Friday, March 28, 2014

Over 15,600, In 1945, and Only 42 Packets Left!

We've now litzed more than 15,600 puzzles—15,640, to be exact!  This week started off with 4 puzzles sent in by Denny Baker on Saturday morning.  Early Sunday morning, Todd Gross sent 10 proofread puzzles, then that afternoon Susan O'Brien sent 4 more litzed puzzles, putting us over the 15,600 mark!  Later that night, Denny sent in 4 more puzzles, which were followed by 4 from Lynn Feigenbaum Monday morning.  Then Tuesday morning, Barry Haldiman sent in 8 more puzzles; that afternoon, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, which were followed by 4 more litzed puzzles from Susan.  Wednesday morning, Denny sent in another 4, and that afternoon, Susan sent 6 more.  Thursday night, Denny sent 4 more, and then early this morning, Lynn sent another 4.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 8 puzzles.  Thanks so much again, everybody—great job!  I'm hoping we reach 15,700 on the litzing thermometer by next Friday!

We're in 1945 now, the year when World War II officially ended!  Germany's last major offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, started off the year, but Germany surrendered shortly thereafter, and Victory in Europe Day was celebrated on May 8.  A few months later, Japan surrendered, and Victory in Japan Day was celebrated on August 15.  I look forward to seeing all the war references that show up in these 1945 puzzles, but for now, here's a picture of celebration in Times Square after all the Axis powers had surrendered:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

On the litzing front, we now have only 42 packets left to send out!  A good number of the puzzles in these packets (and in others that were recently sent out) contain—gasp!—two-letter words, which several litzers have commented on.  It would be interesting to know when exactly the rule prohibiting entries of less than three letters began.

Today's featured puzzle, which was published May 26, 1946, was constructed by Louis Baron, edited by Margaret Farrar, and litzed by Susan O'Brien.  This is one of the only pre-Shortzian puzzles I've seen that has left-right symmetry rather than standard rotational symmetry; if that's not unusual enough, the constructor decided to insert his name at 86-/88-Across, making this the earliest instance of a vanity puzzle I've encountered!  As is the case with most other vanity puzzles, LOUIS ("Any of several kings of France.") and BARON ("Member of British peerage.") are clued normally.  I really appreciate how Louis Baron added some spice to one of the gargantuan themeless Sundays published during the '40s; these puzzles can get a bit tedious to litz (and to look through) after a while, though I imagine this puzzle caused quite a stir with solvers who noticed that the constructor gave his name prime real estate in the grid.  It's too bad that all the anonymous Farrar daily puzzle constructors didn't sneak their names into their grids or clues!

Anyway, aside from its unusual features, this puzzle is jam-packed with entries that related to W.W. II or were quite contemporary in 1946.  These entries, many of which rarely show up in puzzles nowadays, include CYCLOTRONS ("Atom-smashing machines."), IMPERIALIST ("Empire-minded person."), OSMENA ("President pro tem of the Philippines."), IRAN ("'Hot spot' of oil disputes."), PROPAGANDA ("Biased news."), MILITARIZE ("Organize for war.), UNAMERICAN ("Unrepresentative of our democracy."), YAMAMOTO ("Jap naval chief, shot down over the Marshalls."), ALPINI ("Italian mountain troops."), MISSOURI ("Birthplace of Mr. Truman."), PALOOKA ("Tough fellow, in GI terms."), ANTIFASCISTS ("Opposers of dictators."), TRANSYLVANIA ("Much disputed European area."), HITLERITE ("Nazi."), DOOLITTLE ("Leader of first squadron to bomb Tokyo."), BOLSHEVIK ("Anti-capitalist revolutionary of 1918 Russia."), LEHMAN ("Ex-chief of UNRRA."), and BRADEN ("Asst. Secy of State for American Republic Affairs.").  Other highlights in the fill include CHAUVINISM (clued somewhat W.W. II-esque as "Excessive nationalism."), PHARISAICAL, HELLENISTIC, EXEGESIS, SPARERIBS, EPHEMERALS, CAPRICE, and BATHER (clued bizarrely as "Enjoyer of balneological pleasures.").  That's some fancy puzzle-making!

On the other hand, there are a fair number of uncommon entries, though not as many as I've seen in other 23x puzzles from the '40s.  These obscurities include SNA ("East Indian sheep, the nahoor."), GES ("Tapuyan Indians."), KETA ("Russian dog-salmon."), MOY ("Old corn measure, about 150 lbs."), NIATAS ("Dwarf cattle of South America."), STIRIOUS ("Consisting of icicles: Obs."), INI ("King of West Saxons: Var."), NIU ("Siamese length measure."), ATIU ("One of the Cook Islands."), SONNA ("Tradition-bound part of Mohammedan law: Var."), and OTER ("Man-otter victim of Loki: Norse.").  OTER struck me as so bizarre that I had to do some more research on it—I mean seriously, a man-otter?!  The story of Oter (also known as Otr), which comes from the infamous crosswordese Edda,  is actually quite fascinating.  In a nutshell, Oter was the dwarf son of King Hreidmar who had the power to take on any shape.  Oter particularly enjoyed assuming the form of an otter, and Loki accidentally killed him one day for his pelt.  King Hreidmar was outraged and demanded that Oter's skin be filled with yellow gold and coated with red gold!  The story goes on, but I'll spare you the details.  Here's the answer grid for this puzzle with highlighted vanity entries, along with a picture of Oter in dwarf form:

Image courtesy of Nastrond.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Through 1947, Into 1946, and a Crossword Artifact

It's been another busy week, though the thermometer is moving up a bit more slowly now that we're litzing Sunday puzzles!  Saturday afternoon, Lynn Feigenbaum sent in 5 puzzles, then later that night, Mike Buckley sent in 7 more.  Sunday night, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles, then early Monday morning, Barry Haldiman sent 8 litzed puzzles, which were followed by 4 more from Susan O'Brien that afternoon.  Early Tuesday morning, Todd sent 11 more proofread puzzles, and then that afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 4 puzzles.  Half an hour later, 7 more came in from Todd McClary, which were followed by 12 more from Mark Diehl that evening (after which I sent out the first puzzles from 1946!).  Wednesday afternoon, Lynn sent 4 more puzzles, bringing her total to 250 litzed puzzles—congratulations, Lynn!  Thursday morning, Susan sent in 4 more puzzles, and then Friday morning, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles.  We've now litzed 15,586 puzzles—great job, everyone, and thanks so much again!  By next week, we should be over 15,600!

We zipped into and through 1947, a year in which several noteworthy technological events took place, not the least of which was AT&T's introduction of its commercialized Mobile Telephone Service.  According to Wikipedia, although Bell Labs had inaugurated a limited mobile service in St. Louis in 1946, AT&T's MTS came to 100 towns and highway corridors in 1947.  Unfortunately, MTS's three radio channels meant that only three customers in any given city could make a call at the same time!  Just imagine if we had to deal with those kinds of constraints today!  And though I'm sure this old cell phone must have seemed very cool at the time, it doesn't compare with today's iPhones:

Image courtesy of History of Mobile Phones.

In addition to the 1946 appearance of the precursor to AT&T's MTS, another notable event from 1946—where we are now in our litzing—was the official introduction of the modern bikini.  According to Wikipedia, a French mechanical engineer (!) designed a string bikini made of four triangles of fabric printed with a newspaper pattern.  Interestingly (but not surprisingly), bikini-like garments were actually worn in ancient Greece and Rome.  But 1946 is the year the first modern-day bikini is attributed to, and here's a picture of model Micheline Bernardini wearing it:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Constructor Kevin Christian gave me an awesome crossword artifact that I'd never seen before at the ACPT earlier this month:  the Crossword Companion Roll-A-Puzzle System!  This intriguing device, a more up-to-date version of which appears to still be for sale by a company called Herbko, seems to have come preloaded with three scrolls of Maleska-edited New York Times crosswords.  The Crossword Companion is operated via two knobs on the right side of the puzzle that allow you to move on to the next puzzle or go back to the previous one.  The coolest part about the Crossword Companion, however, is definitely the scrolls of 1992 Maleska dailies!  Although the constructor names aren't included on the puzzles, the publication dates are, which could help clear up any clues that were chopped off by the PDFs or were too difficult to read in that format.  Thanks so much again for this fascinating crossword relic, Kevin!  Here's a picture of the Crossword Companion:

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published August 14, 1965; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Howard Barkin.  This bizarre-yet-fascinating puzzle feels much more in the style of Will Weng than Margaret Farrar—maybe Weng himself was the puzzle's mystery constructor!  The theme—entries related to James Bond, with no-nonsense clues—seems relatively simple on the surface.  Of the straightforward theme entries, I especially like MASTER CRIMINALS (clued as "No and others."); the "modern style" part of the JAMES clue ("With 5 Across, Ashenden's successor, modern style." [5-Across is BOND]) is also rather amusing.  What really makes this puzzle interesting, however, is that random three entries with double Os at their starts are clued thematically:  OOMPH ("Plausible middle name for 007?"), OOM-PAH ("Musical effect, à la 007?"), and OONA ("Just the girl for 007?").  I don't think this somewhat nonsensical twist would be salable in a mainstream market nowadays (even if there had been 7 theme entries with double Os), though it did make me smile.  I found it amusing that OONA could also be considered the perfect girl for a crossword enthusiast—letter patterns don't get much better than that!

The nonthematic fill in this puzzle, however, feels particularly strained on the whole, with a few exceptions.  NEORAMA ("Exposition hall, World's Fair style.") is an interesting entry that was lively at the time; HER HONOR ("Lady judge.") is a nifty phrase that doesn't show up very often in crosswords; and BIZERTE ("'Gertie from ___,' W. W. II song."), albeit uncommon by today's standards, looks cool in the grid and is fun to say.  I Googled the song, whose full title, "Dirty Gertie from Bizerte," is even more fun to say.  The rhyming lyrics to this song are hilarious—the first few verses contain a particularly good knee-slapper (pun intended)!  The rest of the nonthematic fill, though, has quite a few meh-inducing entries, including the partials TRACER OF ("'___ Lost Persons'") and STORY MAN ("Second ___."), plural abbreviations AFRS ("Natives of Togo, Mali, etc.") and RGTS ("Army units: Abbr."), TINDERLIKE ("Very inflammable."), and a cornucopia of tough proper nouns.  In all, though, I appreciated this puzzle's quirkiness, despite some of its substandard fill.  The answer grid, with highlighted theme entries, can be seen below:

Last week's blog post included a list of ten "modern" clues from 1966–68 crosswords.  Here are eleven more "modern" clues from earlier on in the Farrar era.  Check back next week for the third installment in this incredibly out-of-date clue series:  "contemporary" clues!
  • April 26, 1966 (litzed by Denny Baker)
    • Clue:  Describing some modern music (with "The").
    • Answer:  BIG BEAT
  • April 13, 1966 (litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Clue:  Modern miracle of light.
    • Answer:  LASER
  • April 14, 1966 (litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Clue:  Handbag, modern style.
    • Answer:  TOTE
  • January 8, 1966 (litzed by Denny Baker)
    • Clue:  Social group, modern style.
    • Answer:  THE IN CROWD
    • Clue:  Type of transit, modern style.
    • Answer:  ORBITING
  • January 5, 1966 (litzed by Denny Baker)
    • Clue:  Road, modern style.
    • Answer:  SPEEDWAY
  • January 2, 1966 (constructed by Jack Luzzatto, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Modern French composer.
    • Answer:  POULENC
  • October 22, 1965 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Eccentric one, modern style.
    • Answer:  KOOK
  • August 12, 1965 (litzed by Howard Barkin)
    • Clue:  Modern furniture.
    • Answer:  DINETTE SET
  • August 7, 1965 (litzed by Howard Barkin)
    • Clue:  Modern transmission receivers.
    • Answer:  TEEVEES
  • July 19, 1965 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Celebrity, modern style.
    • Answer:  VIP
My favorite from this set is the LASER clue—here's a picture of some trippy laser beams:

Image courtesy of Urban Spotlight San Antonio.

Friday, March 14, 2014

ACPT Wrap-Up, New XWord Info Feature on Women Constructors, and In 1948

This year's ACPT was awesome, as usual!  I arrived very late Thursday night and ran into XWord Info's Jeff Chen and litzer Doug Peterson in the lobby.  The next morning, I braved the subway with my parents and went to Chelsea Market in Manhattan, where we had scads of sapid comestibles!  I was hoping to see Alton Brown of Cutthroat Kitchen (one of my favorite shows!), since the Food Network is in the same building, but that didn't happen (though I did see a TV crew filming in one of the shops).  We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon, and Stan Newman and I had an authentic New York pizza nearby.  Later that afternoon I got to meet and shake hands with crossword legend Henry Hook!

Crossword greats Merl Reagle (l.) and Stan Newman (r.)

I was also delighted to see an article by Jonathan Kalman about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project appear on the very first day of the ACPT!  To read his piece, "Teenage Crossword Puzzle Maven Goes Digital," click here.    

Friday evening, puzzlemaster Will Shortz got the tournament events under way with a very fun Carnival of Puzzles in which attendees solved their choice of any four of ten puzzles created by noted puzzlemakers!  I realized too late that there was a strategy in choosing which puzzles to solve (though at least—thanks to my parents' warning!—I managed to avoid humiliating myself on Stan Newman's Digital Trivia Quiz!).  I discovered that solving a diagramless for the first time under timed conditions was not one of my better ideas, though I was able to finish Fred Piscop's Split Decisions puzzle and Roy Leban's USA Word Search.

Soon everything became a whirlwind of activity!  In the post-games reception, I met and reuned with many new and old friends, both in the lobby and in long conversations in the sixth-floor puzzle suite.  Over the three-day weekend, I was able to talk with many litzers, including Howard Barkin, Tracy Bennett, Peter Broda, Joe Cabrera, Lynn Feigenbaum, Andrew Feist, Vic Fleming, Mangesh Ghogre, Angela Halsted, Nancy Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Krasnick, Andrew Laurence, Tom Pepper, Doug Peterson, and Brad Wilber (apologies if I've left anyone out).

Jim Jenista in another awesome costume

Saturday began with the puzzle market—an entire hallway filled with tables of puzzle books and merchandise—at which I picked up plenty of freebies.  I was also thrilled that one of my puzzles appeared in the Times that day—out here in California, I've never actually seen anyone solving one of my puzzles in public, so seeing and talking to hundreds of my solvers was amazing!

Later that morning, Will kicked off the actual tournament.  I had a blast solving such a twisty, creative octad of crosswords over the weekend!  Merl Reagle and Brendan Emmett Quigley gave me a real run for my moola, but I was still able to (mostly) finish everything.  And comparing notes with other solvers after finishing each puzzle was great fun.  At lunch I shared a delicious plate of chicken skrewers [sic] with Tom Pepper.  Later on, I was amazed that I could actually identify a couple of the celebrities in a game of Peter Gordon's Celebrity: Get a Clue app!

Saturday night, Will's "'Clever' Clues" game was very entertaining, especially since I finally had a use for the many hours I've spent poring through various clue databases.  Then I gave a talk on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project and a brief summary of the results from my statistical analysis of gender in the authorship of New York Times crosswords over the years—a project I did for my Science Research course this year.  Nancy Shack and Don Christensen were both kind enough to record the talk (thanks so much again, Nancy and Don, for this and all the other videos and photos!)—Nancy's video appears below:

I've received a lot of positive feedback about this research, and I'm hoping to continue it in the future.  Clearly the relatively small proportion of puzzles published by female constructors over more than 70 years is an issue of great importance, especially as the crossword community moves forward.  When I returned from the ACPT, I presented my findings at a regional Intel science fair and was also delighted to discover a new feature on XWord Info that I think many people will be interested in:  Stats about women constructors!  This is a fascinating compilation of data that I'm planning to look into more closely after school gets out.

The final talk on Saturday was Matt Ginsberg's phenomenal presentation about Dr. Fill and its performance on this year's puzzles!  I look forward to hearing "moa" about the evolution of Dr. Fill next year.  Here's Don Christensen's video of the talk:

Back to the wrap-up:  By late Saturday night, I think many litzers had forgotten about the get-together in the lobby.  In fact, I was so busy with other things that I forgot about it myself until someone reminded me.  But a few litzers stopped by for two ilks of Oreos, and I had fun joining in on a game of Ghost!

Sunday morning was Puzzle 7, after which I had a delightful New York brunch with Jeb Balise and the Daily Celebrity Crossword crew at Junior's.  Unfortunately, I didn't end up seeing the always entertaining "Crossworders Got Talent" show live, but luckily, a video of it was available online—here it is:

I was surprised and honored to win second place in the D division this year, and I'm looking forward to moving up to C in 2015!  Congratulations to all the other winners and participants, especially Dan Feyer, Tyler Hinman, and litzer Howard Barkin, who were the top three scorers!

And thanks again to Will Shortz, Helene Hovanec, and all the judges and constructors who make the ACPT such an enjoyable experience every year!  I'm already counting the days until Stamford!

Puzzlemaster Will Shortz

On to the project!  It's been a busy couple of weeks, despite the ACPT.  Two weeks ago Friday, Tracy Bennett sent in 31 proofread puzzles in the evening.  Saturday morning, Lynn Feigenbaum sent 4 puzzles.  That afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 7 more, putting us over 15,400 on the litzing thermometer!  And that night, Todd Gross sent 11 more proofread puzzles.  Monday morning, Nancy Kavanaugh sent another mega-batch of 42 puzzles, which were followed that afternoon by 4 from Barry Haldiman and 4 more from Denny.  Tuesday morning, Lynn sent another 4 puzzles.  Wednesday afternoon, Joe Cabrera sent 7 more puzzles, which were followed by 4 from Denny on Thursday afternoon.  Friday morning Peter Broda sent 6 puzzles, then this week early Monday morning Mark Diehl sent 19.  Tuesday morning Barry Haldiman sent 8 more, putting us at 15,500 on the litzing thermometer and his own total at more than 1,400—congratulations, Barry!  That afternoon, new litzer Susan O'Brien sent in her first puzzle—welcome aboard, Susan!  Wednesday afternoon, Denny sent in 4 more puzzles, which were followed by another 3 from Susan Thursday morning and 9 more from Mark late that night.  Early this morning, Todd Gross (who recently celebrated his 50th birthday—happy birthday, Todd!) sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 14 puzzles too!  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much again!  I know it's slower going with the Sunday puzzles now (especially the 23x ones!), but we'll get there—as I write this, we're already at 15,531!

We're now also sending out puzzles from 1948—a year that was of particular importance to those of us interested in letters and words!  According to Wikipedia, architect Alfred Mosher Butts had invented two word games—first Lexiko, then a variation on it called Criss-Crosswords.  In 1948, James Brunot bought the rights to manufacture the game and made a few alterations to it, including changing the name to Scrabble.  Here's a picture of a Scrabble board:

Today's featured pre-Shortzian puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was originally published August 8, 1964; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  This puzzle's theme—greetings and farewells—initially struck me as being rather simple and a bit dull.  However, when I looked at the puzzle more closely, I discovered that the theme is actually quite elegant:  The theme entries are symmetrical and interlocking; each synonym of hello and goodbye is contained in movie, book, or song titles; all the theme entries containing greetings read down, while all the theme entries containing farewells read across; and no synonym of hello or goodbye is repeated.  Also, with the slight exception of A FAREWELL TO ARMS, all the greetings and farewells are at the beginnings of their entries.  It's very rare to encounter a pre-Shortzian puzzle whose theme is consistent on so many levels, so from a thematic standpoint, this puzzle is way ahead of its time, even though ADIEU TO THE PIANO feels slightly less in the language than the other three theme entries.  I also like how the constructor was able to incorporate a smattering of lively eight- and nine-letter entries by lowering the word count to 72—SALT MINES, APIARISTS (cleverly clued as "Men in the honey game."), HIMALAYAN, DIME STORE (also cleverly clued clued as "Place to buy pans, pens, pins, etc."), and DAPPLED are particularly strong!  On the other hand, the puzzle contains quite a few uncommon pieces of crosswordese, partials, and iffy abbreviations, including TECO ("Mexican native."), ENARE ("Finnish lake."), DADE CO ("Site of Miami, Fla."), ALEMS ("Turkish flags."), MOD SP ("Present-day orthography: Abbr."), A DIRE ("C'est ___ [that is to say]."), SOLUS ("Alone on the stage."), and PIMAN ("Of an Arizonan people.").  The entry that intrigued me the most in the nonthematic fill was SPALPEENS ("Irish rascals."), which has yet to appear in any other puzzle in the Ginsberg clue database.  According to Merriam-Webster, we get the word spalpeen from the Irish spailpin, both of which originally referred to a poor migratory Irish farm worker.  One Web site speculates that spalpeens had such a low status in Irish society that they became synonymous for rascals or mischief-makers in general.  What an interesting word!  Anyway, aside from the APIARISTS and DIME STORE gems, the bulk of this puzzle's clues are standard for their time period.  I was particularly amused to see HESSE clued as "Part of West Germany.," which is no longer accurate.  In all, this is an interesting pre-Shortzian puzzle whose theme is a cut above!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below.

I always find pre-Shortzian clues containing the word "modern" particularly amusing, as the entries in question often end up being incredibly obsolete and/or long established by today's standards.  Here are ten such "modern" clues from puzzles published during the mid-to-late Farrar era:
  • April 21, 1968 (constructed by William A. Lewis, Jr., litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern convenience.
    • Answer:  HOT WATER
  • September 12, 1967 (constructed by Cora Goodman, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern building material.
    • Answer:  GLASS
  • April 1, 1967 (constructed by Cora Goodman, litzed by Alex Vratsanos)
    • Clue:  Modern dress style.
    • Answer:  TENT
  • January 25, 1967 (constructed by Louise Earnest, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Rebel, modern-style.
    • Answer:  BEATNIK
  • January 24, 1967 (constructed by Michael Dubin, litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Feature of modern industry.
    • Answer:  AUTOMATION
  • December 12, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern aid for buyers.
    • Answer:  CREDIT CARD
  • December 5, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern defense equipment.
    • Answer:  RADAR
  • November 29, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern machine.
    • Answer:  COMPUTER
  • November 8, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Modern sound effect.
    • Answer:  DIAL TONE
  • July 12, 1966 (litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Modern warning device.
    • Answer:  RADAR (again!)
The DIAL TONE clue tickled me the most, as the telephone itself is losing ground to the almighty cellphone with its much catchier assortment of RINGTONES.  Here's a picture of an early telephone model.  The three silver protuberances accurately depict my facial expression upon discovering that people actually used phones like this at one point!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.