Friday, November 15, 2013

Eric Albert's "Crosswords by Computer," Mark Diehl Litzes One Quarter of All the Pre-Shortzian Puzzles, In 1956, and Cogito Article on the Project

This week I'm delighted to present a link to Eric Albert's classic article, "Crosswords by Computer—or 1,000 Nine-Letter Words a Day for Fun and Profit," on his experiences in the early years of crossword construction software.  This fascinating piece originally appeared in February 1992—more than 20 years ago!  To read it, click here.  Thanks so much again, Eric!

I'm also thrilled to announce that on Sunday litzer Mark Diehl reached a major milestone:  He litzed his 4058th puzzle, meaning he has now litzed more than one quarter of all the pre-Shortzian puzzles!  This is truly an amazing feat—congratulations, Mark, and thanks so much again!

Lots of other puzzles came in this week too, starting off on Saturday afternoon with 7 from Ed Sessa.  Twenty minutes later, Brian Kulman sent in another 7.  Sunday afternoon, Ralph Bunker sent 28 puzzles, putting us over 13,500 on the litzing thermometer (and his own total at more than 600 litzed puzzles—since mid-September!)!  Then later that night, Mark sent in the batch of 22 puzzles that brought his record-breaking total to 4058!  Monday afternoon, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 more puzzles.  Tuesday morning, Denny Baker sent 7 puzzles, which were followed that evening by 10 more proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Wednesday morning, Ralph sent in 28 more puzzles.  Thursday afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent a mega-batch of 42 puzzles, putting us over 13,600 on the litzing thermometer and into 1956!  A short while later, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, which were followed by 11 litzed puzzles from Mark later that night.  Then late this afternoon, Todd sent in 11 more proofread puzzles, which were followed 15 minutes later by 7 litzed puzzles from Mike Buckley.  Super job, everyone—we're really whizzing through the 1950s!

We're now in 1956, the breakout year for "the King" (no, not the Litzing King, Mark Diehl!).  Elvis Presley rocketed to superstardom with the January release of his first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel."  Here's a picture:

Image courtesy of HowStuffWorks

In other news, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity recently!  Kristi Birch's article, "Project Spotlight:  Getting a Clue," features an interview with me about the project and is on the site of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.  To read it, click here.

Today's featured puzzle, "Sweet Talk," was constructed by the legendary A. J. Santora, edited by the legendary Margaret Farrar, and litzed by the legendary Mark Diehl!  The publication date, which was November 27, 1966, isn't particularly legendary, though this puzzle is from one of the first batches of litzed puzzles I reviewed in the year 1966.  The theme, which involves different types of candy clued in ways that don't relate to candy, is a solid representation of what Sunday puzzle themes were like from this time period (category members with alternate meanings).  I've noticed that there were relatively few themeless Sundays published in the late Farrar era, and the ones that did appear seem to have all been constructed by the same person (the exceptionally prolific William A. Lewis, Jr.).  Anyway, my favorite theme entries in this puzzle are CHOCOLATE CREAM SOLDIER (clued as "'Arms and the Man' man."), ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP (clued trickily as "Temple song of years ago."—Mr. Santora was referring to Shirley Temple rather than to the place of worship!), CRACKERJACK ("First-rate: Slang."—which, interestingly, is a brand name of sweets), and BUTTERSCOTCH ("Yellowish-brown.").  I haven't personally heard of the first two of these theme entries, but I like that they're both 21 letters—and besides, who can split hairs over such a sweet theme?  The only theme entry that feels a little weak is PEPPERMINTS ("Pungent plants."), since its clue isn't that far off in terms of meaning from the candies.  The nonthematic fill, which feels fresh and lively, makes up for this slight inconsistency and really shines because of the puzzle's relatively low theme density.  I especially like the entries TAMMANY, ZEALOT, EXODUS, BABOONS, CROUPIER, UPROAR, and, most of all, BALLYHOO!  That said, this puzzle review would feel too treacly if I neglected to mention the slew of partials in the grid, which include TAKING A ("___ back seat"), REAP THE ("___ whirlwind"), and the repetitious À-TÊTE ("Tête ___"), as well as the unpleasant TRAUMAS ("Emotional stresses") and the lesser-known SEGETAL ("Growing in fields of grain."), RORIC ("Dewy."), and TSHI ("Gold Coast language.").  In sum, however, this is a fine construction with a mouth-watering theme—I look forward to seeing some more of A. J. Santora's earlier constructions as litzing continues!  For now, here's the answer grid with highlighted theme entries.  Time to go grab some candy!

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