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.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats! I remember what a big deal Quill and Scroll was back in my high school days...