Friday, May 30, 2014

1975 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, New Proofreading Progress Calendar, More Todd Gross Research, and Edgy Clues/Entries

Great news:  The 1975 puzzles are now up on XWord Info, which shows just how much faster the proofreading process is going now that some former litzers have become proofreaders!  To represent the progress of the proofreading graphically, I added a new proofreading progress calendar below the litzing thermometer.  Thanks so much to all the proofreaders (and to Jim Horne, for doing an awesome job providing a home for the pre-Shortzian puzzles)!  

It's actually been a challenge keeping up with all the proofread puzzles that have come in this week!  Saturday night, Mark Diehl sent 28, then another 30 Sunday afternoon, which were followed by 31 more from Tracy Bennett, then another 30 from Mark late that night, then 31 more from Mark Monday morning and another 31 from Mark that afternoon!  Early Wednesday morning, Todd Gross sent 10 proofread puzzles, which were followed by 26 more from Mark a few hours later; that night, Todd sent 10 more puzzles, and then early Thursday, 8 more, which were followed by 31 more from Mark that night.  Early Friday morning, new litzer Finn Vigeland sent in 1 litzed puzzle, and then Friday afternoon, Todd sent in 14 more proofread puzzles.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 proofread puzzles too—whew!  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

In his down time from proofreading this week, Todd did some more research on pre-Shortzian constructors and discovered an interesting article about the extremely prolific A. J. Santora, who passed away in 2005.  Todd also discovered that James Barrick, who constructed numerous puzzles in the Weng and Maleska eras, often in collaboration with his wife, Phyllis, is still building crosswords!  I plan to try to contact him soon.  Finally, in his quest for more information about constructor Cyrus McCormick, Todd came across a humorous article (see below) about how crossword puzzles can benefit anesthetists.  Thanks for all this fascinating biographical research, Todd!

Today's featured puzzle, "Mixed Doubles," was constructed by Edward J. O'Brien; published January 13, 1974; edited by Will Weng; and recently litzed by Barry Haldiman.  This puzzle features eight pairs of theme entries that consist of a base phrase and its wacky spoonerism—this makes a total of 16 theme entries, which is truly amazing!  Even more impressive, the constructor placed each base phrase adjacent to its spoonerism in the grid—wow!  SECOND FIGHTS seems a bit iffy to me, but all the other base phrases feel strong and in-the-language; also, most of the spoonerisms are legitimately funny.  My favorites of the spoonerisms are WORD BOTCHER (clued meta-style as "Spooner, e.g."), SPATE OF AIDES ("Too many cooks") and SHUNS THE ROE ("Refuses a fish delicacy"), though at least two others made me chuckle!  The puzzle's high theme density did force a lot of iffy entries, which include the lengthy partials THE LAST ONE, AS FATE, PRIMES THE, LAP WAS, IT THIS, and TRIED A; the contrived phrases DEM DOSE ("Words after dese") and PERSIAN GOD ("Ahura-Mazda, for one"); and a smattering of not-so-great abbreviations like WTRS ("Restaurant workers: Abbr.") and variants/old-style entries like PAPAIAS SNEWS ("Winter falls, old style"), and TWEESE ("Instrument case, old style").  Nevertheless, the puzzle is largely free of flat-out obscurities, and entries like SWISS WATCH, EXTENUATED, and HIGH-HAT give the grid a nice bit of zip.  Overall, this is an ambitious and amusing pre-Shortzian puzzle that is extremely well-executed for its presoftware time!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

This past Thursday's New York Times puzzle, constructed by Anna Shechtman, featured the entry SHTUP, which caused quite a stir among crossword solvers!  In that vein, here are some Farrar- and Weng-era clues/entries that caused me to raise an eyebrow.  These clues/entries don't quite measure up to SHTUP, but they were certainly edgy for their time!

Farrar era:
  • February 16, 1959 (constructed by Edward Canstein, litzed by Brian Kulman)
    • Clue:  Storage place for family skeletons.
    • Answer:  CLOSET
  • October 14, 1963 (constructed by Leonard Sussman, litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Little woman.
    • Answer:  WIFE (I'm pretty sure Mr. Sussman slept on the sofa on October 14 . . . that is, if he didn't end up in the closet!)
  • January 31, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Wetback, perhaps.
    • Answer:  PEON
  • December 14, 1966 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Like sweet sixteen?
    • Answer:  UNKISSED (one look around my high school at lunch shows that the question mark is definitely justified!)
  • March 10, 1967 (constructed by Louis Sabin, litzed by Alex Vratsanos)
    • Clue:  Popular kind of girl.
    • Answer:  PIN-UP
  • October 30, 1967 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Womankind, so Webster says.
    • Answer:  WEAKER SEX
Weng era:
  • August 16, 1969 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Words for a sweet 16 girl
    • Answer:  NOT KISSED (no question mark this time)
  • February 19, 1970 (litzed by Martin Herbach)
    • Clue:  Ivy and some girls
    • Answer:  CLINGING VINES
  • August 2, 1974 (constructed by Jordan S. Lasher, litzed by Todd Gross)
    • Clue:  Words after book or playmate
    • Answer:  OF THE MONTH (does this entry win partial of the month?)
  • October 8, 1974 (constructed by Harriet Gilson Rosenberg, litzed by Howard Barkin)
    • Clue:  Building
    • Answer:  ERECTION
  • December 12, 1974 (constructed by Miller [first name unknown], litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  Mental defectives
    • Answer:  MORONS
  • September 14, 1976 (constructed by Louis Baron, litzed by Peter Broda)
    • Clue:  Kind of night stand
    • Answer:  ONE (because some people have a single nightstand next to their beds, of course!)
I think I'll forgo posting an image to go along with this group of clues.  I will say that I look forward to seeing what other surprising clues and entries show up in puzzles from the earlier part of Farrar's editorship!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Todd Gross's Research on Pre-Shortzian Constructors—Plus, Solve His Litzed Copy of "The Toughest Crossword Puzzle Ever," by Jordan S. Lasher!

It's been another very busy week on the proofreading front!  Late Friday night, Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles, then Saturday night, Todd Gross sent in 8.  Sunday night, Mark sent 30 more, and Monday night, Todd sent another 7!  Tuesday evening, new litzer Spencer Pasero sent in 1 puzzle, which was followed by 31 more proofread puzzles from Mark.  Thursday night, Mark sent another 31 puzzles, and Friday morning, Larry Wasser sent in 7 more.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 proofread puzzles too.  Terrific job, everybody—we'll be done with 1975 very soon!

On the litzing front, there are still many puzzles out with litzers, so even though the thermometer hasn't gone up much recently, it will eventually—my hope is that we'll have all these puzzles in by the end of the summer!

Information about many pre-Shortzian constructors' lives has been lost to the sands of time, but litzer and proofreader Todd Gross has done a tremendous job recently of unearthing new details about some of the more prolific early New York Times constructors!  He also found a copy of Crossword Puzzle Compendium by Norton Bramesco and Jordan S. Lasher, about which he wrote the following:

It's actually really good.  The content is similar to other crossword books, talking about the history and format of crosswords, how to construct and how to solve, and giving bios on editors and constructors.  What separates this book is how good the content is.  They didn't just repeat what's out there, they did their own investigation.  They didn't just give their opinions of top constructors (including the aforementioned Hume R. Craft), they got quotes from many/most of them.

Maybe best of all, there are lots of puzzles in here.  Most of them by Jordan Lasher, but also one from each of the constructors profiled, also I believe one each by Maleska (first Stepquote puzzle!), Weng, and Margaret Farrar (!).

I've ordered a copy of Crossword Puzzle Compendium myself, and I'm hoping to post constructor bios from it on Scribd this summer.  (I have constructor bios from several other books and publications as well that I plan to post there too—I'll announce them here as they appear.)

Todd noted that the final puzzle in Crossword Puzzle Compendium was Jordan S. Lasher's "The Toughest Crossword Puzzle Ever."  He decided to litz it and look up every entry, adding notes to the CCW file.  He wrote:

The puzzle is 25x25 with 208 entries (Jordan specifically wanted it to be at least 200).  Over half of these have never appeared in a Shortzian NYT crossword.  When I do an analysis using XWord Info, almost the entire grid is red!  The Freshness Factor is I believe 86.2 (that's the factor, not the percentage).  I've found a few small errors in the clues, but so far there's only 1 or 2 I haven't been able to verify online.  It's an amazing construction, especially given how he's trying very hard not to use the sort of bread and butter entries crosswords then and now are filled with.

Here's a piece Todd put together about the puzzle when he was finished:

This puzzle was created by Jordan Lasher for the First World Class Crossword Puzzle Marathon, held over 24 hours on 15–16 Sep 1978.  The puzzle was commissioned by a bookstore in Beachwood, OH, and intended to be so difficult that no one would submit a correct answer, even with 24 hours in a 30,000 volume bookstore.  Some competitors even went to a local library to do further research . . . something Mr. Lasher himself did in constructing this puzzle, on top of the 50 reference works he borrowed from said bookstore.

The puzzle, at 25x25 with 208 entries, lived up to expectations.  Out of 186 entrants, no one submitted a fully correct solution.  The winner (Michael Donner, former editor of GAMES magazine) was 88% correct.  Only 32 even submitted anything, and some of those had negative scores [meaning they got more answers incorrect than correct]!

Before litzing the puzzle (and looking up all the obscure entries online, notes on which are included in the CCW file), I decided to try my hand at this monster of a puzzle.  I gave myself one hour, with no research, books or otherwise.  So, how did I do?  Remember, there are pretty good solvers who got a negative score with 24 hours and a bookstore to research in.  I don't know what their scoring system was, but I had 16 correct entries (7.7%), with 3 incorrect entries, which really amazed me.

But more amazing was how Jordan created this puzzle by hand, trying his darndest to squeeze in as many obscure (but findable) entries as he could.  About half of the entries have never appeared (to date) in a New York Times crossword, with about 2 dozen more appearing only in Pre-Shortzian puzzles.  It must have been tough avoiding using standard tricks and entries, working with rarely-if-ever seen letter combinations.  All in all, I'd say he did a superb job.

My advice to anyone who tries to solve this: using Google isn't just OK, it's strongly encouraged.  Also, many of these entries use variant (or older) spellings, and you don't always get told about them in the clues.  And finally, enjoy!

If you'd like to try doing the litzed puzzle, you can access it in either Crossword Compiler (complete with Todd's comments) or Across Lite on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project Google Drive by clicking on one of the links below.:

Crossword Compiler version

Across Lite version

Awesome job, Todd—thanks so much for making this classic puzzle available with all your notes!

While researching, Todd also found several obituaries for pre-Shortzian constructors.  One (behind a paywall) was for Josephine Felker—likely our current "J. A. Felker"—confirming that she was a New York Times crossword constructor.  Another was for Jay Spry, whose wife apparently created puzzles too.  And a third was for the legendary Ernst Theimer.  Todd noted that Theimer passed away in 1994—the same year his Shortz-era puzzle was published.  Todd also found an Associated Press article about a Tap Osborn crossword puzzle on a T-shirt.

In addition, Todd's research suggests that the constructor we have listed as "Higgins" is actually Anne Higgins Petz, who wrote a book of Bible crossword puzzles.  Todd notes that her August 6, 1976, puzzle has some Christian references and that her Web site indicates that she constructed New York Times crosswords.  I've written to her, and I'm hoping to confirm this information.

Todd also found the Web site of pre-Shortzian constructor and chemist Mary Virginia Orna, who wrote a fascinating chapter, "Always a Cross(ed) Word," in A Festival of Chemistry Entertainments.  I had hoped to post this chapter on Scribd, but unfortunately that wouldn't be allowed by the American Chemical Society.  I've linked to the abstract, though, and you can either purchase the full text or see if your library has access to it.  Todd also found the following quote from Orna's college magazine:  "If you crossword fans were wondering, this is also the Mary Virginia Orna who teased your brains for years with the puzzles she authored for The New York Times.  But even now, with more time to spend outside the classroom, she's just too busy to get back down (and across) to that old pastime."

Finally, Todd found an excerpt from a great article from the September 1981 Attenzione magazine (an Italian-American publication) that discussed the process of creating crosswords and included quotes from Jack Luzzatto and Alfio Micci.  I'll try to get a copy of the full article to post on Scribd.

Outstanding research, Todd—thanks so much again!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stephanie Spadaccini Interview, Update on Susan O'Brien's Research, and 1976 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

This week I'm delighted to present another pre-Shortzian constructor interview—with the ever-prolific Stephanie Spadaccini!  Stephanie published 8 puzzles in The New York Times under Will Weng and Eugene T. Maleska and has gone on to publish 36 more during Will Shortz's editorship.  To read the interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above, then be sure to check out her featured puzzle below!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Susan O'Brien's research at the New York Public Library.  This week I received an update from Susan, who wrote:

Last week, I received a second response to my inquiry to the New York Public Library about alternatives to the missing Late Editions of the NY Times.

"The Library does own the international editions of the New York Times.  From 1887 to 1966 it was known as the New York Herald Tribune (Paris, France), which we own on microfilm, call no: *ZY (New York herald tribune, Paris. European ed.).  From 1967 onward, it was called the International Herald Tribune, which is also on microfilm, call no: *ZY (International herald tribune)."

So, yesterday I went there and pulled the 11/30–12/8/53 reels:

As you can see, there was a gap in the dates available, but I printed out the 12/6/53 (Joseph M. Cunningham), 12/7/53 (Marion Moeser), and 12/8/53 (Abraham Glicksman) puzzles and answers.  The quality of the readers and lenses is awful so the printouts are barely legible.

In a later e-mail, Susan added:

I printed out the New York Herald Tribune's 12/9/53 puzzle from microfilm before I realized it wasn't a date we were missing.  I'm attaching the scan.  Does it jive with what you have from the Times?  That would be a stroke of luck.

I was very excited about this possibility and immediately checked my records.  Unfortunately, the 12/9/53 scan Susan had sent didn't match any Times puzzles in my spreadsheet, nor did the printouts.

The U.S. New York Herald Tribune had a daily crossword for a while, so I'm guessing that Susan's scan and printouts were copies of these puzzles.  I asked her to send me a few more puzzles from this source from a couple of different years so I could be sure that these puzzles weren't from the Times.

Susan noted later, though:  "The more I look at these puzzles the less I think they had anything to do with the Times.  They're just too easy."

So, we'll keep looking!

I'm happy to report that it's been a very busy week on the proofreading front, and, thanks to Jim Horne, the 1976 puzzles are now up on XWord Info (and the 1975 puzzles are almost all proofread too!)!  The week started off early Saturday morning with 10 proofread puzzles from Todd Gross.  That evening, Mark Diehl sent 31 more, then another 30 Sunday afternoon, then another 31 late Monday night, then another 30 late Tuesday night, then another 30 Wednesday, and then another 31 late Friday afternoon—whew!  Wednesday afternoon Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, then another 10 early Thursday morning, then another 11 that afternoon—whew again!  And this week Howard Barkin sent 62 proofread puzzles—whew once more!  Awesome job, everyone—at this rate, maybe we can finish the proofreading in the next year or so!

Today's featured puzzle, which can be solved on XWord Info, was constructed by Stephanie Spadaccini; published February 24, 1978; edited by Eugene T. Maleska; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  This amusing puzzle features a candid question (DID YOU TAKE A BATH?) and a symmetrical, witty response (WHY, IS ONE MISSING?).  I agree with Stephanie that the puzzle feels a little thin in terms of the quantity of theme entries, but the witticism nevertheless brought a smile to my face, and the low theme density allowed her to incorporate some snazzy mid-length entries!  The highlights of the nonthematic fill include ORGANDY, LAMBASTE, BANYAN, COGENT, GASEOUS, and POSERS.  I was surprised to discover that ORGANDY (clued as "Prom-dress material" in Stephanie's puzzle), which appeared in at least four other pre-Shortzian puzzles and a Cox/Rathvon acrostic, has never been used in a Shortz-era New York Times crossword.  Maybe I'll work this entry into a crisp themeless . . . if it isn't sheer agony to get a corner with ORGANDY to fill cleanly!  Anyway, the rest of the nonthematic fill and the clues feel pretty standard for a pre-Shortzian puzzle.  There are a smattering of partials and a few pieces of hardcore crosswordese (ATLI, OTEA, etc.), but the puzzle still seems nice and solid on the whole.  And I find it fascinating that the contemporary clue for MARS ("Recent NASA target") still applies today.  Overall, I enjoyed seeing this Spadaccini opus, and I look forward to continuing to solve her more recent constructions!  The puzzle can be viewed and analyzed on XWord Info, though as always, I've included the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) below:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project Blog Wins First Place in Quill and Scroll Contest, Plus Jim Horne's Grid Discovery

First Place in 2014 Quill & Scroll Blogging Contest

This week I'm delighted and honored to announce that the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project blog won First Place in the Quill and Scroll 2014 International Writing and Photo Contest – Blogging Competition!  Quill and Scroll is an international high school journalism honorary society that encourages and recognizes individual student achievement in journalism.  This award came as a big surprise and means a great deal to me, because the blog has become a major part of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project effort and community.  The judges also made some great suggestions for the blog, which I'm planning to incorporate.  Thanks so much, Quill and Scroll!

It's been a busy week on both the litzing and proofreading fronts!  Saturday morning, Jeffrey Krasnick sent in a month of proofread puzzles, and then Sunday morning, new litzer Matt Skoczen sent in 1 puzzle.  Early Wednesday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles, and that night, Mark Diehl sent in his final 19 litzed puzzles, putting his grand total at an amazing 4,400 litzed puzzles—congratulations, Mark!  Early Thursday morning, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles, which were followed by 4 litzed puzzles from Larry Wasser later on; that evening, Mark sent in a week of proofread puzzles.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 2 months of proofread puzzles. We're now at 15,943 on the litzing thermometer and almost finished with the 1976 proofreading—thanks so much, everyone!

I've received a few more inquiries about proofreading, this week from John Bulten, Mark Diehl, Jim Modney, Susan O'Brien, and Larry Wasser.  If you'd like to try your hand at the proofreading self-test—which is chock-full of mistakes!—just send me an e-mail.

I also received an e-mail from Jim Horne of XWord Info this week with an interesting observation about pre-Shortzian grid designs:  Some constructors consistently used the exact same grids (with different fills, of course), which suggests that they might have had a slightly different philosophy about which themes to develop into puzzles.  Instead of building a puzzle around any theme that piqued their interest, Jim suggests that these constructors may have started with the constraint of an easy-to-fill grid and just tried to fit their best ideas into it.  Jim cited the example of prolific Maleska- and Weng-era constructor H. Hastings Reddall, who currently has 18 puzzles posted on XWord Info.  Reddall's four most recent constructions have identical grids, and the pentad before these use the same pattern as well.  Reddall's December 9, 1985, puzzle, with its scads of seven-letter words, has a distinct grid, but the eight puzzles he published before this one all use (drumroll, please!) the exact same grid skeleton!  Well, one of these puzzles includes an extra pair of cheater squares, but the grid's framework is pretty much the same.

I find it fascinating that many of the puzzles Reddall constructed using each of his three major grid patterns also have conspicuous thematic similarities.  Three of his four puzzles using "Grid #3" have patriotic themes:   the July 4, 1986, puzzle features the entries INDEPENDENCE DAY, STARS AND STRIPES, and STATUE OF LIBERTY; the September 17, 1987, puzzle features THE CONSTITUTION, THE LAW OF THE LAND, and ATTORNEY GENERAL; and the June 14, 1989, puzzle features AMERICAN FLAG DAY, STARS AND STRIPES, and RED WHITE AND BLUE.  Of the puzzles using "Grid #2," the more recent three have animal-related repeated word themes centered around CAT, DOG, and TAIL, respectively, and the other two have boys' names and girls' names themes (with entries such as ALFRESCO and RUTHLESS).  And of the puzzles using "Grid #1," four have patriotic themes similar to those described above, two have avian themes, and two have repeated-word themes centered around GOLD and THREE.  I wonder whether Reddall or either pre-Shortzian editor was aware of these commonalities.  Well, either way, it definitely appears that Reddall knew what Maleska and Weng were looking for!

Such stylistic patterns and Jim's enlightening proposition also make me wonder whether identifying the constructors of some authorless pre-Shortzian puzzles might be possible by construction style alone.  For example, I've seen many authorless, pangrammatic early-Weng and late-Farrar puzzles that scream William Lutwiniak.  Perhaps it would even be possible to write a computer program to spot geometric and thematic patterns and make educated guesses about the authorless puzzles' constructors!  All existing pre-Shortzian data could first be fed into the program and analyzed based on predetermined stylistic factors (number of theme entries, number of blocks, etc.).  The program would then return its best three or so guesses as to the author of each puzzle and state how confident it was (that is, how good of a match for the puzzle in question it found within the existing data) about its predictions.  I don't think automatically assuming that the computer program was correct would be a good idea, especially since constructors vary in terms of predictability and since it's quite possible that the spreadsheet doesn't currently represent the complete pool of published pre-Shortzian New York Times constructors, but such a program would certainly be interesting to experiment with.  The program might also be able to draw parallels between certain known constructors, which could be equally fascinating!  Thanks again, Jim, for bringing these similarities to my attention.

Today's featured puzzle, whose author is unknown, was published April 29, 1968, edited by Margaret Farrar, and litzed by Mark Diehl.  I've come across several pre-Shortzian word progression themes, but this is the only one I've seen so far that loops all the way around—that is, the last word in the final phrase of the progression (the GIRL from COVER GIRL) is also the first word in the initial phrase of the progression (the GIRL in GIRL GUIDE).  I'm amazed that the constructor was able to formulate a looping word progression theme with so many parts whose words and phrases, GIRL GUIDE, GUIDE LEFT, LEFT HAND, HANDBOOK, BOOK COVER, and COVER GIRL, all feel fresh and in-the-language . . . without computer software!  With so many theme entries, one would expect the nonthematic fill to show some major signs of strain, but for the most part, this puzzle feels as clean as (if not cleaner than) its contemporaries.  I particularly like the entries NEAR-EAST, MODISTE, DROPLETS, EMBOWER, and DROVERS!  The two ten-letter nonthematic downs, REINSTATED and GRAND RIVER (clued as "Michigan waterway."), aren't particularly exciting, but they hold the puzzle together nicely and lead to minimal junk in the middle and in the upper-right and lower-left corners.  The grid does contain a few entries, such as REIS ("Old Portuguese coins."), AWA ("Gone: Scot."), UNDE ("Wavy, in heraldry."), SAK ("Egyptian cotton."), and RAYA ("Sultan's subject."), that seem a bit esoteric, but the constructor did a nice job of spreading them out in the grid to reduce the likelihood of an unsolvable square.  Sarah SIDDONS was also a mystery to me, though I was able to find a lengthy write-up of this 18th century British actress in Britannica.  In all, this is an excellent pre-Shortzian crossword!  If I had to guess who this puzzle's constructor is, I would put my money on Sara V. Tuckerman.  Sara constructed a handful of other word progression puzzles with similar grid structures dating back to 1967, and I have yet to encounter a pre-Shortzian word progression puzzle constructed by someone else.  Here's this puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries):

I've seen a handful of clues in puzzles from the early to mid-1960s referencing the 1964 World's Fair, which was held in New York.  Wikipedia states that the theme of this fair was "peace through understanding" and that the Space Age, along with computers with punch cards (gasp!), was well-represented.  So what relics from this fair sneaked their way into Farrar-edited Times crossword puzzles?  Here's a complete list of the ones I've seen, though more will probably turn up once the 1964 puzzles are uploaded to XWord Info and can be clue-searched:
  • February 17, 1964 (constructed by S. A. Kay, litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh)
    • Clue:  Symbol of New York World's Fair.
    • Answer:  UNISPHERE
  • June 9, 1964 (litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Clue:  World's Fair goer.
    • Answer:  NEW YORKER
  • June 10, 1964 (litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Clue:  Fountain at the Fair.
    • Answer:  SOLAR
  • June 11, 1964 (litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
    • Clue:  Destination of a World's Fair voyage.
    • Answer:  MOON
  • June 24, 1964 (litzed by Denny Baker)
    • Clue:  World-famous word.
    • Answer:  FAIR
  • August 3, 1964 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  World's Fair specialty.
    • Answer:  SHOW
  • August 17, 1964 (litzed by Mark Diehl)
    • Clue:  World's Fair fun.
    • Answer:  RIDES
  • October 22, 1964 (litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh)
    • Clue:  World's Fair name.
    • Answer:  MOSES
  • April 14, 1965 (litzed by Mike Buckley)
    • Clue:  Hub of the World's Fair.
    • Answer:  UNISPHERE
There are several other clues that reference different world's fairs, but I'll save those for a future blog post.  For now, here's a picture of the iconic Unisphere:

Image courtesy of NYC Parks.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview with Charles M. Deber, New Litzer of the Month John Farmer, Susan O'Brien's Research, Howard Barkin's Crossword Compiler 9 Tip, and More Publicity

Today I'm delighted to present a fascinating interview with pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Charles M. Deber!  Charles is a research scientist in Toronto who has published 37 puzzles in The New York Times (35 of them Sundays!) and still builds his puzzles by hand.  To read his interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.

We also have a new Litzer of the Month:  John Farmer!  John is a New York Times constructor with many interests who runs more than 100 miles a month.  To read more about him, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Shortly after last week's post came up, John sent in 8 puzzles.  Then Friday evening, I litzed a reassigned Sunday puzzle and put us at 15,900 on the litzing thermometer!  Saturday afternoon, new litzer George Barany sent in 1 puzzle.  Sunday afternoon, Todd Gross sent in 11 proofread puzzles, which were followed that evening by 3 litzed puzzles from Mike Buckley.  Monday morning, new litzer Jon Delfin sent 1 puzzle, which was followed by 2 more from Lynn Feigenbaum that afternoon.  Then Thursday morning, Tracy Bennett sent in another month of proofread puzzles, and late that night, Mark Diehl sent in 12 more litzed puzzles.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in two more months of proofread puzzles!  Thanks so much again, everybody—we're now at 15,919 on the litzing thermometer!

Great news:  Two more litzers decided to try proofreading this week and received their first packets:  Jeffrey Krasnick and Lynn Feigenbaum!  We have thousands of puzzles that need proofreading, so please let me know if you'd like to try the fun but diabolical proofreading self-test!

This week some new bios came in for the Meet the Litzers page—the following people now appear there:  Stephen Edward Anderson, George Barany, Tracy Bennett, Peter Broda, Ralph Bunker, Jeff Chen, Mark Diehl, Vic Fleming, Mangesh Ghogre, Todd Gross, Barry Haldiman, Angela Halsted, Garrett Hildebrand, Nancy Kavanaugh, Roy Leban, Matthew Mitchell (Braze), Adam Nicolle, Doug Peterson, me, Alex Vratsanos, Larry Wasser, and Brad Wilber.  Some litzers and proofreaders who don't have bios on the Meet the Litzers page have appeared on the Litzer of the Month page or in articles elsewhere on the site.  If you're a litzer or proofreader who hasn't yet sent in a bio and photo specifically for the Meet the Litzers page and would like to, please e-mail them to me.  (Also, if you'd like to update your current bio, please send me the new information, and I'll make the changes.)

This week I received an e-mail from litzer Susan O'Brien, who decided to research the missing pre-Shortzian puzzles by querying the New York Public Library to see whether it had the International edition of The New York Times.  Unfortunately, she received this response:

"The New York Public Library only subscribes to the Late City edition. Even the microfilm collection of The New York Times is that of the Late City edition, as is the various database platforms (such as, the "ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) with Index (1851-1993)."

Even though this was a dead end, it was still very helpful, because it's one potential avenue we can cross off our list.  Thanks so much again for checking this out, Susan!  I'll be doing some more research myself this summer on the missing puzzles, and I'm hoping to have better news to report at a later date.

I also received an e-mail from litzer (and now proofreader!) Howard Barkin this week in which he shared the following very timely tip about Crossword Compiler 9:

A helpful note, grid mistakes can be corrected (In Crossword Compiler 9, at least) without further clue issues by enabling the option in Options->Preferences, Clue Editing tab, "Changing grid does not delete clue".

I don't know how many times I've found a grid mistake while proofreading, then corrected it (which deletes the affected clues), and then had to retype in the clues!  This is a great tip, Howard—thanks so much again!

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project got some more publicity yesterday!  It was part of an article Kasey Dallman wrote about the Davidson Fellows for Amazing Kids! Magazine—to read it, click here and scroll down.

Today's featured puzzle, "Playing the Angles," which can be solved on XWord Infowas constructed by Charles M. Deber, published April 4, 1982, and litzed by Barry Haldiman (or one of his former team of litzers).  This brilliant, complex construction, which was Charles's New York Times debut, features ten in-the-language, symmetrically arranged theme entries that relate to directions, bending around corners, or overcrowding, such as UP AGAINST THE WALL, AROUND THE HORN, and MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY.  The catch is that each of these entries turns 90 degrees midway through the entry and continues in a different direction!  I've seen puzzles with entries that twist and turn in more recent years, but I believe this puzzle is the earliest example of such a clever gimmick.  What's even more amazing is that this puzzle was constructed entirely by hand—it must have been a real challenge to produce a grid that accommodated for both the vertical and horizontal components of each theme entry!

Deber not only produced such a grid but also was able to make the fill largely junk-free!  I don't love the partials MILE A, AT EIGHT, or TO HER, and UME, RIE, RESCH, and GLOSSIC seem a bit tough, but these entries are a small price to pay for the groundbreaking theme and fun entries like HOT SPOT, TOUCANS, and PULSATES.  I also find it funny that 1-Across starts with a C and 5-Across is DEBAR (sort of like C. Deber!)—I wonder if this was intentional!  And although I'm not familiar with BOUFFES (clued as "Comic operas"), it's a lot of fun to say and looks really cool in the grid!  Merriam-Webster notes that BOUFFE is short for opéra bouffe, which means "a satirical comic opera" and ultimately derives from the Italian opera buffa.  The etymology of the word TRULL ("Strumpet"), an old-fashioned term for a woman of loose morals, is also fascinating—it ultimately derives from the Old French troller, which meant "to hunt for game without a scent or path."  At some point in the 1500s, someone must have interpreted the aimless hunter as the woman with loose morals and the game as the men she interacted with!  In all, this is a thematically exceptional pre-Shortzian puzzle that added several new words to my vocabulary.  The puzzle can be viewed and analyzed on XWord Info, where Jim Horne made this unusual gimmick look awesome!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can also be seen below, although the grid is numbered slightly differently in the PDF (and XWord Info) versions.