only theme entry I don't like is BLACKHAWKS, and the only reason I feel it's weak is because of its clue ("Indian chief and namesakes.").  I would have much preferred a reference to the Chicago ice hockey team—I can't imagine Blackhawk has very many namesakes.  The fill also feels less than stellar in places—although DAYTON, FOAM, and UNDERAGE are nice, I could do without MANU (clued as "By hand: Prefix."), PPL ("Verbal form: Abbr."), ORRA ("Not matched: Scot."), RATAS ("Timber trees of New Zealand"), MILLA ("Mile: Sp."), HERAS ("Namesakes of a goddess."), and AH AH ("Sounds of appreciation.").  The rest of the fill relies more on uninspired crosswordese than would be ideal per modern standards, and I'm rather ambivalent about some of the longer nonthematic entries (STRAW MAN ["Scarecrow."] and DAWN PATROL ["Flying mission."]).  One entry that really stood out to me, however, is APOLOGISTS (clued as "Defenders of the faith."), a word I've never come across before.  Webster gives a more detailed definition of apologist:  "a person who defends or supports something (such as a religion, cause, or organization) that is being criticized or attacked by other people."  What an interesting term!  In sum, although the fill feels a bit esoteric in places, the well-researched and interesting theme makes this puzzle shine!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry, HOWGOZIT CURVE, originally appeared in the October 5, 1968, puzzle (constructor unknown), which was edited by Margaret Farrar and litzed by Martin Herbach.  This unusual term, which was clued as "Running graph of flight, in aviation parlance," has yet to be reused in a Shortz-era puzzle.  Webster defines a howgozit curve as "a running graph of the progress of an airplane flight involving the distance covered, fuel consumed, and time elapsed and enabling the pilot to determine the equitime point."  Webster also mentions that howgozit is an alteration of "how goes it?," which makes sense in theory but is never something I would've guessed.  "Howgozit curve" gets just 3,950 Google hits, which makes it quite an unusual entry.  Since I couldn't find any great pictures of a howgozit curve, below is a picture of a howgozit page:

Image courtesy of The Boeing 737 Technical Site.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reminiscence of Jules Arensberg by Lyn Silverstein, Louis Sabin's Article on "Roman Holiday," Over 12,300, Zipped Through 1960 and Now Into 1959, Update on Bernice Gordon's Scrapbooks, and Book of the Week from Stan Newman's Treasures

Last week I received an e-mail from Lyn Silverstein, to which she had attached a delightful piece she wrote 15 years ago about her father, legendary New York Times constructor Jules Arensberg.  Jules published at least 94 puzzles in The New York Times during the Farrar era (82 under his own name and 12 under the pseudonym Helen Bernard, which was a combination of Lyn's given name and his wife's maiden name), and he built many more that appeared in other venues, such as this week's featured book.  Here is Lyn's piece:


by Lyn Silverstein

  Daddy was a man of many words.  No, he wasn't redundant or repetitive, nor even reiterative.  His vocabulary was extensive and he was intrigued by language—words, expressions, and colloquialisms.  He knew about origins of words and derivations of phrases through his constant research, always enjoying the process of learning.
  One major player in his quest for knowledge was the well-thumbed Webster's Unabridged dictionary that graced his desk in the living room.  Dictionaries weren't a big part of his working life but were important tools in his leisure activities.  The 1961 edition—his last one—still serves me well.  Of all my dictionaries, it is the one of choice, and when it's idle, it rules the upstairs hallway from its prominent wooden throne.
  Daddy never finished college because he had to go to work, but he had a boundless passion for knowledge.  He thrived on the challenges of my high school and college homework assignments.  During the first few months of my sophomore year of high school, I anguished over geometry.  Daddy studied the textbook, and over Christmas vacation, we spent many hours learning geometry together.  His logical mind quickly grasped the concepts and he managed to teach me all we had covered in class so far, plus much of the material I needed to know during the school year yet to come.
  Occasionally daddy would ask what we were covering in history.  The way it worked is he'd say, "What are you reading about?"  I'd answer.  He'd look it up in the Columbia Encyclopedia, read about it, and tell me the highlights.  He didn't stop there but continued looking up related topics.  For example, if the book sent him to one reference, on to [it] we would go, which in turn might lead to another, etc.  Sometimes it seemed we'd spend all night, me on the couch, he on a chair, following all the references, one leading to the next like a never-ending interrelated network of facts.
  All the Arensberg boys had a knack for language and words.  Sid was a cryptographer who during W.W. II decoded secret messages, and Harry "spoke Spanish like a Spaniard," according to my mother.  Leo, the multilingual youngest brother, taught several languages at a military prep school.
  English wasn't their parents' native tongue.  Louie and Anna spoke Yiddish, for they were from the old country.  But maybe living in the melting pot of NY where varied languages and dialects were spoken is how their sons' fascination for languages emerged.
  But my father was the one who embraced the English language.  Nobody could tell a story like Jules.  Articulate, witty, and entertaining, my father was the premier raconteur.  He enjoyed communicating with people.  Based on the occasion, he could also come up with an appropriate quip or pun, or even quote excerpts from one of the many poems he'd committed to memory.
  His love for words consumed him in a "novel" way.  No, he didn't write fiction; he constructed crossword puzzles.  Many evenings would find him sitting at his desk in the living room, sharpened pencil in hand, fastidiously filling in a grid with either letters or squares on their way to becoming part of a challenging puzzle for the Herald Tribune or the NY Times.  He was a celebrity of sorts to his loyal following of cruciverbalists and received lots of fan mail.  Some people were frustrated by his cleverness; most were impressed.
  He also co-wrote puzzles with Herb Ettenson, a high school English teacher, and his best friend.  One evening a week or so, they had meetings to toss around ideas for puzzle themes.  When they met in my house, I did my homework in the living room where they worked.  I would curl up quietly with my books on the living room couch and try to be invisible so I could stay and bask in their creativity.
  The February 1992 NY Times magazine section had a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the [Times] crossword puzzle.  In this featured article, 12 Sunday puzzles were chosen to represent highlights of the past half-century of NY Times crosswords.  Daddy would have been thrilled to see that one of his was selected.
  Although he hadn’t attained a college degree, it was not for lack of scholastic ability.  One of our favorite fan letters was from a man who had bet a friend whether daddy had graduated from Harvard or Yale.  A family story recounts that when he was in the sixth grade, he took a national teacher's exam and scored near the top.  Although I can't personally account for the veracity of that tale, I do recall the many times he was paid by the TV networks as a consultant.  He'd play a contestant in simulations of proposed quiz shows and would give feedback on considerations like ease of playing, scoring, and question difficulty.
  My childhood was filled with word games and learning activities of all kinds, most of which required some reference materials and a pencil and paper at most.  We played games in the house, walking outside, and riding the subways.  To this day, I can entertain myself with these same games when I’m waiting on a line or in a doctor's office—anytime I have a few minutes of idle time and want to exercise my mind.
  Each day when I relax with the NY Times puzzle, I think about my father and thank him for his special legacy—the love for language that now lives within me.
Lyn also sent me a fascinating article written by pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Louis Sabin about a puzzle constructed by her father.  The article, "The Gol-dangest Crossword Puzzle Ever," appeared in the September 1962 issue of Pageant magazine and contains the puzzle "Roman Holiday," which was originally published in the Times on December 8, 1957.  To read the article and see the puzzle, click here.  Thanks so much for both these wonderful pieces, Lyn!

In other news, it's been a very busy week on the Litzstarter front—as I write this, we're at 12,350 on the litzing thermometer!  Friday night, Ralph Bunker sent in 28 puzzles, putting us over 12,100!  Then Sunday morning, he sent in another 28 puzzles, which were followed an hour and a half later by 7 from Denny Baker.  Sunday evening, Todd (T) McClary sent in 7 puzzles, and a few hours later, Mark Diehl sent in 35 more (making his regular total more than 3,700 puzzles!).  Just over an hour later, Brian Kulman sent in 7 more, putting us at exactly 12,200!  Then Monday morning, Howard Barkin sent in 21 puzzles, which were followed on Tuesday morning by 7 more from Vic Fleming, 14 more from Mark, and 7 more from Brian.  In the early afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 42 puzzles (putting her contest total at more than 200 and regular total at more than 700!).  That evening, Mike Buckley sent in 7 more puzzles.  Then Wednesday morning, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles (putting us over 12,300 on the litzing thermometer!), which were followed an hour later by 7 from Ed Sessa.  Thursday evening, Vic sent in 7 more, then late that night, Mark sent in 28 more (putting his contest total at more than 400 litzed puzzles!).  Thanks so much, everybody—great job!

Thanks in part to one massive shipment of puzzles, this week we not only zipped through the rest of 1961 but also through all of 1960.  Though many people may remember 1960 for the Kennedy-Nixon debates—the first televised presidential debates in U.S. history—1960 was also the year that Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho was released, on September 8.  I just recently saw this movie for the first time, and it was definitely on the creepy side, especially at the climax near the end!  Here's its poster:

Image courtesy of The Conduit Speaks

We're now in 1959, and one of the more notable events of that year was the March 9 appearance of the first Barbie doll.  Though I've never owned a Barbie, I did use BARBIE (clued as "She wears very little clothing") in a Fireball puzzle from earlier this year.  Other very clever clues from the Ginsberg clue database include "50-year-old stunner" and "She's a doll."  Here's a picture of a very early Barbie:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Last week I wrote about going through two of Bernice Gordon's scrapbooks to record the dates her puzzles were published.  Since then I've compared that list with my records, and out of 111 puzzle dates filling four pages, I found 7 previously unattributed daily puzzles, plus a discrepancy in the June 18, 1980, puzzle (in which Bernice was listed as the author, though according to Maleska's log, Jack L. Steinhardt was the author).  Most of the puzzles on the list were already in my database, and many others had question marks next to them, indicating that the puzzles did not look like they had been published in the Times (and, in fact, none of those marked that way had been).  Finding just 7 (possibly 8) new puzzles out of 111 doesn't seem like a lot, but this one-puzzle-at-a-time process is likely how the remaining gaps will be filled in.

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Jules Arensberg.  It was originally published on October 11, 1953; it was litzed by Andrew Feist and edited by Margaret Farrar.  This masterful construction features six symmetrical theme entries that contain a kitchen utensil, such as KETTLEDRUM and PANHANDLER; as a bonus, none of the theme entries is a direct instance of its respective utensil.  In other words, Jules Arensberg eschewed theme entries like SILVER SPOON or TEAKETTLE, since they are merely more specific examples of the utensils they're derived from.  This differentiation adds a nice level of elegance to an already spectacular-for-its-time theme!  In addition, this puzzle boasts a relatively clean nonthematic fill, which is especially challenging when working with stacked pairs of theme entries.  I particularly like the entries PIPELINE, TRIDENTS, QUIRKS, and CHIMP.  The puzzle also contains a handful of devious or thought-provoking clues, such as "Vixen's driver." for SANTA, "Wartime cloak-and-dagger outfit." for OSS, and "Outlawed terrorist group." for KLAN (which is no longer accurate).  To me, the OSS clue stands out the most, since it feels like an exceptionally fresh take on an otherwise stuffy piece of crosswordese!  There are a few entries in the nonthematic fill that I'm not as fond of, such as the partial QUA NON, the lesser-known term FEIS (clued as "Gaelic music or literary meeting."), and the unpleasant entry KLAN.  The construction probably could have been improved by changing KLAN/KROON to CLAN/CROON.  Nevertheless, this is a particularly strong pre-Shortzian puzzle and a real standout in the swaths of news- or repeated-word themed daily puzzles from the early 1950s—I look forward to seeing many more Jules Arensberg puzzles as litzing continues!  For now, here's the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries):

Since Stan Newman sent me so many fascinating old puzzle books, I've decided to add a Book of the Week feature to this blog!  I'll be featuring a new pre-Shortzian treasure every third week (with the other two weeks containing the usual Clue or Entry of the Week section)—I doubt I'll run out of new books to highlight anytime soon!  That said, this week's featured book, a small green paperback titled 50 American Authors, was written by Eugene T. Maleska and Albert Buranelli.  It was first printed in August 1963 and was part of a collection called "The Educational Crossword Puzzle Series."  Each of the 50 American authors is profiled in a one-page biography, a high-quality crossword by a top constructor, and a mini-quiz using information from the biography and crossword puzzle.  The crosswords themselves are designed like modern-day Celebrity Crosswords in that they're jam-packed with theme material about their subjects—a single 15x focusing on Henry James and built by crackerjack constructor A. J. Santora contained 32 theme entries!

So how were these top-notch constructors able to incorporate so much theme material?  I've determined that the answer lies in several fundamental differences between these crosswords and modern ones.  The most notable difference is the use of what Maleska dubbed the part-word technique, which I've never seen before.  The part-word technique involves using thematic fill-in-the-blank clues for short words instead of cluing them in a traditional fashion.  For example, in the Henry James puzzle, DUC is clued as "*James was e _ _ _ ated privately by tutors" rather than something along the lines of "French nobleman."  This cluing style is indeed very effective for cramming large amounts of information into a crossword puzzle, but it also feels sort of tacky, since many words don't have proper clues; also, it allows constructors to get away with an increased amount of less-than-stellar fill (particularly prefixes and suffixes) by disguising it as theme material.  In other words, the part-word technique seems tantamount to the timeworn ruse of disguising vegetables as chicken nuggets in the hope that kids will be more likely to eat them.  The other two differences I noticed are that two-letter words were allowed and that the grids weren't all 15 x 15.  In fact, many grids were rectangular to allow for an even greater number of theme entries.  The use of rectangular grids in top-notch crosswords was almost unheard of when this book was published and didn't really catch on until a few years ago; this innovation alone places 50 American Authors way ahead of its time!

There are a few other noteworthy aspects of this puzzle book.  First, Maleska constructed just one of the puzzles, which is surprising since he was also a major constructor in 1963 and is listed as co-author of the book.  It can therefore be presumed that Maleska did much more work on the biography-assembling and quiz-writing, which isn't a huge surprise, given his literary and educational background.  It can also be assumed, however, that Maleska was the editor of these crosswords, making this volume a fascinating glimpse into what his pre–New York Times editing style looked like.  In addition, none of the clues have periods after them, a stylistic choice not widely used until Will Weng became editor of the New York Times crossword six years later.  Finally, Maleska mentioned that he hoped the Educational Crossword Puzzle Series books would become supplementary materials for high school and college students.  I'm always rather skeptical of crossword puzzle books targeted at younger audiences, as editors often forget that most students are unfamiliar with the crossword puzzle argot.  As a test, I created some multiple-choice questions for my friends at school to see how accurately they would be at guessing the meanings of different pieces of pre-Shortzian crosswordese.  To them, it seemed like I was speaking Greek!  Anyway, I was surprised to discover that this book is not only accessible to a wide range of solvers (largely because of the part-word technique) but is also helpful.  I recently finished reading The Scarlet Letter for my English class and remember that one of the test questions asked what year the novel was published in.  I had no idea and ended up guessing a random year in the 19th century!  It turns out that the Nathaniel Hawthorne section of 50 American Authors mentions that The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850.  Go figure!

In sum, 50 American Authors was fascinating to look through from both a historical and practical standpoint.  Thanks again for sending this book, Stan, and I look forward to featuring a new book in three weeks!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mark Diehl's 91-Puzzle Batch Puts Us Over 12,000 (Litzstarter's Halfway Point!), In 1961, October Litzer of the Month Mike Buckley, Davidson Institute Brings Project to Capitol Hill, and Meeting Bernice Gordon

Great news:  We've just passed the halfway point in Litzstarter, and we're also more than halfway toward the goal of reaching 13,000 litzed puzzles by the end of October—as I write this, we're at 12,088!  The week started off with 28 puzzles sent in by Ralph Bunker on Saturday morning.  Sunday morning, Denny Baker sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by another 28 from Ralph that evening, putting us over 11,900 on the litzing thermometer!  Very early Monday morning, Mike Buckley—our October Litzer of the Month—sent in 7 more puzzles, which were followed a bit later on by 11 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  That afternoon, Vic Fleming sent in 7 more, then Tuesday morning, Denny sent in an additional 7.  Early Wednesday morning, Mark Diehl sent in a whopping 91 puzzles—yes, 91!—the most I've ever received at one time!  This batch also put us over 12,000 on the litzing thermometer—the halfway point for the Litzstarter contest—and Mark's total for the contest at more than 300!  Then Wednesday afternoon, another humongous batch came in from Nancy Kavanaugh—42 more puzzles!  Thursday evening, Tracy Bennett sent in another 7 puzzles, and less than an hour later, Mark sent in 14 more puzzles.  Awesome, awesome job, everybody—thanks so much again!

The years have been zipping by, and we actually reached 1961 last week.  Although this was a year of many important events—including the Bay of Pigs, the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States, and the start of construction of the Berlin Wall—perhaps the most memorable one occurred on April 12, 1961, when Soviet pilot and cosmonaut YURI Gagarin became the first human in space.  Here's a photo commemorating that event:

Image courtesy of The Paltry Sapien

In other news, we also have a new Litzer of the Month:  Mike Buckley!  Mike has litzed more than 160 puzzles and also enjoys playing bass guitar in concert and jazz bands.  To read more about Mike, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

As I wrote last week, I was in Washington, D.C., for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development's awards ceremony and reception for the 2013 Davidson Fellows.  This was truly an amazing event, which started off Thursday night in a "Hang Out Room" for Fellows at the Washington Court Hotel.  Not everyone had arrived yet, so I didn't get to meet all the other Fellows that night, but we all still had plenty to talk about!  Friday morning, everyone went to a delicious breakfast buffet, where I met most of the other Fellows, and then we all headed off to our individual appointments on Capitol Hill.  I was honored to present the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project to Senator Barbara Boxer's staffer Anne Clement that morning at the Hart Senate Office Building.

In front of the Capitol.

With Senator Boxer staffer Anne Clement.

I had several hours in between my meeting with Anne Clement and my next scheduled event, so I went to the Library of Congress to look into the possibility of obtaining old New York Times crossword books there.

Outside the Library of Congress.

Inside the Library of Congress.

I discovered that I'd have to arrange in advance to see whatever books they had.  I'd checked the catalog before leaving for Washington, and the Library of Congress does have some of these books, so I'm hoping to take a look at them the next time I'm in D.C.

After grabbing a quick lunch, I headed for the International Spy Museum, which I was very excited about seeing.  I didn't have much time, but what I saw of the exhibits was fascinating, and I bought an awesome Rubik's Cube safe, as well as a cool T-shirt!

I rushed back from the museum for a group meeting with Davidson Institute co-founder Bob Davidson, where I got to know more about the exciting projects my fellow Fellows were working on!  I had to leave a bit early to get to my next appointment, which was back at the Hart Senate Office Building with Senator Dianne Feinstein's staffer Crystal Martinez.  Two other Fellows from California, Natalie Ng and Michael Janner, and I met with her at the same time, and hearing them present their projects (which were very different from the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!) was fascinating.

With Senator Feinstein staffer Crystal Martinez (second
from left) and Fellows Natalie Ng (far left) and Michael
Janner (far right).

Friday night all the Fellows gathered again for an informal group dinner, after which most of us headed back to the Hang Out Room.  Getting to know all the other amazing Fellows was one of the highlights of my trip, and we had a blast in the Hang Out Room talking about much more than just our projects!  I found that we all had a lot in common, despite our different interests and backgrounds.

Saturday morning we met again for another SAPID breakfast buffet, after which we were free to do whatever we wanted to until the reception that evening.  I spent a short while at the National Postal Museum, which was near our hotel and very interesting.  I particularly enjoyed a ZIP code–entering game, which reminded me a lot of litzing because you had to be accurate as well as quick!  I also enjoyed looking at some of the many stamps the museum had in its collections—maybe someday there'll be a crossword puzzle stamp, if there isn't one already!

Then, since I'd arranged to have lunch with litzer Barry Silk, I met up with him at Union Station and spent a couple of delightful hours at Pizzeria Uno talking about crosswords!

With Barry Silk at Union Station.

After lunch I went back to the National Postal Museum briefly to finish up my visit and then headed for the Museum of Crime and Punishment, which was especially interesting after having seen the International Spy Museum the day before!  I particularly appreciated the exhibit about Prohibition-era criminals and gangsters, since their names show up so much in crosswords and I hadn't really known their significance.

At the end of the afternoon, all the Fellows and their parents took shuttles to the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian for the Davidson Fellows reception.  After having our pictures taken, we chatted with each other and guests over delectable hors d'oeuvres and a wonderful dinner.

With Fellow Thabit Pulak on the shuttle to the reception.

Outside the Museum of the American Indian.

After dinner was the awards ceremony, at which Bob Davidson gave an inspiring speech and introduced each 2013 Davidson Fellow in turn.  All of us gave short speeches about our projects, after which Bob Davidson presented us with beautiful trophies.  Hearing the Fellows present their projects in more detail was a humbling experience—I felt very honored to have been included in such an amazingly accomplished group of my peers, most of whom had carried out very sophisticated scientific or mathematical projects.  The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, in the "Outside the Box" category, was one of just three nontechnical projects and the only one to win an award in that category.

The three-day event ended with another marathon session in the Hang Out Room, this time bittersweet, since we knew it was the last time we'd probably all be together.  Even though I had only just met the other Fellows, most of whom were still in high school, we had bonded very quickly.  I think we'll see each other again in the future, perhaps in whatever colleges we end up attending.  Thanks so much again to the Davidson Institute for this unforgettable event and for this honor to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.

Although the Davidson Fellows reception had ended, I had another major event in store the next day:  meeting legendary constructor Bernice Gordon!  Bernice and I collaborated on a puzzle celebrating age differences; that puzzle was published in The New York Times on June 26, 2013, and you can see it here.  At 99, Bernice is currently the oldest constructor publishing in the Times, and at 16, I am currently the youngest.

Bernice and I had corresponded for months but never met each other, so I made a special trip up to Philadelphia for that purpose.  It was wonderful finally getting to meet her—Bernice is just as friendly and interesting in person as in her e-mails, and we had a lot of fun discussing crosswords, the puzzle community, and crossword history.  Bernice lives in a spacious, light-filled apartment near The Franklin Institute that is filled with books and her own amazing art and needlework.  After a yummy lunch of crab cakes and pistachio ice cream, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking and playing word games on her computer.  We also looked at some Web sites, including XWord Info, as well as part of the video of Will Shortz's recent talk in Minneapolis.  Here are some pictures from my visit:

Showing Bernice the project's database.

An old puzzle Bernice constructed by hand.

Calendar at Bernice's complex listing her crosswords class.

Saying goodbye after a wonderful day.
In addition, I was able to go through two old scrapbooks of Bernice's puzzles and record the dates they were published, which I'll be able to add to my database.  Bernice also gave me many old crossword paperbacks, which I was thrilled to receive since I think some of them will help fill in more gaps in the database.  Every time I see an old crossword book with daily New York Times puzzles containing bylines, I check it against my database to see whether there are additional names I can match up with puzzles.  I'll be going through all of these books in the coming weeks, and I'm hopeful that at least some of the "Unknown" constructors will finally become known.

It was an amazing day, and I will treasure my meeting with Bernice forever.