Friday, December 27, 2013

Over 14,200, In 1954, Centennial Talk Recap, and Solution to Mark Diehl's Puzzle

As 2013 winds to a close, we've now litzed more than 14,200 puzzles!  This past week started off with 7 puzzles from Mike Buckley on Saturday afternoon, which were followed by 14 more from Jeffrey Krasnick that evening (putting his total at more than 800 litzed puzzles!)!  Sunday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 7 puzzles, then in the afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 7 more.  Early Monday morning, Jeffrey sent in another 7, which were followed by 10 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  Monday afternoon, Denny sent in 6 more litzed puzzles, and that night, Tracy Bennett sent in another month of proofread puzzles.  Tuesday afternoon, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles.  I got lots of litzing presents on Christmas:  7 more puzzles from Lynn in the morning, 14 more from Jeffrey in the afternoon, and another 11 proofread puzzles from Todd in the evening!  Then Thursday morning, Jeffrey sent 7 more puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Denny that afternoon.  Finally, this morning, Lynn sent in 7 more puzzles, putting us over 14,200 on the litzing thermometer, and Doug Peterson sent in 5 Sunday puzzles from 1942!  Awesome job, everybody—way to wrap up the year!

We're now also in 1954, and since we're in the midst of a holiday season, it seemed fitting that a representative photo from that year would be of a Swanson TV dinner!  Swanson coined the phrase TV Dinner and produced the first hugely successful frozen meal that year.  According to Wikipedia, it consisted of turkey, cornbread dressing, frozen peas, and sweet potatoes.  Though it may not seem particularly appetizing to us nearly 60 years later (especially as our holiday fare!), it's not all that different from the microwaveable meals many of us pick up these days at Trader Joe's!

Photo courtesy of

Last Saturday I gave a talk at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library on the crossword centennial, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and crossword editing and constructing.  It was a lot of fun (and included OREOs I brought!) and quite well attended, considering the time of year—some 20 people took a break from their holiday revelry and came out in the middle of the afternoon, including litzer Todd Gross, who drove all the way from Mesquite, Nevada!  Thanks so much again, Todd!  The presentation was videotaped, and I may be able to post a link to it soon.  I'm hoping to give the talk again at a couple of other libraries next year.  Here's a picture of the display case I set up in the library:

Last week I posted the puzzle litzer Mark Diehl constructed in response to one of the New York Herald-Tribune's constructing challenges.  The solution to his puzzle is now also on Scribd—to see it, click here.

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was edited by Margaret Farrar, litzed by Denny Baker, and originally published on April 22, 1966.  As litzing has continued, I've come across many themeless puzzles with more than 72 words (usually 74) that contain a handful of lively entries.  I don't typically record the dates of these themelesses, since my list of puzzles to feature here is already 44 pages long; occasionally, however, I'll come across a puzzle that appears to be a high-word-count themeless but that actually has a nifty little theme.  This week's featured puzzle, for example, has a wide-open grid with a high word count but also contains a subtle gimmick involving seven theme entries that start with RH and a reveal (RHO)!  RHO is clued as "Greek letter, feature of this puzzle."; according to Webster, RHO is pronounced as either R- or RH- in English.  The theme entries themselves are all fun and lively words—I particularly like RHYTHM, RHETORIC, and RHODESIA!  The nonthematic fill also has many highlights, including SAD TO SAY, HACIENDA, YAHOO, CUSHY, MARINATE, and the old-fashioned ETHERIZE.  That's a lot of good fill!  There are, however, a few entries solvers might have found mysterious:  OSTRACON (clued as "Athenian ballot, used in banishing Aristides."), UNGULATE ("Having hooves."), and HOSE CART ("Fire company's wagon.").  HOSE CART, which Webster defines as "a wheeled vehicle for carrying the fire hose," intrigued me so much that I had to find a picture of one:

Image courtesy of Woodside 36.

In addition to the mysterious entries, this puzzle also contains a few not-so-great entries, including OCRA ("Vegetable: Var."), IRANIC ("Persian"), ECTAL ("Exterior: Anat."), and the clunky 8-letter partial SEES ONE'S ("___ way (clear)").  The cluing is mostly standard, though there are several interesting tidbits:  HACIENDA and ESTATE are both clued as "Country place.," VENUS has the Space Age-esque clue "NASA target.," and SUSAN is clued as "Name meaning 'a lily.'"  In all, this is a particularly strong pre-Shortzian daily puzzle—I look forward to spotting similar not-so-apparent themes as I continue to look through packets litzers send in!  In the meantime, here's the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) for this puzzle:

I've seen a number of "Name meaning ___" clues in puzzles from the mid-to-late '60s, such as the SUSAN clue in this week's featured puzzle.  I always appreciate seeing these "Name meaning ___" clues, as they're much more interesting than the standard "Man's name." and "Woman's name." fare.  Here are a few I've spotted in puzzles from the mid-to-late Farrar era:
  • June 19, 1963 (constructor unknown, litzed by Ed Sessa)
    • Clue:  Girls named after a lily.
    • Answer:  SUSANS
  • May 8, 1966 (constructed by Jack Luzzatto, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Girl's name meaning "fair of speech."
    • Answer:  EULALIA
  • June 1, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning "archer."
    • Answer:  IVAR
  • June 7, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning "blackbird."
    • Answer:  MERLE
  • December 13, 1966 (constructor unknown, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Name meaning true.
    • Answer:  VERA
  • April 27, 1967 (constructed by Louise Earnest, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Garment named after a French aerialist. [A reverse name clue!]
    • Answer:  LEOTARD
  • February 6, 1968 (constructor unknown, litzed by Joe Cabrera)
    • Clue:  Name meaning gazelle.
    • Answer:  LEAH
Since I've neither met nor heard of anyone named Eulalia, I looked online and found a picture of a woman named Eulalia Perez, whose picture was reportedly taken at the age of 139!

Image courtesy of Los Encinos
State Historic Park.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crossword Centennial Talk Tomorrow, Orange County Register Centennial Crossword, Article on Todd Gross, Mark Diehl Accepts the New York Herald-Tribune's Challenge, and Article on Arthur Hays Sulzberger's Collaborator Charles Merz

Tomorrow is the crossword centennial, and I'll be giving a talk about it and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library from 2 to 3.  For more details, click here.  I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Also, The Orange County Register asked me to do a special crossword for the centennial.  It appeared in today's paper and can be seen here—have FUN!

And litzer Todd Gross just sent me a link to an article about him and the centennial puzzle he and I constructed for The New York Times—to read it, click here.

Last week's post included Todd's awesome article on the New York Herald-Tribune, and litzer Mark Diehl decided to accept the Herald-Tribune's challenge and construct a crossword using the parameter it specified—great job, Mark!  I've posted the puzzle on Scribd, and you can download a PDF of it here.  I'll post the solution next week.

Arthur Hays Sulzberger was the publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961, but not many people are aware that he was also a crossword constructor!  According to my records, Sulzberger was a co-constructor on the June 14, 1942, New York Times crossword.  To read an article about his co-constructor, New York Times editor Charles Merz, click here.  Here's the solution to the puzzle they constructed, whose title was "United Nations":

This puzzle contains an impressive number of country names, but it also has many two-letter words, which were considered bad style even back when Margaret Farrar was editing in 1942.  The crossword also has left-right symmetry, which I don't recall seeing in any other Farrar-edited puzzle.  I wonder whether Margaret felt compelled to publish this puzzle because Sulzberger and Merz both held important positions at The New York Times.  The puzzle certainly isn't poorly constructed, but it feels different from any other Farrar puzzles I've seen so far.

On to litzing—it's been another very busy week!  Saturday morning, Ed Sessa sent in 7 puzzles, then that afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 41 puzzles, putting us over 14,000 on the litzing thermometer!  Late Saturday night, Mark Diehl sent another 21 puzzles.  Sunday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed that afternoon by 7 from Denny Baker.  Tuesday morning, Mark sent in 7 more puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Denny Baker sent in another 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 more from Jeffrey that evening and which put us over 14,100 on the litzing thermometer!  Thursday afternoon, Denny sent in another 7 puzzles, then Friday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent 7 more.  And Howard Barkin sent 20 more puzzles this week too!  Great job, everybody—it won't be long before we only have 2,000 more puzzles to go (about the right amount for the next litzing contest!)!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Todd Gross on New York Herald-Tribune Crosswords, and In 1955

Today I'm delighted to present a fascinating article by litzer Todd Gross on the New York Herald-Tribune crossword!  Todd has been researching the Herald-Tribune for several years and has discovered what may well have been the first precursor of today's highly interrelated crossword community—enjoy!

An Introduction to the New York Herald-Tribune
By Todd Gross

This is a blog about The New York Times crosswords, and I’m sure everyone here knows that the first modern crossword was published in the New York World.  This article, however, is about another New York newspaper that played a role in the development of crossword puzzles but that isn’t as well known by solvers and aficionados:  the New York Herald-Tribune.

About four years ago, I started getting microfilm copies of the Herald-Tribune via interlibrary loan.  For no particular reason, I decided to start in January of 1928 and have since seen about two years’ worth of the paper, from January of 1928 to early March of 1930.  The crosswords themselves were, with a few notable exceptions I discuss later, the same sort you’d find in the World or Simon & Schuster books of the time:  themeless, mostly 15x15, some two-letter entries and unkeyed letters (but fewer than, say, five years earlier).  What makes the Herald-Tribune important in crossword history is the puzzles editor, Helen Haven, and how she created a kind of community, including constructors and solvers.

This is the only picture I have of Ms. Haven, taken immediately after the Herald-Tribune’s 1928 Cross-Word Puzzle Contest.  The caption below reads “At the Wanamaker Auditorium yesterday, left to right, J. Van Cleft Cooper, new champion; Helen Haven, puzzle editor; Colonel William Haskell, manager of the contest, and D. J. Wernher, runner-up.”

Nowadays, thanks to online blogs and mailing lists, interaction between constructors, editors, and solvers can happen in real time in a variety of ways.  But in the 1920s, your average crossword solver knew little more about puzzles’ constructors than their names and certainly couldn’t ask them questions or offer opinions to them.

But in the Herald-Tribune’s daily puzzle column, Ms. Haven included a paragraph or so of text every day.  And it wasn’t just about the puzzle printed below—it could be about puzzles in general, or interesting stories about people who solve puzzles, or questions and/or comments addressed directly to the readers.  It could even be content from readers themselves.  Through this limited channel, six times a week, readers were able to comment about puzzles, and their comments might be incorporated into future columns, even future puzzles.

I’ll give just a few examples here.  Starting in June of 1928, the daily puzzle column regularly included a cryptogram.  It all started innocently enough, with Ms. Haven writing the following:
With the advent of the cryptogram into general favor—(it has long been the delight of dyed-in-the-wool puzzlists)—we offer one herewith, and promise the solution to-morrow:  QGUUOK  QZRRKVPF  WZRK  YKKP  CDVK  RZVAKX  ZPX  RWKVKLDV  CDVK  APRKVKFRAPM  DL  OZRK.   Do you want some more?
And it turned out that the readers did want more:  The first reader-submitted cryptogram was printed two days later, and the day after, Ms. Haven wrote the following:
Enthusiastic response has met our suggestion that we have occasional cryptograms along with the daily puzzles.  G. B. C.'s question in cryptogrammese (or would it be cryptogrammar?) was "would not the Sunday page be more complete with one corker like this?"  Now here's an easy one for to-day:  IRTZT HZT VHBN LHNU IW GZTHQ HBF UWAKT H YZNXIWEZHV, HU VWUI WS NWJ XZWGHGAN RHKT SWJBF WJI.
Note the quick turnaround here:  A reader’s response was printed two days after the original comment.  But back to crossword puzzles.  On April 22, 1929, the first day constructors’ addresses (!) were published with the puzzle, the puzzle included this comment:
Advice to constructors from one who says he writes from experience:  Keep away from six-letter words ending in "ose."  He says there are very few to go 'round that make good interlocking.
On May 2, ten days later, the comment referred back to this piece of advice (the question marks are for parts I couldn’t make out because the picture I took was too fuzzy—I don’t have the kind of setup used by Recordak Corp. (the division of Eastman Kodak that created these microfilm reels)).
It seems that several days ago we p???ed a warning against the use of six-letter words ending in "ose," as there were few of them that could be interlocked successfully: The letters should have read "???" but before we had time to make this correction one ambitious contributor accepted the challenge and sent us a puzzle full of six-letter words ending in "ose."  We'll publish it soon.
I’m pretty sure this is the May 20 puzzle by Charles Griffen, which appears to contain at least six such words (probably eight, but again, the picture I took was too fuzzy to be certain).  Another comment challenging constructors to use PHENOMENON as their 1-Across entry resulted in several such puzzles being submitted.  The first one was published on August 26, 1929, and constructed by Ed Ward of Saugerties, New York.  This was the accompanying paragraph:
Here is the first of the puzzles made in answer to our challenge.  It is an interesting fact that many who accepted it by sending puzzles with this No. 1 across are new to this department.  Evidently we have brought out some hidden talents.
As far as I know, this kind of forum-like community, with interaction between solvers, constructors, and the column’s editor (of which I give just a few examples here), is the first of its kind in the crossword world.  This might explain why Eugene Maleska published his first crossword in the Herald-Tribune in 1944 and why he kept a voluminous correspondence with constructors and solvers alike in the days before e-mail and text messages.

By the way, once constructors’ addresses were given with the puzzle (one wonders if readers ever used these addresses to contact a constructor . . . I haven’t found any collaborations or mentions of this kind of contact yet), Ms. Haven often made comments on the various places constructors hailed from, such as the following:
Today we welcome another Far Western state into our records.  So far we have Washington, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and, of course, New York—not to mention Campobello, S. C. and New Brunswick, Canada.
And here’s a typical example of what these addresses looked like, from frequent contributor R. E. Thayer, who lived in Middletown, Connecticut:

Finally, I want to return to my comment about the puzzles themselves.  As I said, most crosswords were the standard kind of the period, but every now and then a more experimental kind of puzzle would be published.  I've reprinted two examples here, both by the same innovative constructor:  Bruce J. Davidson.  First, an early circular crossword, published in September of 1929:

And lastly, an even stranger grid published in November of ’29.  This puzzle has a checkerboard grid: the 4 isolated white squares are part of two diagonal 5-letter answers each, whose clues are in a separate section in the lower right below the grid.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at the New York Herald-Tribune.  I hope more folks will do their own investigating using interlibrary loan.  There’s a lot I haven’t gotten to yet (the Herald-Tribune started as a merger of papers in 1924 and lasted until 1966), and judging from what I’ve seen so far, there should be lots of interesting history left to uncover. . . .

Thanks so much again, Todd, for this enGROSSing journey into crossword history!

Back to the present, it's been another very busy litzing week, with nearly 100 new puzzles litzed!  The puzzles started coming in on Saturday afternoon, with 7 from Lynn Feigenbaum.  Sunday morning, Todd McClary sent in another 7; that night, Mark Diehl sent in 20 more, (putting us over 13,900 on the litzing thermometer!), and just 11 minutes later, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in another 7.  Tuesday morning, Barry Haldiman sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed by 7 from Denny Baker on Wednesday morning (putting his total at more than 700!).  Thursday morning, Jeffrey sent in 7 more puzzles, and that night, Mark sent in another 21.  Finally, this morning, Denny sent in another 7 puzzles, which were soon followed by 7 more from Lynn.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're almost at 14,000 now!

And with all this litzing, we've moved into a new year:  1955!  This year was notable for many historical and cultural events, but perhaps the happiest of all (especially for litzer Jeffrey Krasnick!) was the opening of Disneyland.  Here's a map of Disneyland as it was on its July 17 opening day:

Image courtesy of

Friday, December 6, 2013

Crossword Centennial Talks at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library and San Diego Central Public Library, New Litzer of the Month Ralph Bunker, and Jeffrey Krasnick's Links to Toronto Star Crossword Articles

It's been another busy week on the litzing front!  Saturday night, an anonymous litzer sent in 6 puzzles.  Then Sunday afternoon, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 7 more, which were followed by another 7 that night from Mike Buckley, putting us over 13,800 on the litzing thermometer and Mike's own total at more than 200!  Monday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in a mega-batch of 42 puzzles, bringing her total to more than 900 puzzles!  That afternoon, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Tuesday morning, Denny Baker sent 7 puzzles, and very early Wednesday morning, Todd sent in 10 more proofread puzzles.  Thursday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in 7 puzzles, which were followed that afternoon by 7 more from Denny, and a bit later, 11 more proofread puzzles from Todd.  Finally, this morning Mark Diehl sent in 14 puzzles.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

I'm delighted to announce that Ralph Bunker is the December Litzer of the Month!  Ralph is an avid cyclist who has litzed more than 700 puzzles in just 10 weeks!  To read more about him, click here.

Event alert:  In two weeks, I'll be giving a talk at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library on the crossword centennial and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!  To see the details, click here.

And litzer Todd Gross recently told me about another crossword centennial talk by verbivore Richard Lederer this coming Monday at the San Diego Central Public Library; for details, click here.

Litzer Jeffrey Krasnick posted links to three awesome Toronto Star articles on Facebook today, including one about pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Charles M. Deber and the history of the crossword, "The crossword is 100 years old and thriving."  If you click on the link, you can also watch a fascinating video of Charles discussing his construction process.  Jeffrey himself is featured in the second article, "Canadian trio are rivals at American crossword contest"—congratulations, Jeffrey!  And the third article, "Canadiana crosswords compete with U.S. puzzles," is an interesting look at Canadian crosswords geared to Canadians.  Thanks so much for letting everyone know about these articles, Jeffrey—great weekend reading, eh?

Any blog about pre-Shortzian New York Times crosswords would feel incomplete without highlighting a Stepquote, one of the most iconic and controversial theme types published in the Farrar, Weng, and Maleska eras!  The Stepquote was first introduced in 1964 by none other than Eugene T. Maleska himself; in subsequent years, New York Times solvers saw many more Stepquotes and variations on this twisty gimmick, such as the Slidequote and the Boxquote, in their Sunday magazines; the vast majority of these were constructed by Maleska.  In recent years, the Stepquote, which declined in popularity after Will Shortz became editor, has become the epitome of a substandard pre-Shortzian puzzle.  Critics have denounced the Stepquote for having low theme density and unchecked theme squares in the quote; also, many modern solvers and editors feel that quote themes as a rule are hackneyed.

The Stepquote certainly isn't my favorite type of pre-Shortzian puzzle, but I do appreciate how Maleska shook things up with a novel gimmick and produced some of the earliest examples of puzzles with entries that bend around corners.  Today's featured puzzle, which was titled "Stepquote, Punny Style," was constructed by (drumroll, please!) Eugene T. Maleska; published on September 25, 1966; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Martin Herbach.  This Stepquote features a particularly amusing and tongue-twisting quip:  IS IT HARDER TO TOOT OR TO TUTOR TWO TOOTERS TO TOOT?  The rest of the puzzle plays out like a themeless, though Maleska did manage to toss in the quote's author CAROLYN/WELLS, albeit asymmetrically.  The wide-open corners allowed Maleska to incorporate many fresh and interesting entries into the grid.  My favorites include SCHISM, AIR-COOL, DRIES UP, DESIDERATA, RADIATOR, STAIRCASES, SKEETERS, CASHEWS, and TREMOLO—what a lovely ennead!  On the other hand, the puzzle does include a handful of entries I'm not so fond of:  the partials COP ON (clued as "The ___ the beat."), IDES OF ("___ March."), and RULES OF ("___ order."); the roll-your-own entries DENUDERS ("Strippers."), DEPARTER ("Goer."), SNARER ("Man with a gin."), and RERIDE ("Go cycling again."); poetic spellings OERTAKE ("Catch up with: Poet.") and ERENOW ("Previously: Poet."); and an olio of lesser-known entries such as OMBERS ("Mediterranean food fish."), TRENAIL ("Wooden peg."), and SAI ("Capuchin monkey.").  Also, AASA ("Initials of school group.") probably isn't the most famous of organizations, though I'm not surprised Maleska used it, since he was also a school administrator.  In all, this is a solid pre-Shortzian puzzle—it doesn't knock my socks off, but I certainly enjoy seeing it more than another themeless Sunday.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below: