Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone!  The blog is on hiatus this week but will resume next Friday.  In the meantime, you can still try solving last week's Blast! from the Past challenge—no correct solutions have come in yet, and there are now seven hint letters!

Image courtesy of

Friday, December 19, 2014

10,000-Plus Pre-Shortzian Puzzles Now on XWord Info, Jane S. Flowerree's American Crossword Puzzle Academy Additions, and Doug Peterson First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Project Update

I'm delighted to report that late Friday night I received the following in an e-mail from Jim Horne of XWord Info:

Fun fact: now that 1966 is up, there are over 10,000 pre-Shortz puzzles now in XWord Info!

That's amazing—thanks so much, Jim!  And many thanks again to all the litzers and proofreaders who helped us get to this milestone!  To see all 10,000-plus puzzles, click here.

10,000-plus puzzles

This week was a bit quieter on the proofreading front, undoubtedly because of the holiday season and Matt Ginsberg's word list project, which continues to occupy many proofreaders!  Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles Friday morning, though, with 17 mistakes, so we made some good progress—thanks again, Todd!

Next week the blog will be on hiatus because of Christmas, but I'll continue to process puzzles, so please do keep sending them in—and let me know if you'd like more (or to try your hand at proofreading!)!

Doug Peterson First to Solve Last Week's Blast! Challenge!

On Monday at 8:28 p.m. Doug Peterson was the first to guess the answer to the last Blast! challenge—congratulations, Doug!  The clue, from the June 14, 1959, puzzle, was "Current political issue," and the answer was INTEGRATION.  It's always interesting to see which issues are so significant that they get preserved in black and white!

Next week's challenge is a bit different:  Instead of providing the clue, I'm listing the entry, and the challenge is to guess the clue!  I'll announce the winner in two weeks—as usual, a new letter will appear each day.

Jane S. Flowerree Adds to Mark Diehl's American Crossword Puzzle Academy Treasures

In the December 6 post, I reported on and linked to Mark Diehl's American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame treasures.  This week Jane S. Flowerree, the subject last week's post and Todd Gross's interview, sent in several more American Crossword Puzzle Academy items, including the missing Report 3, which was published in May 1990 and can be seen here (scroll down after clicking)!

Jane also sent the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame Bylaws of the Board of Governors, dated December 21, 1989; to read them, click here.

Interim Notice

In addition, she sent an Interim Notice, dated October 27, 1989, about a meeting that was to be held on Saturday, November 18, 1989.  To see a larger version of the above image, click here.

Thanks so much again, Jane, for these great additions!

I find it fascinating that there could be so many bylaws for an institution like the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame; at the same time, however, I wonder whether such bylaws were necessary.  Perhaps the complexity of the organization  contributed somewhat to its downfall!  I also very much enjoyed reading Report 3 of the newsletter, though I once again wondered whether these reports were the best way to inspire interest among members.  All the letters to the editor are interesting historically in that they can be considered predecessors of crossword blogs, but were they of real interest to members back in the day?  My guess is that the Academy would have survived longer had its bulletins contained puzzles to solve, as Crossworder's OWN and Crossw_rd did.  If the American Crossword Puzzle Academy had used its funds to launch another crossword market rather than to hold meetings, constructors from around the country, rather than just those in New York, would have been able to feel involved.  Then again, the letters may indeed have been fascinating for constructors since they'd never really seen such fan mail before.  Perhaps modern constructors are more jaded now that both wanted and unwanted feedback about their published work can be accessed with the click of a button.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Jane S. Flowerree Interview with Todd Gross, 1966 Puzzles Sent, and Jeffrey Harris First to Solve Blast! Challenge

Project Update

It's been another busy week, with more than 100 proofread puzzles sent in—including the last from 1966!  Saturday afternoon Tracy Bennett sent in 30 puzzles with 50 mistakes, which were followed Sunday afternoon by 15 puzzles with 30 mistakes from an anonymous proofreader.  Tuesday morning Denny Baker sent in 31 puzzles; early Wednesday morning Wei-Hwa Huang sent 10 puzzles with 13 mistakes, which were followed that afternoon by 18 puzzles with 18 mistakes from an anonymous proofreader.  Thanks so much, everyone—we're doing great!

The 1966 puzzles have now been sent to Jim Horne at XWord Info and should be up soon—thanks again, Jim!

Jeffrey Harris First to Solve Last Week's Blast! Challenge

Last Friday I posted the Blast! challenge at 4:08 p.m. Pacific time.  At 4:30, just 22 minutes later, Jeffrey Harris was the first of four readers to send in the correct answer—congratulations, Jeffrey!  As promised, on Saturday I started replacing the blank underscores, hangman-style, with a new letter each day so everyone could keep getting hints, and during the course of the week several other people submitted correct solutions.  The clue, "Husband in the good old days," was from the June 22, 1959, puzzle, and the answer was LORD AND MASTER.  Pretty amazing—times have definitely changed for the better!

If you'd like to try solving this week's Blast! challenge, check it out in the sidebar to your right.  A new letter will replace its corresponding blank underscore(s) each day, so if you don't come up with the answer right away, you may later on in the week!

Jane S. Flowerree Interview with Todd Gross

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross about some pre-Shortzian constructors he'd been researching.  One of these was Jane S. Flowerree, who published four puzzles under editor Eugene T. Maleska.  When Todd discovered that Jane was an attorney, he contacted attorney/litzer Vic Fleming and asked if Vic could make an initial contact with her.  Vic was happy to oblige and reported back that Jane had said her puzzles were "all done manually during the Maleska era" and that she had often worked on them "while waiting in carpool lines, taking her kids to and from elementary school."

After Todd sent in the interview, he received an e-mail from Jane that included the following:

. . . I hope I am sending you the right photo.  It is probably the only photo ever taken of me with a crossword puzzle in it (sitting on the table next to me).  This was pretty representative of my life when I started constructing crosswords, so I thought it would be appropriate.  You will see what I mean when you read my answers to your questions. . . .  I saved all my correspondence with Mr. Maleska and could find most of it, which helped me answer some of your questions.  I also saved the fan/hate mail. . . .  Many thanks to you and Vic and David for sending me on a trip back down memory lane to my “glory days”. . . .  I hadn’t thought about it in a long time and the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances have no idea that I ever constructed crosswords.  I think they would be surprised. . . . I am a little worried that some of my responses might sound bitter, but I assure you I am not!  Suum cuique!

I then wrote to Jane myself, asking whether she wanted to include any more photos or perhaps a recipe from the cookbook she wrote.  She sent back a delightful e-mail, which was followed by digital images that included a letter from Maleska, a piece of "hate mail" Maleska received in response to one of her puzzles, and a note from a fan.  Here is an excerpt from her e-mail:

I quickly scanned in one of Mr. Maleska's letters.  I chose it because he talks about how he felt when he first saw his name in the TIMES.  That particular letter was written before he started receiving mail on the puzzle he refers to.  When the letters came in, he forwarded them to me. He would tell me if he already responded to each letter writer or if he wanted me to do so.  I scanned in a negative letter and a positive one. . . . I remember one woman sent the puzzle back shredded like confetti, which was kind of funny.

I've inserted these letters, as well as the other images Jane sent, into the interview, which you can read here.

Thanks so much again, Jane and Todd, for this wonderful window to the past!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mark Diehl's American Crossword Puzzle Academy Treasures—Plus Blast! Change and Another Proofreading Log

Mark Diehl's American Crossword Puzzle Academy Treasures

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is behind us—delightfully topped off by Puzzazz's free thank you gift for everyone, Bruce Leban's Jumping to Conclusions hangman riddles!—it's time to revisit the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame.  As I mentioned last week, I have something more on this short-lived but historic enterprise, thanks to litzer and proofreader extraordinaire Mark Diehl!  After my November 21 post on the Crossword Puzzle Academy appeared, Mark wrote me that he was able to dig up the original membership solicitation flyer he'd received in 1989 from Robert Guilbert!  Mark continued:

I remember paying for the membership and signing a Charter Member placard for the proposed display wall.  I think the missing section of page 3 and 4 was the application form and it had a drawing of the proposed signature display wall.

I didn't attend the first and only meeting in 1990.  I vaguely remember talk of a commemorative book of puzzles with pic and bio of member-contributors as a fund raising project.  Don't know if this ever happened—I wasn't contacted to submit anything.  Perhaps Guilbert passed away and the book never saw the light of day.

I wonder if the signature wall was ever created or if the signature placards are still in existence—what a great collection of Pre-Shortziana that would be!

I've posted the four pages of the flyer on Scribd—you can see them by clicking here.  The first page mentions the May 11, 1988, meeting at the Harvard Club in New York, which was attended by Frances Hansen (who stood in for Maura Jacobson), William Lutwiniak, Eugene T. Maleska, Stanley Newman, Will Shortz, Mel Taub, and Will Weng.  Maura and the six male attendees became the "ad hoc Founding Board of Governors."  The second page mentions British constructor ("setter") Paul Henderson, who reportedly was in touch with Guilbert about the possibility of establishing a U.K. Academy and alludes to an upcoming meeting in Britain to discuss that, along with the idea of an International Academy and Hall of Fame.

This page also lists the following nominations for the Crossword Puzzle Academy Hall of Fame:   Arthur Wynne, Margaret Farrar, Prosper Buranelli, Gregory Hartswick, Jules Arensberg, Harold Bers, Jack Luzzatto, and Anne Fox.  It notes that Mervin Edward Griffin (of Wheel of Fortune fame!) was "elected for induction as a Fellow."

Membership in the Crossword Puzzle Academy was $10.00; here is what it included:

Then, a few days ago, Mark wrote me again, saying he'd found another stash of Crossword Puzzle Academy papers while searching for something else.  I've posted them all on Scribd—to see each one, click on its name below:

Nominating Ballot and other information
Proclamation of December 15, 1988
Report 1 (September 1989; contains the names of the original 82 members, plus 55 comments)
Report 2 (December 21, 1989; contains more comments, plus a demographic map)
Report 4 (July 1990; contains more comments)
Sketch of the wall (which you can see below in reduced form)

Report 4 also mentions the possibility of publishing a compendium of puzzles by members, which would also include a headshot and thumbnail bio of each constructor (like with the crosswords I edit for the Orange County Register's associated newspapers), to "acquaint puzzle fans with the real people behind the names as well as the identities of those who supply generic feature fare."  It goes on to say that individual members might also write "a brief essay on the nature of the craft and its historical genesis."

Thanks so much, Mark, for saving these amazing treasures from the past for all these years and sending them in—they really bring the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame to life!  Robert Guilbert was clearly a visionary—perhaps someday his idea will be revived.

Blast! from the Past Change

Puzzazz's new hangman book gave me an idea for a change to the Blast! from the Past format.  Since figuring out the answers to the Blast! challenges has been a bit tough without any surrounding information of the sort that would be in crossword grids, I've decided to provide a new letter each day.  When the Blast! challenge first appears, you'll just see blank underscores for where the letters should be.  The next day, one letter will be filled in (in all the appropriate spots); the third day, a second letter will appear, and so on.  So the challenge will still be to see how fast you can solve it, but I'm hoping this format will make doing so easier!

Project Update, Plus More of Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

It's been a busy week, and we're finally closing in on 1966—I'm just waiting for the last few proofread puzzles!  Saturday night Mark Diehl sent in 30 puzzles and then 31 more Sunday morning.  Sunday afternoon Denny Baker sent 31 more, which were followed by another 30 from Mark that night.  Monday night Dave Phillips sent in 30 puzzles, along with a continuation of his very interesting proofreading log from the October 10 post (reproduced in two parts below).  And then Thursday afternoon Todd Gross sent 11 puzzles, in which he found 16 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're making great progress!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving Holidays!

The blog is on hiatus this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but I hope everyone had a wonderful time yesterday eating and solving crosswords!  See you next week, when I'll be presenting something related to last week's post on the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame.  In the meantime, here's a brief project update . . . along with the solution to last week's Blast! challenge!

Image courtesy of

Project Update and Blast! Solution

Despite the impending holiday, we had a fairly busy week on the proofreading front!  Sunday morning Todd Gross sent in 11 puzzles with 19 mistakes, and a few hours later, Mark Diehl sent in 30 puzzles with 57 mistakes.  Monday night Mark sent 31 more but didn't count the mistakes, and then late Wednesday, he sent another 31 puzzles.  Thanks so much again, Mark and Todd—great job!

There were no correct answers to last week's Blast from the Past! challenge.  The clue from this 1959 puzzle was:  "Once-important educator."  The hint:  "The answer is 2 words—the first is 5 letters long, and the second is 7."  And the answer was . . . LATIN TEACHER!  Mirabile dictu!

Friday, November 21, 2014

American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame

Project Update

It's been a slightly slower week on the proofreading front—I'm guessing that some people are still busy scoring Matt Ginsberg's word lists, since there's a lot of crossover between volunteers on these two projects!  In any case, early Tuesday morning Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles.  Then Thursday afternoon an anonymous proofreader sent in 8 puzzles with 11 mistakes.  And Friday Denny Baker sent in 32 puzzles.  Thanks so much, everyone!  We're still finishing up 1966 and will soon be into 1965, a year that had quite a few publication problems—mostly missing, duplicate, and incorrectly typeset puzzles.  Definitely a challenge!

Blast! Solution

Speaking of challenges, there were no correct answers to last week's Blast! from the Past.  The clue, from the June 12, 1967, puzzle, was:  "Guy, good or bad."  The hint:  "The answer is 3 letters (1 vowel, 2 consonants)."  The answer was EGG!  As usual, this week's Blast! challenge appears in the sidebar.

American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame

I recently came across an article in a 1992 CROSSW RD magazine about efforts to establish a crossword academy.  The article, written by constructor and American Crossword Puzzle Tournament organizer Helene Hovanec, profiled Robert Guilbert, a marketing and communications executive and freelance writer who spent his final years trying to create a crossword academy.  Guilbert's "vision was to recognize many levels of professional crossword people—constructors, editors, writers, publishers, contest winners—and house the Academy in a public institution in Washington, D.C."

Photo of Robert Guilbert courtesy of CROSSW RD

Intrigued, I Googled Guilbert and found a 1990 New York Times article by Randall Rothenberg, "Money Is the Word to Cruciverbalists."  Apparently Guilbert had begun laying groundwork for the academy in 1988, which Rothenberg wrote about in his August 10, 1988, Times article, "Puzzle Makers Exchange Cross Words."  The 170-member group, whose official name was the American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame, held its first—and seemingly only—meeting on Saturday, September 15, 1990, in New York and was attended by 28 constructors and editors.  The meeting lasted for three hours and focused on "ways to improve contracts, fees and publishers' profits."  This fascinating Times article, which you can read by clicking here, includes comments by Dorothy Davis, Maura Jacobson, William Lutwiniak, Eugene T. Maleska, Stan Newman, Lou Sabin, and John Samson.  And another article on Guilbert and his academy appeared in a blog post on kolynychboss8, which you can see by clicking here; it includes comments by William Lutwiniak and Mel Rosen.

Unfortunately, as Helene Hovanec's article notes, Guilbert passed away shortly thereafter, and "the idea of the Academy seemed to die also."  She adds, "No one in the puzzle field has expressed any interest in continuing the project as he envisioned it."  I did find a listing for the academy on Bizopedia, which you can see by clicking here.  It shows that the academy was registered as a Wisconsin Non-Stock Corporation on June 9, 1989.

I wonder whether there would be interest today in reviving the academy or creating something like it.  If anyone has any thoughts about this, please feel free to comment or contact me directly.  And if you attended this historic meeting and care to reminisce about how it went, I'd welcome any comments on that as well!

Friday, November 14, 2014

1967 Puzzles Up—Plus Highlights of December 1960

1967 Puzzles Up

Great news:  The 1967 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  To see them, click here—thanks again to Jim Horne for posting them!  We've now proofread 27 years of puzzles, and as the Proofing Progress calendar in the sidebar shows, we're more than halfway done—great job, everyone!

It's been another busy week, starting off on Sunday morning with 31 puzzles from Mark Diehl in which he found 61 mistakes; that night he sent 30 more with 56 mistakes.  Tuesday afternoon Denny Baker sent in 23 puzzles, which were followed by 22 from Dave Phillips that night.  Thursday afternoon Dave sent 6 more, and then 5 with 8 mistakes came in from an anonymous proofreader.  That night Mark sent 31 more with 57 mistakes, putting him at more than 2,000 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!  Early Friday morning Todd Gross sent in 10 with 14 mistakes; he also sent this very apropos screen capture of some clues from the May 5, 1966, PDF—note the appearance of the 9-Down clue, "Twist out of shape," which was for the entry DISTORT!

Thanks, Todd—and thanks so much again, everyone, for all the puzzles!

Blast! from the Past and Vocabulary Quiz

Last week's Blast! from the Past challenge had no correct answers—I'm obviously going to have to write better hints!  The clue, from a 1960 crossword, was:  "New international symbol."  The hint:  "The first word is 3 letters long, the second is 4 letters, and the third is 8."  The answer was . . . THE UGLY AMERICAN.  Hmm!

This week's Blast! challenge, which appears in the sidebar, should be a bit easier!

The 1960 Vocabulary Quiz from last week also must have been too hard, because no one posted their scores.  I guess words like chassepot, topepo, and avadavat aren't in the toolboxes of even the most avid puzzlers!

Featured Puzzle

This week's featured puzzle, "Edited for Television," was constructed by Frances Hansen; published September 8, 1974; edited by Will Weng; litzed by Barry Haldiman; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  (Since the 1974 puzzles have been proofread, you can solve the featured puzzle on XWord Info before reading on.)  This 23 x 23 by the queen of limericks and other twisty tricks contains a rather unusual gimmick:  replacing hell and damn with bleep, as if the puzzle were being censored for television.  Thus, Admiral Farragut's famous line, "Damn the torpedoes," becomes BLEEP THE TORPEDOES, and the expression "When hell freezes over" becomes WHEN BLEEP FREEZES OVER.  I find it fascinating that a theme like this would be published in the 1970s, a tumultuous time known for things far more "offensive" than the mild oaths hell and damn!  Then again, even these days, most newspaper crossword puzzles tend to avoid potentially offensive references much more than, say, song lyrics do!  As for the puzzle itself, I appreciate the number of theme entries Frances squeezed in, and getting BLEEP YANKEES to cross three theme entries must have been no easy feat.  I do wish that 80-Down could have been tied into the theme somehow—I guess one could make a case for this entry subtly implying that each theme entry is more ELEGANTLY PUT than its offensive original form, though I would have preferred a more direct thematic tie-in.  I also feel the puzzle would have been more elegant if all the theme entries had demonstrated actual censorship rather than some demonstrating actual and others artificial censorship.  In other words, the theme could have been tighter without entries such as CLAMSBLEEP that replace a hidden hell with BLEEP, forming gibberish in the process.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing such a creative theme; if Frances were still alive, she certainly would have been within her rights to say "My dear, I don't give a bleep!" to my minor criticisms!  The nonthematic fill also has a handful of strong entries—in addition to the provocative, lively SLIT SKIRT (clued as "Drafty dress feature"), Frances gives us OPAQUE, IMMOLATES, COURTYARD, TRYG VELIE (great name!), DABBLE, OH DEAR, and SIESTA.  On the not-so-sparkly side, there are a few more partial phrases and foreign words than would be ideal, and a sizable handful of the short entries, such as RASAS ("Hindu dances"), PURRE ("___ maw [roseate tern]"), and WALER ("Australian horse"), seem quite obscure.  One particularly unconventional three-letter entry, KOM ("Afo-A-___ [stolen statue]"), has a fascinating back story.  According to Wikipedia, the Afo-A-Kom statue, which is sacred to the Kom people of Cameroon, was stolen and sold to a U.S. art dealer in the late 1960s; after purportedly wreaking havoc on its new owner, the statue ended up in a Manhattan art gallery before ultimately being returned to its place of origin.  How many three-letter entries have a tale like this to tell?!  In all, although this puzzle has some slight inconsistencies and a handful of unsavory shorter entries, I admire its ingenuity and novelty.  I look forward to featuring more of Frances's puzzles on this blog in the upcoming months!  This week's featured puzzle can be viewed on XWord Info in its complete form; as usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Highlights of December 1960

When I review litzed puzzles, I'm always on the lookout for particularly interesting and/or timely clues.  Most pre-Shortzian crossword clues are straight definitions, but every once in a while, something catches my eye!  Below is a list of clue/answer pairs from December 1960 (litzed by Ralph Bunker and proofread by Mark Diehl) that piqued my interest.  Only the December 25 constructor (Eva Taub Pollack) is known.

December 7
  • Pessimist's view of modern life. (RAT RACE)
  • Promise of Christmas. (PEACE)
December 9
  • New republic on the Gulf of Guinea. (GABON)
  • Ike's 1914 status. (CADET)
December 15
  • Teen-ager's term for "tops." (SUPER)
December 25
  • Housewife's aid. (DEEP FREEZE)
December 28
  • Type of conveyance, perhaps obsolete. (SPACESHIP)

My favorite of these is the December 28 clue, the "perhaps obsolete" part of which intrigues me!  Even nowadays, spaceships are symbolically futuristic.  Here's a picture of a spaceship:

Image courtesy of Limit Theory Forums.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mark Diehl Sends First Correct Blast! from the Past Guess, Proofreader Totals Added to Litzer Totals Page, and 1960 Vocabulary Quiz

Mark Diehl Sends First Correct Blast! from the Past Guess

Mark Diehl was the first to submit a correct guess to the new Blast! from the Past feature—congratulations, Mark!  Mark sent in his answer on Sunday, November 2, at 8:08 p.m.  The question was:  "Guess the 11-letter answer to this pre-Shortzian clue from 1960:  What U.S. needs more of."  The hint:  "The answer contains a single vowel (O) used 4 times."  And the answer (drumroll!) . . . SCHOOLROOMS!  Obviously a different time in history.

If you were stumped last week, try this week's Blast! challenge, which you'll find in the sidebar beneath the "Subscribe" buttons!

Proofreader Totals Added to Litzer Totals Page

Things have slowed down a bit in the aftermath of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge—I'm guessing everyone is taking a much-needed break!  But we've still made good progress this week, and I'm hoping to receive the last of the 1967 puzzles in time to have them up on XWord Info by next Friday.  Sunday night Mark Diehl sent in 28 puzzles with 41 mistakes.  Early Wednesday morning Denny Baker sent in 27 proofread puzzles, and then that night, Mark sent 31 more puzzles with 50 mistakes.

I've created a new section on the Litzer Totals page called Proofreader Totals, where I'll continue to track the number of mistakes proofreaders find (for those who choose to continue counting them).  Check it out by scrolling down the newly dubbed Litzer & Proofreader Totals page.

Featured Puzzle

This week's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published December 24, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Ralph Bunker; and will be proofread by Mark Diehl.  All eight of Santa's reindeer are hidden in this puzzle's 72-word grid; as a bonus, the constructor included the reveal SANTA and the entry CARIBOU (clued as "Reindeer.").  Rather than simply cluing the reindeer as "Reindeer.," the constructor cleverly found alternate definitions for each of their names—for example, VIXEN is clued as "Shrew," and COMET is clued as "Orbiting object."  The most interesting reindeer name clues are "Flash with lightning: Ger." and "Thunder: Dutch." for BLITZEN and DONDER, respectively.  I knew that BLITZEN had something to do with lightning, but DONDER was completely new to me.  Where there's lightning, there's thunder!  Elsewhere in the fill, I really appreciated seeing the wintry entries YULES, FROSTY, and SUGARY, along with the nonseasonal (but still lively) DULCIMER, CARACAS, CATBIRD, TANNERY, HAZINESS, and FROTH.  That's a lot of fresh fill for a puzzle that's already jam-packed with theme entries!  Further, I'm amazed that this puzzle is more cleanly filled than many contemporary 72-word themelesses—the only entries that mystified me were TECO ("Pre-conquest Mexican Indian."), CERRIS ("Turkey oak of southern Europe."), NOA ("Not taboo, in Hawaii.), and LABRET ("Lip ornament of primitive tribes.").  Of these unusual clues/entries, LABRET interested me most; that a labret would be a lip ornament makes sense, since the Latin word for lip is labrum, but what would such an ornament look like?  And isn't referring to a tribe as primitive (or even pre-conquest) derogatory?  In seeking the answer to the first question, I looked up labret in Merriam-Webster, which gave me the definition "an ornament worn in the perforation of the lip."  Google Images suggested that the term labret now refers to a certain body piercing consisting of balls on either end of a rod that goes through the lip, which is kind of creepy!  I wasn't able to dig up a lot of information on what a traditional labret looked like, though it appears to have been much more conspicuous than what we see today.  In sum, this is an exceptional pre-Shortzian puzzle, both in terms of theme and grid!  I hope some of the daily puzzles from the '50s that I haven't looked through yet have equally comprehensive themes and strong executions.  In the meantime, here's this puzzle's solution grid (with highlighted theme entries):

1960 Vocabulary Quiz

Below is a list of ten of the wackiest words I've seen in pre-Shortzian crosswords from 1960.  Can you match each word to its picture?  Check the answers below the pictures section (see "Answers to 1960 Vocabulary Quiz") and then feel free to post your score in the comments—the first person to post a score and the person who reports the highest score will receive special recognition in next week's post!  And now for the words (some of which originally appeared as plurals or variant spellings but have been normalized for the purpose of this quiz):


Picture 1 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 2 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 3 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 4 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 5 (courtesy of

Picture 6 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 7 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 8 (courtesy of Log House Plants)

Picture 9 (courtesy of One Green World)

Picture 10 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Answers to 1960 Vocabulary Quiz

Image courtesy of Ohio University Department of Linguistics.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mark Diehl Wins Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge!

I'm delighted to announce that litzer and proofreader Mark Diehl is the first-place winner in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge (and that no ghost stepped in to take over his lead!)!  Late last night Mark sent 33 more puzzles with 51 mistakes, bringing his total number of found mistakes in September and October to an amazing 1,742!  (Just imagine if all those mistakes hadn't been caught—a frightful thought!).  Mark's prizes are a $25 Amazon gift card, a surprise pre-Shortzian artifact, and a Puzzazz e-book of his choice.

Howard Barkin came in second, with 345 total found mistakes, and wins a $25 Amazon gift card; Todd Gross, with 165, was third and wins a pre-Shortzian artifact; and Dave Phillips, with 46, was the random prize winner and receives a Puzzazz e-book.  (Numbers were assigned to contestants based on their rankings in the mistakes totals; the numbers were then put into a random number generator, which produced the number 5—Dave's position in the rankings.)

Thanks so much again to the winners and to everyone else who participated in the contest—and who didn't but still continued proofreading!  We've made a tremendous amount of progress in the past two months—so much so that I've decided to continue the proofreading totals if anyone wants to keep counting!  If you do, just continue sending in the total number of mistakes you find in your proofreading batch, and I'll post them elsewhere on this site.

Finally, many thanks again to Roy Leban for donating the Puzzazz e-book codes!  If you're a solver who isn't familiar with Puzzazz yet, be sure to check out their impressive selection of crossword, cryptic, and other puzzle books for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch by clicking here!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Spooky End to the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge?, Blast! from the Past, and More Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau Photos

Spooky End to the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge?

Happy Halloween!  We're in the final hours of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, and if you take a look at the Contest Totals page, you'll see that Mark Diehl is in the lead, with nearly 1,700 found mistakes (congratulations, Mark!)!  But could that change between now and midnight—might a ghost proofreader suddenly overtake him?  We'll have to wait and see—I'll announce the final results in a special post tomorrow!

"So many ghastly—and ghostly—mistakes!"

In the meantime, here's a recap of the past week.  Late Friday night Mark sent in 31 puzzles with 57 mistakes, and then 30 more with 43 mistakes Saturday night.  Sunday evening Todd Gross sent 10 puzzles with 16 mistakes, which were followed later on by 34 from Mark with 27 mistakes and then another 17 from Mark with 27 mistakes.  Late Tuesday afternoon Mark sent 30 more with 55 mistakes, and on Wednesday night he sent 31 more with 17 mistakes and then 30 with 55 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent 31 with 50 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more with 16 mistakes and then 19 more with 14 mistakes later on.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 31 puzzles with 33 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—terrific job!

New Feature: Blast! from the Past

As most of you know, we finished litzing all the available puzzles some time ago, and now that the litzing phase of the project is behind us—at least until more puzzles are found—I've decided to retire the Litzer of the Month feature and replace it with something new.  The Litzer of the Month page and all the interviews will remain a permanent part of the site, however, and can be viewed by clicking here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

The new feature is Blast! from the Past—if you were a fan of the PS Stumpers on Twitter (see @pspuzzleproject), be sure to check out Blast!  Each week a new Blast! challenge will appear in the sidebar where the Litzer of the Month announcement used to be.  If you think you know the answer, e-mail it to me at preshortzianpuzzleproject at gmail dot com (using the usual format).  Unlike with the PS Stumpers, though, you only get one guess (and no extra hints!), so be sure it's your best!  There are no prizes, but there'll be fame and glory if you win:  The following week, I'll post the name of the first person to send in the correct response here and on Twitter and Facebook.  (If you're the first but you'd rather remain anonymous, that's fine too—just let me know!)  Good luck!

More Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau Photos from Todd Gross

Following up on last week's post about Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau, Todd Gross found a couple of group shots of these two pre-Shortzian icons.  I've edited the photos so they contain just the constructors themselves:

Louise Seifert (Earnest), 1933

Eileen O'Hara (Lexau), 1947

Thanks so much again for these new photos, Todd!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published October 31, 1968; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Martin Herbach; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  For those of you who want to take a crack at this puzzle before reading on, it's available on XWord Info.  The puzzle contains four symmetrically interlocking theme entries that are appropriate for Halloween but that don't necessarily relate to this spooky holiday, such as A GHOST OF A CHANCE.  Two of the theme entries, GRAVEYARD SHIFTS and CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, are Halloween-ized in their clues as "Costumes for tonight." and "Out-of-season spook, maybe.," respectively.  The central down theme entry, TRICK OR TREATS ("Slogans for tonight."), is a somewhat awkward plural, though I really admire how nicely it crosses the central across theme entry and holds the puzzle together.  The nonthematic fill also feels somewhat spirited, with the frightful-yet-lively entries SILENCER, STARK, ASTART, TROUNCE, and PSYCH; also, the INHALANT/NONUSER crossing is reminiscent of a Halloween party that has run afoul of the long arm of the law!  Neither INHALANT nor NONUSER is clued in connection with drugs, though this crossing is nevertheless curious.  Spooky entries aside, the puzzle contains a handful of additional fresh words and phrases, such as ICEBERG, TOE DANCE, and TIE BAR.  Going back to the Halloween theme of today's post, there are also a few pieces of fill on the grisly side, such as the six-letter partials, ONE TOO and SPEED A; RECRAM ("Study for another exam."); and ESTHS (which seem to be much more well known as Estonians).  The timeliness of the theme and the multitude of creepy entries/clues make up for these blemishes, though, and the puzzle thus feels quite strong overall.  The puzzle can be viewed and further analyzed on XWord Info; as usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Or can it?  MWAHAHAHA!

And now for the treat . . .

Friday, October 24, 2014

1968 Puzzles Up, Plus Todd Gross on Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau

1968 Puzzles Up on Xword Info

Great news:  The 1968 proofread puzzles are now up on XWord Info and, as usual, beautifully displayed by Jim Horne!  We've now proofread 26 years; I'm currently sending out puzzles from 1961 to 1966, and the first puzzles from the 1950s should go out for proofing soon!

We've had another very busy week as we near the end of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge (which Mark Diehl leads, at 1,330 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!).  Early Saturday morning, new proofreader Wei-Hwa Huang sent in 31 puzzles with 52 mistakes.  They were followed a few hours later by 6 puzzles with 24 mistakes from Mark.  That afternoon, Todd Gross sent 10 puzzles with 8 mistakes; a few hours later, another 31 with 13 mistakes came in from Mark.  Later Saturday night Mark sent in 30 more with 33 mistakes and then another 12 with 8 mistakes.  Sunday morning, he sent 22 more puzzles with 8 mistakes and then 8 more with 1 mistake that afternoon; 30 more with 39 mistakes followed late that night.  Monday night, Todd sent 14 more puzzles with 20 mistakes; later on, 26 more with 25 mistakes came in from Mark.  Tuesday morning Mark sent 20 puzzles with 58 mistakes and then 33 more with 53 mistakes that night.  Late Wednesday night he sent 31 puzzles with 32 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Todd sent 11 puzzles with 13 mistakes, which were followed by 30 more with 32 mistakes from Mark late that night.  Friday afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 23 puzzles but didn't count the mistakes.  This has truly been an amazing week—thanks so much, everyone!

Todd Gross on Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau

Litzer, proofreader, and pre-Shortzian historian Todd Gross has been busy researching and recently uncovered information about two more constructors:  Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau.

Louise Earnest
According to my (still incomplete) records, Louise Earnest published 30 puzzles during the pre-Shortz era.  Todd writes:

Photo courtesy of the Warwick Valley Dispatch.
She was born Louise Seifert in September of 1915 in York County, PA.  She married William Earnest in nearby Dover, where they lived for a time raising their two children before moving to Warwick, NY.
The above photo is from an article in the Warwick Valley Dispatch, announcing a showing of her artwork in September, 2005 on her 90th birthday.  Another article from the Dispatch, which you can read here (p. 10), gives more details about her life, including her work as a crossword constructor.
It appears Ms. Earnest is still alive—at the age of 99!—and living in Warwick.  If so, she could become the second centenarian pre-Shortzian constructor late next year.
Great find, Todd!  The Dispatch article notes that Louise Earnest has "an extensive library and hundreds of the crossword puzzles she constructed have been published in the Daily and Sunday 'New York Times,' in Margaret Farrar's books, pocket books and Will Weng's collections"; she also "won prizes in Bantam's Great Crossword Puzzle Hunt."  A fascinating portrait of a legendary pre-Shortzian cruciverbalist!

Eileen Lexau
Todd also found a great piece on Eileen Lexau, who, according to my records, published 17 puzzles in the pre-Shortz era (and, per XWord Info, 10 in the Shortz era).  Todd reports:

Photo courtesy of the Star Tribune
She was born Eileen Agnes O’Hara in 1927 in St. Paul Minnesota.  Her long and rich life is summarized in her obituary here and a follow-up Pioneer Press article on 27 Nov (citation in Pre-Shortzian Constructors), I’ll just hit the highlights.  She was born and bred Catholic, graduating from the College of St. Catherine in 1948, working for Catholic Worker in New York City after graduation, and returning to St. Paul to become an assistant editor at Catholic Digest, where she met Henry Lexau.
They married in 1952, raising six children.  In 1970, with her children grown, she worked for several Minnesota state agencies, including the Dept. of Natural Resources, where she retired from in 1990.  She passed away in November of 2004.
The follow-up article mentions it would “take Lexau anywhere from several days to several weeks to perfect a crossword puzzle, and she didn't mind sharing the half-finished product with her family.”
Another great find, Todd!  Eileen Lexau had apparently said the following about crossword construction to the St. Paul Pioneer Press two years earlier:  "'It's absorbing.  It takes you out of yourself.'"  One of her daughters, Elizabeth, noted that Eileen "didn't make a great deal of money at it, but it gave her joy."  Thanks so much again for all this terrific research, Todd!  And thanks, too, to George Barany, Nancy Herther, and Jon Jeffryes, who helped locate some of this material.

Featured Puzzle

This week's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published June 25, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  The puzzle contains six symmetrically interlocking theme entries that either start or end with a type of seafood; as a bonus, none of the theme entries directly relates to its original seafood variety.  The theme set feels fresh (pun intended!)—I especially like the entry LITTLE SHRIMP (clued as "Insignificant one")!  Although I'd never heard of LOBSTER TRICK ("On a newspaper, the sunrise watch.") before looking through this puzzle, I appreciated learning this colorful phrase.  However, MUSSULMAN ("Mohammedan.") bothers me a bit since it's the only theme entry that contains a homophone of a type of seafood rather than the seafood itself.  I also think the puzzle would have been even stronger if all the theme entries had started with a type of seafood or if there had been more of a balance of theme entries that started with a type of seafood and ones that ended with a type of seafood.  Nevertheless, I always appreciate seeing puzzles with solid themes in an era in which almost all daily puzzles were themeless, especially when they relate to what I had for dinner (shrimp scampi)!  The nonthematic fill, although peppered with uncommon letters, feels a bit chewy (again, pun intended!) in places—I can imagine that the SPEZIA ("Italian city (with "La"))/UZBEG ("Native of Turkistan.") crossing stumped many solvers, and I wasn't thrilled to see the crosswordese-y AYRE ("Point on the Isle of Man."), the technical legal term ADEEMS ("Revokes legally."), or the minor city ARMONK ("Village north of White Plains.").  The inclusion of RECIPE at 41-Down is a nice touch/thematic tie-in, however, and seeing a handful of J, X, and Z words that don't show up as often in crosswords is refreshing.  In all, this is an above-average pre-Shortzian puzzle in terms of theme, with numerous rare letters to keep things lively!  The solution grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below:

Friday, October 17, 2014

In the Farrar Era—and Mark Diehl Passes 1,000 in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge:  Mark Diehl Passes 1,000!

Only two more weeks of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge remain, and just this morning Mark Diehl passed 1,000—he has now found 1,004 mistakes!  Congratulations, Mark!

It's been a very busy week, starting with 21 puzzles containing 11 mistakes from Mark on Friday night.  Saturday afternoon he sent 32 more with 12 mistakes, which were followed by another 22 with 35 mistakes that night.  Sunday morning he sent 30 more with 19 mistakes, then another 31 with 27 mistakes that night, and still another 30 with 34 mistakes later on, putting his total found mistakes at more than 900!  Late Monday morning Denny Baker sent in 31 puzzles but didn't count the mistakes.  That afternoon Mark sent 31 more with 18 mistakes, which were followed by 29 more with 19 mistakes that night.  Mark sent another 31 with 20 mistakes Tuesday night and then 30 with 9 mistakes late Wednesday night.  Thursday afternoon Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 12 mistakes.  That evening Mark sent 22 more with 15 mistakes, which were followed by another 25 with 9 mistakes Friday morning, putting his total over 1,000!  Then this afternoon Todd sent in 10 more puzzles with 8 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 32 puzzles with 30 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're making terrific progress!

In the Farrar Era

Last week XWord Info's Jim Horne pointed out that with the last installment of proofread puzzles on XWord Info—1969—we were now finished with the Will Weng puzzles and into the Margaret Farrar era, which began on February 15, 1942.  Indeed, the last puzzle Farrar edited was the January 5 Sunday opus by Frances Hansen, appropriately titled "Ring in the New"—not only for the New Year but also for the new editor, Will Weng.  On that day, the Times published a lengthy announcement of Farrar's retirement, noting that, at 71, she was currently editing her 97th crossword puzzle collection for Simon & Schuster and had edited 18 puzzle books for the Times.  The full text of this fascinating article, which contains several amusing anecdotes and reminiscences by Farrar, is available through libraries on ProQuest.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Several weeks later, on January 26, the Times published the following particularly charming letter from a reader:

Courtesy of The New York Times

Fortunately for us, we're working backwards in time, so rather than bidding adieu to Margaret, we're heralding in her era!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published on July 16, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This eye-catching 64-word themeless is ambitious, wide open, and beautifully filled—in fact, the puzzle doesn't have a single entry that feels particularly obscure, and there are only a couple of short entries that seem subpar (ESNE and LIGNE), both of which appeared in numerous other pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era crosswords.  I don't think I've come across a single pre-Shortzian puzzle that contains this few iffy pieces of short fill!  The upper right and lower left corners are particularly aesthetically pleasing:  In addition to incorporating only 6-, 7-, and 8-letter entries, these corners have a smattering of Scrabbly letters and contain numerous fun, in-the-language entries, such as CRAVAT, RIPPLE, PELLET, CRIMEA, and the IMPALE/IMPALA crossing.  Other highlights in the grid include MAN EATER, DRESSING ROOMS, and TROLLEY; admittedly, none of these entries knocks my socks off, but I really appreciate how cleanly they interlock.  I'm not as fond of CIGARETS (as opposed to CIGARETTES), and I've never heard of a MUSK TREE (clued as "Highly scented Australian plant."), but I'm just nitpicking at this point.  The clues also have a nice amount of spice—"Favorite beatnik word." for LIKE and "'All men are ___'" for LIARS particularly tickle me.  I find it fascinating that the word like has been prevalent in our dialect for more than 50 years—nowadays, like has become so commonplace that it's frequently used as a conversation filler!  In all, this is a masterful pre-Shortzian construction, and I look forward to locating additional gems as I finish looking through litzed puzzles from 1960.  Now that the wheels of the proofreading machine are spinning so fast, I have a feeling the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project in its entirety will be complete before I achieve my personal goal of looking through every New York Times crossword in detail!  For now, here's the solution grid for this week's featured puzzle:

Friday, October 10, 2014

25 Years of Puzzles Up, Plus Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

25 Years of Puzzles Up—1969 Complete

We reached a major milestone yesterday:  The 25th year of proofread puzzles—1969—went off to XWord Info, and, thanks to Jim Horne, they're now up with all the others through November 20, 1993!  Great work, everybody—it's wonderful to see so many years of the puzzles fully litzed, proofread, and readily accessible!

We've been making amazing progress with the proofreading lately—so much so that I'm optimistic about potentially finishing by the end of next summer (though I wouldn't place bets on that quite yet!)!  Saturday morning Mark Diehl—who currently leads the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 769 found mistakes (congratulations, Mark!)—sent 21 puzzles with 22 mistakes, then 31 more that night with 16 mistakes.  A short while later Tracy Bennett sent in 31 puzzles with 42 mistakes.  Then Sunday afternoon Mark sent 20 puzzles with 14 mistakes; late Tuesday night he sent another 26 with 14 mistakes, which were followed by 17 puzzles with 12 mistakes Wednesday night and then later 30 more with 38 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent another 23 with 12 mistakes, then 19 more with 20 mistakes.  Late that night Dave Phillips sent in 31 puzzles with 46 mistakes, and Friday morning Todd Gross sent 5 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much!

Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

Last night new proofreader Dave Phillips sent in his first batch of proofreading, along with an Excel file he'd made of all the litzing mistakes he found!  Though listing all the mistakes isn't necessary, I found looking through the file fascinating—I was especially intrigued to discover that the litzing mistakes aren't evenly distributed throughout a month.  Further, when a puzzle has one litzing mistake, the probability of that puzzle having an additional mistake appears to increase:  Of the 22 puzzles that had litzing mistakes, only 8 had a single mistake!

It's also very interesting to see what kinds of mistakes typically appear—usually just straightforward typos, but sometimes the mistakes are related or even completely different words!  As I've mentioned before, a few people have asked me why we don't just post the unproofread litzed puzzles, since proofreading is such a time-consuming—and, for many, tedious—process.  This is why!  Thanks so much again for sending this, Dave!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published December 13, 1969; edited by Will Weng; litzed by Martin Herbach; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  Now that the 1969 puzzles are live, the puzzle can be either viewed or solved on XWord Info.  This brilliant Weng-era crossword ties the record for the lowest block count in a pre-Shortzian New York Times puzzle:  23.  [Note:  I also blogged about the other 23-blocker from the Maleska era.]  What really makes this puzzle stand out, however, is that it doesn't just set a record—the four symmetrical, interlocking 15-letter entries form a theme of terms related to accounting and computing, and the fill is both lively and largely junk-free!  The strongest entries in the nonthematic fill are HOME RUN, MEDUSA, SIDE BETS, SICILIA, EPIGRAM, and TUNE OUT, but I also loved seeing the more unusual words PICTISH ("Of an Old British people."), BELDAM ("Hag."), PHENOLIC ("Kind of acid."), SNUFFER ("Candle device."), and PLICATE ("Folded.").  I'm less enthusiastic about the long nonthematic entry PAN FRYER ("Cooking chicken."), which seems to be much more commonly referred to as FRYER; in addition, SERENES ("Tranquil expanses."), SOBERER, and CEDER strike me as somewhat roll-your-own/not-really-in-the-language.  Nevertheless, I'm still blown away that this puzzle has 23 blocks, a comprehensive theme, and so many lively entries in the nonthematic fill—it's truly a masterful construction!  The clean short fill is further evidence of this mystery constructor's expertise—the only short entry that was completely new to me was RAUS ("German's 'Out!' for short."), and the puzzle has just two partials (I SEE A and IF AND), both of which are short and don't detract much from the filled grid's overall visual appeal.  Although many solvers may have been frustrated by the high number of foreign words in this grid, I appreciated seeing them, since three are from Latin (ITER, AMAS, and SICUT), which is my favorite language.  Finally, I was intrigued by the entry LA VERNE—since the sitcom "Shirley & Laverne" didn't exist until seven years after this puzzle's publication, the constructor was forced to clue this entry as the rather obscure "Southern California town."  I've lived in Southern California for years, and I'd never heard of La Verne before seeing the entry in this puzzle.  The puzzle is thus one of those rare crosswords that might have been more accessible had it been published at a later time!  In all, this is an extraordinarily elegant pre-Shortzian puzzle from a constructor's standpoint, and I can imagine that a good number of Weng's solvers enjoyed puzzling through it.  I even had more fun than usual blogging about it, which really says something about its quality!  Here's this puzzle's solution grid (with highlighted theme entries):

Friday, October 3, 2014

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa, Plus Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

Proofreading 1966 Puzzles

It's been another busy week, starting off with 19 puzzles from Mark Diehl that had 19 mistakes.  Saturday afternoon he sent 33 more with 38 mistakes, then later on 27 more with 8 mistakes, 16 with 35 mistakes, and 6 with 2 mistakes!  Sunday morning, Mark sent another 31 with 16 mistakes, then later that afternoon, an additional 30 with 16 mistakes.  Late Monday night Todd Gross sent in 16 puzzles with 20 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more from Mark late Thursday afternoon with 15 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 puzzles with 24 mistakes.  Thanks so much, everyone—though some puzzles from 1967, 1968, and 1969 are still out with proofreaders, quite a few from 1966 have already come in!  And as I write this, Mark still leads in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 621 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa

I'm delighted to announce that Ed Sessa is the October Litzer of the Month!  In addition to being a New York Times constructor and retired pediatrician, Ed is also a bird carver.  To read more about him, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

I recently received an e-mail from litzer and quad-stack constructor extraordinaire Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had been wondering about Maleska-era constructor Vaughn Keith, "one of the early (if not the earliest) masters of the triple stack genre."  Martin had found an obituary from 1990, which you can link to here, and wrote:
He was a school teacher who died at the young age of 40 of AIDS. The obit shows that this talented man faced his death with great bravery. The obit speaks for itself. Very sad, and also inspiring.
Vaughn Keith was a classicist who seems to have led a fascinating life.  Thanks so much again for this great find, Martin!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published March 22, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  Each of this puzzle's theme entries is a TV or movie reference that contains at least one title, such as MRS MINIVER (clued as "Theatrical headliner of 1942.").  Having each theme entry be a TV/movie reference adds a nice level of consistency to the puzzle, and I especially appreciate that none of the titles is directly repeated.  My favorite theme entry is MR PENNYPACKER ("Theatrical headliner of 1959."); even though I'm not familiar with the movie The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, the words are so much fun to say!  The nonthematic fill also seems pretty solid—I especially like the entries SANTA MARIA, KNIGHTHOOD, and END TABLE, and the only rather iffy piece of fill is the plural RT HONS ("Titles for some civic officials.").  Clues that pique my interest include "Abbreviation useful in the 1800's." for TERR and "Piquancy (from French for orange peel)." for ZEST.  Overall, this puzzle, with its cute theme and minimal reliance on obscurities, is a zesty gem from the early '60s!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles, Maleska's Millennium Mistakes, and Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles

It's been an amazing week on the proofreading front—I'm now sending out puzzles from 1967!  Some puzzles from 1968 and 1969 are still being proofread, but there should be another full year completed in the not-too-distant future!  This week's shipments started off late Friday night when Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles with 30 mistakes, which were followed the next morning by 30 more puzzles with 19 mistakes and, Saturday afternoon, by another 31 with 17 mistakes.  Sunday morning, Mark sent 31 more puzzles with 15 mistakes, then another 29 that afternoon with 11 mistakes and 31 more that evening with 21 mistakes (passing the 400 mark—congratulations, Mark!).  Monday night, Mark sent 31 puzzles with 27 mistakes, which were followed Tuesday night by 25 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Thursday night he sent 27 more puzzles with 5 mistakes, then a couple of hours later, another 31 puzzles with 11 mistakes—wow!  Thanks so much, Mark!  Needless to say, Mark is currently in first place in the proofreading contest—as I write this, he has found 472 mistakes, and I'm guessing he'll top the 500 mark this coming week!  Thanks again, Mark—awesome job!

Maleska's Millennium Mistakes

I recently received an e-mail from Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had found a mistake in the April 23, 1972, puzzle constructed by Eugene T. Maleska and edited by Will Weng.  The word millennium was misspelled millenium.  Maleska misspelled this word more than once:  On August 9, 1985, the word MILLENIUM appeared as a grid entry—egad!  Thanks again for pointing this out, Martin!

Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

I also recently heard from litzer and proofreader Todd Gross, who had been researching pre-Shortzian constructors and come across some new information.  Todd found a death notice for Sidney L. Robbins, a very prolific constructor who apparently was born in August of 1909 and who, according to my (incomplete) records, published 153 pre-Shortzian puzzles and 50 Shortz-era puzzles.

Todd also thought he might have found information on Elmer Toro, who published six puzzles in the Times between 1969 and 1977:
Among several constructors I've tried to look up, Elmer Toro is a particularly interesting case.  I found someone I think is our constructor, but I'm not sure.  There aren't many Elmer Toros, but there is more than one.  The guy I think is our constructor is rather interesting, you can read about his work for the NYPD and related agencies here.  I found that he later moved to Florida, where he worked for a few years as a police officer but retired last year (2013), see here.

Very interesting discoveries, Todd—thanks again!  I look forward to reading any future updates.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published Saturday, January 21, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This puzzle features eight symmetrically interlocking theme entries that appeal to solvers with a sweet tooth, such as A FINGER IN THE PIE and CANDY CANE.  The puzzle masterfully uses stacking and interlock at multiple points (such as with the two down theme entries) to cram all eight sweets into the grid, though the overall quality of the theme suffers a bit as a result.  I find it slightly inelegant that two theme entries use the same sweet (PIE); also, I've never seen COOKY JAR spelled with a Y, and APPLEJACK sticks out as the only liquid sweet in the puzzle.  Still, the theme is impressive for its time, and the teenager in me has a hard time criticizing a theme that relates to junk food!  The nonthematic fill is a mix of entries that feel fresh—including BUSBOYS, HATPIN, ORBITAL (complete with the "modern" clue "Pertaining to a satellite's path."), and the quasi-thematic GINGER and ICED—and entries that are neither sweet nor savory, including SSES ("Compass points."), ATHL ("Sports: Abbr."), and ARGALAS ("African storks.").  Argala is such an uncommon term that it doesn't appear in Merriam-Webster; after Googling argala, I discovered that this type of stork is better known as the greater adjutant, which still seems rather obscure.  In sum, this puzzle has a sweet theme idea, but the execution isn't fully consistent, and the nonthematic fill feels a bit iffy in parts.  I nevertheless look forward to seeing more themed daily puzzles from this time period as we continue our journey through crossword history!  The puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below: