Friday, January 25, 2013

We're in 1974, 7,200-Plus Litzed Puzzles, Contest Updates, and Missing PDFs

Just minutes after the last blog post was published, Howard Barkin sent 21 more puzzles, putting us over the 6,900 mark on the litzing thermometer and himself in first place in the litzing contest.  But not for long—by Sunday night, Mark Diehl had reclaimed first place and put us over the 7,000 mark!  (Coincidentally, just two days before, on January 18, Deb Amlen reported in Wordplay that the 7,000th daily puzzle edited by Will Shortz had just appeared!)  Since Sunday, though, we've blown 7,000 out of the water—the litzing thermometer now reads 7,203, and we're sending out packets from mid-1974.

As I write this, Howard Barkin is in first place with a total of 227 litzed puzzles since January 1!  Mark Diehl is at 212, but I have a feeling he'll regain his lead soon!  Jeffrey Krasnick continues to hold a solid third place, with a total of 121 litzed puzzles, and Denny Baker, with 77, isn't far behind.  The remaining litzers who've sent in puzzles in January have litzed 217 puzzles all told, so each and every puzzle definitely helps!  Thanks, everyone, for making this contest such a success so far!

In other news, Barry Haldiman recently volunteered to help track down missing and illegible puzzles.  Although ProQuest is supposed to have everything, it doesn't, and sometimes what it does have is impossible to read.  Barry has done an outstanding job of tracking down 21 puzzles and/or solutions so far on the microfilm at his library (which is a lot better than the microfilm here!) and will be working on finding the remaining problematic puzzles.  Below is a picture of an almost completely illegible solution from ProQuest—there's no way anyone could litz this puzzle's solution without solving it (or possibly hunting it down in a book, though the puzzles in books aren't always exactly the same as the originals):

Thanks so much for helping with this, Barry!

Today's featured puzzle is another Jordan S. Lasher masterpiece.  This Maleska-edited puzzle was originally published on April 1, 1977, and was recently litzed by Barry Haldiman.  The theme entries UPPER LEFT TO/BOTTOM RIGHT and READ THE DIAGONAL are clued as "Diagonal course" and "How to get this puzzle's absurd message," respectively.  The letters on the diagonal starting at the first square read WE FOOLED YOU HA HA.  I find it amazing how the diagonal message perfectly intersects READ THE DIAGONAL—it must have taken hours to get the wordings of both phrases perfect so that they could cross like this!  Even with both horizontal and diagonal constraints, the constructor still managed to include some lovely entries in the nonthematic fill, such as MAN TRAP, CURE-ALL, and NONSTOP.  I have yet to see an IYNX ("Wry-necked woodpecker") on its GENU ("Knee: Lat.") playing STH. ("Bridge seat: Abbr.") on the ALPH ("Xanadu's river"), but nevertheless, this is a phenomenal pre-Shortzian puzzle!  The answer grid, with highlighted theme entries, can be seen below:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry is FUZZY-GUZZY.  FUZZY-GUZZY originally appeared in the September 26, 1976, Will Weng–edited crossword by . . . you guessed it, Jordan S. Lasher!  According to the Ginsberg database, this bizarre entry has never been reused in a Shortz-era puzzle.  I'd be surprised if FUZZY-GUZZY showed up in any other pre-Shortzian puzzles because of its challenging letter pattern and relative obscurity (FUZZY WUZZY, just one letter different, is much more well-known)!  FUZZY-GUZZY was clued as "Balsamweed"; Webster defines fuzzy-guzzy as "a balsamweed (Gnaphalium Obtusifolium) with glandular villous stem."  Below are two pictures of fuzzy-guzzy:

Images courtesy of

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Contest Standings, Almost at 6,900, More Publicity, Politically Incorrect Terms

We're making terrific progress in the second litzing contest!  Currently Mark Diehl is leading the pack with a total of 130 litzed puzzles, Howard Barkin is hot on his heels with 123 litzed puzzles, and Jeffrey Krasnick holds a solid third place with 87 litzed puzzles.  On Thursday, Jeffrey put us over 6,800 on the litzing thermometer, and we're now almost at 6,900—well on our way to the halfway-point goal of 8,113 litzed puzzles by the end of February.  Every litzed puzzle helps, so thanks and great job, everybody!

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project received some more publicity recently, first in Tyler Hinman's article "Touch of Genius:  Puzzazz Brings Puzzles to Your Touchscreens" in Wired, in which he interviews Puzzazz founder Roy Leban, who mentions the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.  Then, in Amy Reynaldo's Diary of a Crossword Fiend, the project was lauded by T Campbell for The Honorary Orcas award for best work in crossword scholarship.  Thanks, Roy and T!

Recently I've received numerous comments from litzers about politically incorrect terms that found their way into Weng-edited crosswords.  One litzer noted a puzzle that contained the entries MORON (clued as "One of low I.Q."), MANIC ("___-depressive"), and HOLO ("Prefix for caust")!  In the same batch, the litzer found a puzzle with its entire theme based on negativism, as well as a puzzle that contained the entry COOLIES.  Another litzer commented that he'd litzed Weng-edited puzzles with references to the Nazis, the KKK, and even fill-in-the-blank clues for racial slurs.  I took a look through Maleska's clues on XWord Info for potentially offensive terms and found that he bent over backwards to avoid cluing them like Weng did—he only clued MORON in reference to an Andalusian city, HOLO as the combining form for complete, and MANIC as a synonym for frenzied.  It should be interesting to see how Margaret Farrar approached clues for such entries—I'm a little leery, though, since I've already seen that she referred to the Japanese as Japs.  But that seems to have been common back then; in general, the clues and entries seem to have become more politically correct over time, no doubt reflecting changes in our society as a whole.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian puzzle was constructed by Jordan S. Lasher.  It was originally published on November 29, 1975, and was recently litzed by Todd Gross.  On the surface, this puzzle looks like a pretty typical Lasher opus—the grid is very open, the theme is concise, and the fill is better than average.  When I looked more closely, however, I realized that there was much more going on in this one—in addition to the theme entries WEIGHTLIFTER, PAUL ANDERSON (who, as Todd pointed out, once lifted more than three tons on his back!), and BARBELL, the blocks in the center of the grid are shaped like a weight!  This ingenious construction is a surprisingly early example of grid art in a standard 15 x 15!  The complexity of this puzzle's theme blows me away—Lasher seems to have been decades ahead of his time.  As I mentioned above, the nonthematic fill is admirable—I especially like the entries CHASSIS, HAIRCUT, RUN AMOK, and GATLING (a type of gun one of my teachers described to our class in lurid detail).  All in all, this is a groundbreaking pre-Shortzian puzzle—I hope to see many more Weng-edited crosswords that are this innovative!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

I was recently looking through some Margaret Farrar–edited puzzles from the 1950s and came across the historically significant clue "Cause of chaos in the entertainment world" in the December 9, 1950, puzzle.  The answer?  COLOR TELEVISION!  Wikipedia notes that back when color television was first being developed in 1950, there were many technical glitches and inaccurate color reproductions; also, at one point, just one hour of color television was shown per day!  On top of all this, the prototype color receivers were only available in the New York area.  I can definitely see why color television might have caused a lot of chaos back then.  Nowadays we'd laugh at a clue like this!  Below is a picture of an early color television set:

Image courtesy of CT-TV Vintage Television.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reminiscences of Constructor Fred Duda by Al Weeks, Second Litzing Contest Under Way, Over 6,600 (and in 1975!)

This week I'm delighted to present a profile of pre-Shortzian constructor Fred Duda written by his longtime friend Al Weeks.  A few weeks ago Al's wonderful reminiscences of Alfio Micci appeared here; if you haven't read his piece, be sure to check it out.  According to my (still incomplete) records, Fred published two crosswords in The New York Times when Eugene T. Maleska was editor, the first on October 18, 1986, and the second on November 8, 1986.

Fred Duda (1937–2012), Puzzle Constructor

by Albert L . Weeks

          When one of Fred's crosswords was first published in a large paperback collection of crosswords, I was the person who brought this event to his attention.  The puzzle, titled "Star Fare," No. 144, was  published in Simon & Schuster's Super Crossword Book (edited by Maleska and Samson, 1992).  The puzzle—from 1-Across to 131-Down—was one of his best.  One clue:  "Fare for Miss Duke?"  Solution:  "Pattycakes."
          That was one book of crosswords containing a Duda puzzle.  But I remembered that Fred had appeared in other puzzle anthologies—pardon me, constructors, anas.  In one of those, under the editorship of Margaret Farrar, Fred punned on movie titles.  "To Catch a Thief" became for Fred "To Catch a Fief," a medieval, pre-Hitchcock version.
          The creator of such gems was born in semirural New Jersey into a first-generation Polish family.  He was the only offspring to go to college (at his expense—he worked his way through) and to receive a graduate M.A. degree (in Library Science).  From then on, for him it was per aspera ad astra.  Fred wound up heading personnel management for one of the world's largest libraries, Butler, at Columbia University.  He was there in the roaring 'Sixties when radical students broke up classes and wrecked furniture and books.  Calm, cool, and collected, Fred was one of those administrators on the chaotic campus who personally helped to calm things down—from the very steps of the library.  Eventually students returned to their classes and took out books as things returned to normal.  Amid the mayhem, people recalled how Fred had been so instrumental at Butler in protecting all the collections.  He didn't get much sleep in those days.
          In the 55 years we were friends, I saw that in his spare time Fred had numerous hobbies.  His favorite—besides sailing his Sunfish during summers on Nantucket Sound or catching up on the latest Broadway shows as a theatergoer—was solving, and eventually creating, large-size crosswords.  Needless to say, his greatest diversion as a solver came on Sundays.  This was when he tackled The New York Times Magazine's premium challenge.  The last Across grid number might run over 130.
         A great inspiration to Fred in transitioning into construction was his friendship with Alfio Micci.  Fred and Alfio would put their heads together during summers on Nantucket, as well as during winters in Nokomis, Florida, where Alfio and his wife, Martha, vacationed near Fred's own retirement town of Sarasota.  All four of us became close friends (please see the previous portrait of Alfio Micci).  On a swatch of Nantucket sand, known quaintly as "Teacher's Beach," Fred and Alfio would deeply discuss puzzle construction.  Al soon realized that Fred had tremendous talent with crosswords.  Like Diaghilev promoting Nijinsky in the field of ballet, Alfio eagerly lent Fred a hand in taking the publishing route for his crosswords, which was no easy achievement.  Somewhat later, Fred took the plunge on his own.  His puzzle was accepted and published in the Times.  He also published two books, one called Bib-Triv, the other a weighty text on library administration that became a college textbook standby.
          Fred, at 75 years of age, passed away from lung cancer last September.  I began to wonder why I had only one of his puzzles on my bookshelf.  Too, none showed up in his own bookcases.  Fred was a very modest person.  He made no attempt to collect his puzzles.  His creations were difficult to construct—I myself am capable of constructing only mini-puzzles for a local condo association—and were unique in their wit and inventiveness.  They certainly deserved a honored place on the constructor's bookshelf.  I wanted to recall them for memory's sake and to share them with his friends who hadn't known about Fred's "sideline."
          So last fall I went searching online.  Via a certain cue in Google, up came the URL for one David Steinberg.  Not knowing who he was, I soon discovered that he knew a lot about crosswords and was himself a talented constructor.  Moreover, he eagerly volunteered to track down any and all Frederick Duda puzzles.  Such generosity by a stranger online!  Later I was surprised and pleased to find out that this helpful, skillful person was a "mere" 16-year-old "stripling," as we used to say (an understatement—young Steinberg is a virtual prodigy).  David found a couple of Duda puzzles; thanks to him, I now have a sort of memorial to Fred in the form of these unique creations.
          Maybe Fred can look down from heaven and be permitted a show of temperate pride over his timeless achievements here below.

Thanks so much again, Al, for this lovely tribute to Fred.

As we continue our litzing, more and more gems like the ones Fred and Alfio constructed are coming to light.  The second litzing contest is already well under way and, like the first contest, has significantly increased the rate at which litzed puzzles are coming in!  This morning Mark Diehl put us over 6,600 on the litzing thermometer, as well as into 1975 with the puzzles being sent out for litzing!  As I write this, we're at 6,621 puzzles—that's 423 more than the 6,198 we started with on January 1!  Our goal is 8,113 litzed puzzles by the end of February, so we're definitely on track to achieve that.  If you haven't ever litzed and would like to try it out, contact me and I'll send you some puzzles—we always need more litzers!  If you have already litzed but have been taking a break for a while, now would be a great time to litz another batch, especially since when you litz one full week, you become eligible for a year's subscription (or renewal) to XWord Info!  More information about the contest can be seen on the Contest Totals page.  Thanks again, everybody!

Today's featured puzzle, which was edited by Will Weng, was constructed by Sidney L. Robbins.  It was originally published on February 25, 1977, and was recently litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick.  Sidney published at least 150 crosswords under Weng, Maleska, and Shortz and was renowned for his far-from-ordinary Monday and Tuesday puzzles.  One unique feature common to many of his constructions (particularly the pre-Shortzian ones) was a nonthematic 15-letter entry running down the center of the grid.  For example, his puzzle published on September 17, 1990, included the theme entries HAIR RAISER, SCISSORING, CLIP JOINTS, and BARBERSHOP.  DISSATISFACTION, a completely unrelated 15-letter entry, ran down the center of the grid, crossing two of the theme entries.

This fascinating Sidney L. Robbins construction, published just two days before Eugene T. Maleska became editor, might have been a humorous tribute to Will Weng but could simply have been a retirement-related theme.  1-Across is WILL, and its symmetrical counterpart is WEND, which is only one letter different from WENG.  The constructor probably chose not to use WENG, since the only way to clue it would have been to reference Will himself, which this puzzle artfully avoids doing.  (WILL is clued as "Where there's a ___ . . . .")  The long theme entries and their clues include SIGNS OF SENILITY ("Infirmity, forgetfulness, etc."), RETIREMENT PARTY ("Traditional send-off"), PARTING PRESENTS ("Gold watches for departing war-horses"), and FAREWELL ADDRESS ("Speech of a sort").  There are several other entries in the fill that might also be thematic:  QUIT, REFORM, WISE, and EXIT.  Perhaps these are merely coincidences, though.  Nevertheless, this is a very historically significant pre-Shortzian puzzle; the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Today I am featuring two bizarre pre-Shortzian entries that appeared in the same puzzle.  The puzzle, a product of master constructor Jordan S. Lasher, was originally published on June 28, 1977, and was recently litzed by master litzer Mark Diehl.  The first entry, TU-WHIT TU-WHOO, was clued as "Owl sounds"; the second entry, HASENPFEFFER, was clued as "Rabbit stew."  Not surprisingly, neither of these entries has been reused in a Shortz-era New York Times puzzle, though the Ginsberg database does show that HASENPFEFFER was used in a CrosSynergy puzzle from 2002.  TU-WHIT TU-WHOO stood out to me the most; I was shocked to discover that this entry is actually in Webster's, defined as "the cry of an owl"!  Webster goes on to note that the origin of the entry was "imitative" and that it was first introduced into our language around 1595.  Webster defines hasenpfeffer as "a highly seasoned stew made of marinated rabbit meat."  It comes from the German words hase (meaning "hare") and pfeffer (meaning "pepper") and was first introduced into our language around 1892.  Yuck!  Below are pictures of an owl and of hasenpfeffer:

Image courtesy of Birds Guide.
Image courtesy of Random Cravings.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mel Taub Interview, Litzing Contest, Over 6,300, Will Weng Era, Books Donation, Litzer of the Month, More Publicity, and Contribute Link

Happy New Year—there's lots of great news to report since 2012!  First, I'm thrilled to present an in-depth interview with Mel Taub, the pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor who served as interim crossword editor of The New York Times for more than 2½ months after Maleska's death before Will Shortz took over.  Mel's thoughts and experiences are fascinating—to read the interview, click on the link above or here.

In other news, the second litzing contest is now under way and will run through the end of February.  New litzers are welcome, and anyone who litzes at least one week's worth of puzzles will be eligible for a drawing to win a year's subscription (or renewal) to XWord Info!  There are other prizes as well, including e-books from Puzzazz—to read more about the contest, click here or on the Contest Totals tab above.

I'm hoping that by the end of February, we'll have reached the halfway point—8,113 puzzles!  We started at 6,198 puzzles and, just four days later, have litzed 138 puzzles, bringing the total as I write this to 6,336!

I'm also happy to announce that we're now litzing puzzles from the Will Weng era—we'll have eight more years of those before reaching the first pre-Shortzian editor, Margaret Farrar!

A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from Maureen Hathaway, a daily New York Times crossword solver who was the second-place Division E winner at the 2007 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.  Maureen offered to send me some of her old pre-Shortzian puzzle books, suggesting that if I already had copies of these books, I could sell them and use the money to help support the project.  The books arrived on December 31; it turned out that I did indeed already have six of them, which Stan Newman had generously given me last year.  Since the duplicates are in excellent condition, though, I'm planning to sell them and use the proceeds to buy other pre-Shortzian puzzle books that could help identify the still-missing authors of many puzzles.  The seventh book Maureen sent was new to me and is very cool:  It's called The New York Times Crossword Puzzles of the 1950's and is actually a pad of paper!  There's one puzzle on each sheet, with the solution on the back of the sheet, and the pad also includes a removable copy of the very first New York Times crossword!  Thanks so much again, Maureen!

Our first Litzer of the Month for 2013 is Robert Warren Jones, a prolific litzer who litzed more than 200 puzzles in just two months!  Though he's been busy with other things lately, he plans to get back into litzing again soon.  To read more about Bob, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

I'm happy to report, too, that the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project has received some more publicity lately, this time on Jim Horne's XWord Info blog.  Liz Gorski has also linked to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project website from her Crossword Nation blog.  Thanks so much, Jim and Liz!

I've received a couple of inquiries lately from people wanting to contribute financially to the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.  Donations are always welcome and will be used to help offset the project's expenses and further its goals.  I've created a new Contribute page, which provides information on how to donate to the project.  You can reach it by clicking on the Contribute tab above or on the PayPal button in the righthand column, which links to the Contribute page instead of to PayPal directly.

Today's featured puzzle, "Tom Swifties Redivivus," was constructed by Mel Taub.  "Tom Swifties Redivivus" was originally published on December 11, 1988, and was recently litzed by Mark Diehl.  It features a mind-blowing 16 symmetrically interlocking theme entries (and 2 additional asymmetrical bonus theme entries) in a 21x grid that are clued Tom Swifties–style.  For example, BUT IS IT ART is clued as "'____,' Tom said abstractly" and FIND AN APARTMENT is clued as "'___,' Tom said flatly."  When I was a Cub Scout briefly back in elementary school, I received Boys' Life (the Boy Scouts magazine) and remember that the only part that interested me was the page devoted to jokes and Tom Swifties.  Since then, I've come across several Tom Swifties puzzles in the Shortz era but never one with this many theme entries interlocking so elegantly!  In his interview, Mel is quite modest about this crossword construction feat, stating that he merely sorted out the theme entries and came up with a suitable diagram.  Amazing!  And Mel sure did fill his suitable diagram very nicely—I especially like the colloquial LATISH; other nice entries in the nonthematic fill include FLIRTY, IN THE ACT, BULKY, and IMPINGED.  I'm surprised that neither BULKY nor FLIRTY has been reused in the Shortz era—even though their letter patterns are tricky, you'd think they would have appeared at least once.  All in all, this is an exceptional Maleska-edited Sunday puzzle and a paradigm of interlocking theme entries.  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below; the complete puzzle can be seen on XWord Info.

Today's featured pre-Shortzian clue appeared in the February 26, 1978, puzzle by Kenneth Haxton, titled "Fire and Ice," which was litzed recently by Mark Diehl.  The 1-Across clue read "Rid of ice."  The answer?  DEICE!  This has to be one of the worst clues I've seen so far in a pre-Shortzian puzzle—most of the answer itself is repeated in the clue!  The puzzle (which is quite well constructed) has good cluing everywhere else—it's a mystery to me why Maleska chose one of the worst clues possible to open such a fine Sunday puzzle.  I did notice, however, that Maleska didn't reuse that clue (at least in the puzzles we've litzed so far) for DEICE—in more recent puzzles, he generally stuck to "Apply antifreeze" or "Free from frost," both of which are clever, alliterative clues.  I'm guessing he got a lot of mail about the "Rid of ice" clue!  Below is a picture of a plane being deiced:

Image courtesy of UCAR.