Friday, June 27, 2014

Project's Second Anniversary: At 16,000, Jim Modney's Correspondence with Eugene T. Maleska, and an Interview with Jim Modney Himself

Two years ago I started the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project with the goal of litzing and proofreading all the New York Times crossword puzzles published before Will Shortz became editor.  Little did I imagine that 24 months later, more than 60 people in the crossword community would have stepped forward to help with this effort and that together we would have litzed 16,000 of the 16,225 puzzles, with all remaining, locatable puzzles assigned to litzers—and, to top it all off, that we would have proofread nearly 20 years of puzzles!  The response from the crossword community has been incredible, and I'm so grateful to everyone who has helped to make this happen!  The recognition from outside the crossword community, from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development and Quill and Scroll, has also been very gratifying, showing that this momentous undertaking has value not just to cruciverbalists but to the world at large.  Thanks so much again, everyone, on the second anniversary of this project—maybe by next year at this time, we'll have made it through most, if not all, of the proofreading and have everything up on XWord Info!  And many, many thanks to XWord Info creator Jim Horne for continuing to host the pre-Shortzian puzzles so that everyone can enjoy and learn from them!

I'm especially honored and pleased on this anniversary to be publishing what may well be the most revealing record in existence of Eugene T. Maleska as an editor.  Thanks to pre-Shortzian and now Shortz-era constructor Jim Modney, the entire correspondence between Jim and Gene is now available, and Jim has generously allowed me to post it on Scribd.  This is truly an invaluable document, showing a little-recognized side to Maleska as both an editor and a person.  I encourage everyone to read it, even if your interactions with Maleska were less than ideal.  Click here for more.

I'm also thrilled to present an interview with Jim Modney himself.  Jim's story is fascinating—he took a 30-year break from constructing, and it's great to be able to solve his Scrabbly constructions with clever themes once again!  To read Jim's interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.

Thanks so much again, Jim, for saving all your correspondence and making it and your interview available to the crossword world on the second anniversary of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!

Although Jim Modney did an excellent job of describing all his puzzles, I'm still going to highlight one this week.  Today's featured Modney opus was published Saturday, September 12, 1981; edited by Eugene T. Maleska; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  It's a splendid pangrammatic 70-worder that even contains a minitheme!  The minitheme, which consists of QUARTERFINALIST and HALFHEARTEDNESS, is fractions contained in larger (15-letter, in this case) phrases.  Jim added multiple levels of consistency to his minitheme by placing the two fractions at the fronts of his theme entries and by ensuring that both theme entries are single words.  As for the nonthematic fill, Jim squeezed in tons of fresh, Scrabbly entries without having to use a large number of subpar ones, which is very impressive given that the grid is so wide open!  My favorite entries include EQUINOX, GUANACO (which gets far less attention than CAMEL or LLAMA), EXOTICISM, EJECTABLE, BENZENE, and JOKER!  I don't love GIRTS (clued as "Measures the circumference"), LATESTS ("Avant-garde styles"), or SYCES ("Indian attendants"), but all three of these entries were used in other pre-Shortzian puzzles (in the case of SYCES, in the singular).  The real trade-off with the fill is that the grid has a handful of cheater squares, but I think Jim made a good call in going for the cleaner fill rather than for the less chunky grid.  All in all, this is a fantastic pre-Shortzian puzzle with a strong minitheme and minimal junk in the fill!  The puzzle can be viewed or solved on XWord Info; also, as usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

In closing, here's a quick update on the past week.  Saturday morning Andrew Reynolds sent 4 litzed puzzles.  A few hours later, Todd Gross sent 12 proofread puzzles, and then that afternoon, Nancy Kavanaugh sent 24 litzed puzzles.  Sunday evening, Ed Sessa sent in 7 more, putting us at exactly 16,000 on the litzing thermometer!  Late Thursday night, Todd sent 15 proofread puzzles, which were followed Friday afternoon by 30 more from Larry Wasser.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Crossword Talk in Newport Beach, Theme Challenge Solution and Solvers, and Todd Gross's Irene Smullyan Find

On Monday I'll be giving a crossword talk about the project and other cruciverbalist matters at the Newport Beach Public Library—if any of you are in the Orange County area, I hope to see you there!  For more details, click here.

This past week I put out a call to litzers with puzzles—my hope is that we'll have all the litzed puzzles back by the end of August.  Todd McClary sent in 4 litzed puzzles Saturday morning, putting the litzing thermometer total at 15,965.  Then early Tuesday morning, Denny Baker sent 31 proofread puzzles, which were followed by 9 from Todd Gross on Wednesday morning.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 30 proofread puzzles.  Now that summer vacations are getting under way, the puzzles may come in a bit more slowly, but we're still making great progress!  Thanks so much again, everyone! 

Last week I also wrote about the pre-Shortzian theme challenge Jim Horne had suggested.  I think this one stumped a lot of solvers—Tyler Hinman was the first of only 7 people who wrote in with the correct solution!  Congratulations to the following ace puzzlers, listed in the order in which I received their responses:

Tyler Hinman

Jeffrey Harris
Howard Barkin
Nicholas Harvey
Todd Gross
Lynn Feigenbaum
Ben Zimmer

For everyone who's still wondering about this poser, here's an explanation:

Each of the "theme words" in this Mother's Day puzzle can follow the word MOTHER if a letter is added:

Theme word #1:  (M)ACHREE
Theme word #2:  GO(O)SE
Theme word #3:  (T)ERESA
Theme word #4:  EART(H)
Theme word #5:  TONGU(E)
Theme word #6:  OF PEA(R)L

The six missing letters spell MOTHER.  The title refers to the song lyric "Put them altogether and they spell mother."  I found a link to the song on YouTube.

Thanks again, Jim, for this great idea, and I'll definitely be adding an explanation in the PS Notes section of this puzzle's XWord Info page soon so future generations of solvers aren't at sea!

This week Todd Gross wrote in with another update on his research about pre-Shortzian constructors—specifically, Irene Smullyan, the pre-Shortzian constructor who authored last week's challenge!  Here's his report:

I took this opportunity to try looking up Irene Smullyan on Ancestry and elsewhere on the Internet.  I found several things, but it started with a quote from her in the NY Times Sunday Crossword Tribute to ETM.  Here's the quote:

I am delighted to pay my tribute to Dr. Maleska, whom I admired tremendously.  Although our relationship always stayed professional, he managed to infuse it with a personal quality that made me feel as if I knew him as a friend.  When I was a beginner, his generous advice and encouragement enabled me to become a published puzzlemaker.

He was unique in his perfect integrity and uncomprising [sic] adherence to the highest standards.  His literacy, his vast knowledge, and his obvious love of language made me, in creating my puzzles, always strive for perfection, and his praise (rare enough) was an absolute triumph.

—Irene Smullyan, Mamaroneck, NY

So that was my starting point.  I found several scattered bits of information, it took some time (and luck) to piece it all together.  So here's what I can tell you.

She was born Irene Lapouse on 24 Jan 1917 to Russian immigrant parents near Boston.  She had an older sister Rema who was born around 1912, so Rema emigrated Russia with her parents Alexander and Sophie in 1914.  So right about 100 years ago . . . and right about when WW I started.

Irene majored in biology at Harvard and later went on to do cancer research.  I found a few research papers that mentioned her.  The first one I'm linking to says she gave "technical assistance," so I'm guessing she was working at Sloan Kettering at the time (1980).

The second one has her as a co-author . . . but all I've got is the title.  If I join Research Gate I might be able to get the full article.  That paper was from 1973.

In her personal life, she married Robert Sloan Smullyan in Maine in March of 1940.  Robert was an artist of some renown.  Enough to have his own web site.

That site says he "continues to live" in Duxbury, MA . . . but actually, he doesn't.  He passed away on 30 Nov 2013.

Irene passed away 22 Apr 2007 in Duxbury.  Alas, I haven't found an obituary for her yet.  But I found something else that might just be better.  A book she wrote.  A book of poetry.

The book came out in 2005, so not long before she passed away.  In the introduction (you, as I did, can read from it by clicking on the book cover image [on]), she thanks Eugene Maleska, so no doubt this is the right person.

Finally, a question I was hoping to answer when I started this search.  Was she related to the puzzle legend Raymond Smullyan?  I knew him from a book he did called The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, which was a book of retrograde analysis chess problems.  Of course, I know now they're not blood relatives, but Robert's obit mentions a Raymond Smullyan.  Raymond was born in 1919 in Far Rockaway, NY; Robert was born in NYC in 1915.  So they might be related.  But I can't tie the Raymond I know to Elka Park, so at this point I'm skeptical.

Thanks so much for this fascinating update, Todd!  It is indeed very interesting that Raymond Smullyan was a puzzler too.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pre-Shortzian Theme Challenge . . . and a Look at the Changing Times

It's been another busy week on the proofreading front!  Friday night, Mark Diehl sent in 11 proofread puzzles, then another 11 Sunday morning and another 28 that night!  Monday night, he sent 23 more puzzles, which were followed by 10 from Todd Gross Tuesday morning.  Tuesday afternoon, Barry Haldiman solved and sent 3 litzed puzzles for which we didn't have solutions.  Early Thursday, Mike Buckley sent in 7 more litzed puzzles that had been reassigned, and then that afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 4 more litzed puzzles, putting us at 15,961 on the litzing thermometer.  Thursday night, Todd sent in 11 more proofread puzzles.  We're making terrific progress—thanks so much, everyone!

In other news, numerous people have written to Jim Horne and Jeff Chen of XWord Info about Irene Smullyan's "Put Them All Together" crossword, which was published late in the Maleska era on May 9, 1993.  This puzzle has a bizarre theme that has stumped many people (including me and Jeff), but Jim was able to figure it out, and he suggested that I challenge readers of this blog to provide a complete explanation of the theme!  If you're able to figure out this puzzle's enigmatic theme and haven't previously seen or solved this puzzle, send me an e-mail.  In next week's blog post, I'll list the names of everyone who submitted a correct solution!

Today's featured puzzle, "Then and Now," was constructed by Ted Dombras; published May 19, 1963; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  This fascinating construction reflects on the changing times via numerous clues containing the words "then" (referring to the '20s) or "now"/"today" (the '60s)—I counted a mind-blowing 37 theme entries, including four stacked "pairs" that provide a direct comparison between these two decades!  Below, I've listed the fascinating "then" and "now" clues/entries in the order in which they appear in the puzzle, as well as the direct comparisons and other decade-specific entries that don't necessarily contain "then" or "now"/"today" in their clues:

Beatniks' rendezvous. (COFFEEHOUSE)
Jazz Age rendezvous. (SPEAKEASIES)
Garb of the 1960's. (WASH-AND-WEAR)
Garb of the 1920's. (RACCOON COAT)
Actor today. (LADD)
Actor today. (COTTEN)
TV name today. (LAWFORD)
Poet and critic then and now. (TATE)
"The Bridge of ___ Luis Rey," 1927. (SAN)
Front page name then and now. (ROCKEFELLER)
Singer then and now. (SINATRA)
Irish author then and now. (O'CASEY)
Famous fielder now. (MAYS)
Paavo Nurmi then. (ATHLETE)
Mrs. Kennedy then. (BOUVIER)
Lindbergh's flight. (SOLO)
Ring name now. (SONNY LISTON)
Ring name then. (PANCHO VILLA) [Very nice use of two meanings of "ring"!]
Comic then and now. (MICKEY MOUSE)
Comedian then and now. (EDDIE CANTOR)
Sailor then. (GOB)
Sound of the 1920's. (ROAR)
"Story of ___ Whiteley," 1920. (OPAL)
Front page name, May 21, 1927. (SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS)
Astaire's partner then. (ADELE)
Big shoulder item then. (PAD)
Tax burden now: Abbr. (IRS)
Front page name now. (CASTRO)
Popular role then. (LIL)
Actor then, actor now. (DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS)
Dancer then. (SALLY RAND)
Best seller, 1923. (ANTIC HAY)
Coalition today. (SEATO)
The Twenties. (YEARS)
Dr. Kildare then. (AYRES)

The constructor did an amazing job of squeezing in so many theme entries, but what's even more impressive is that he produced a clean nonthematic fill around them!  I particularly like TORQUE, SNIFFLE, MOTORCARS, YES SIR, and RAZZED, and I appreciate how this puzzle is relatively free of obscurities, partials, and contrived words/phrases, although there are a few ugly abbreviations, such as ULTO ("Relative of inst.") and SMC ("Printer's abbreviation.").  The strangest entries in the grid are FIORITO ("Flowery: It.") and CONATUS ("Striving."), but FIORITO has a nice sound to it, and I was immediately able to recognize that CONATUS came from the Latin conor, meaning "I try."  All in all, this is an excellent pre-Shortzian puzzle from the solving, construction, and historical perspectives!  The answer grid (without highlighted theme entries, thank you very much!) can be seen below:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Eileen Bush Pazos, June Litzer of the Month Brian Kulman, and Update on Todd Gross's Research

This week I'm delighted to present an interview with pre-Shortzian (and now Shortz-era!) constructor Eileen Bush Pazos!  On June 22, 1969, Eileen published the amazing "Space Madness" puzzle (which I featured on September 6, 2013) commemorating man's landing on the moon.  Her second submission was rejected by Will Weng, and she began making crosswords for corporations and her hometown newspapers.  Recently, after a 10-year hiatus from constructing, she built another puzzle and submitted it to The New York Times.  Although the puzzle wasn't accepted, Will Shortz thought I might be interested in talking to Eileen.  I definitely was, and her story is fascinating!  To read the interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.  Thanks so much again, Eileen and Will!

We're now into June, and we have a new Litzer of the Month:  Brian Kulman!  Brian is a solver and rock climber who has made an intriguing analogy between crossword solving and bouldering!  To read more about Brian, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

The proofreading is now going full-steam ahead!  On Saturday afternoon, Mark Diehl sent in 17 proofread puzzles, then 25 more that night, then another 24 later on!  Sunday morning, he sent 15 more, which were followed by 6 from Todd Gross; late that night, Mark sent 30 more.  On Monday morning, Barry Haldiman sent in 2 litzed puzzles.  Tuesday morning, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles.  Wednesday afternoon, he sent 10 more, which were followed by 31 more from Mark and then 11 more from Todd that night.  Thursday night, Mark sent 31 more puzzles, and Todd sent 10 more.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 30 proofread puzzles too.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!  (If anyone else is interested in joining the proofreading effort, please contact me for the proofreading self-test—we have many more puzzles to go!) 

This past week researcher, litzer, and proofreader Todd Gross made several more exciting discoveries!  He learned that pre-Shortzian constructor Threba Johnson, whom he knew from previous searching was born in 1912 and passed away in 2000 in Norwalk, Connecticut, and had lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, was born Threbe Daneje Leveque in Beverly, Massachusetts.  Todd writes:

Her family lived in a town called Wenham, MA where her father worked as an "inventor" at a machine shop.  "Inventor" is the best I could make out, but he was salaried, so not just an apprentice or low-level worker.  Her father Bernard immigrated to the US from Canada in 1891, her mother Bertha also came from Canada, about 1890.  The were naturalized in 1916.  I know she married David Johnson, who died before her, but not much else there.

More interesting, I have two passenger records for her.  One in 1932 (when she was 19) sailing from LA to NYC.  She was traveling alone.  A second one in 1935 from Boulogne, France to NYC, also traveling alone.  Both were under Leveque, so she hadn't married yet.

Todd also found more information on pre-Shortzian constructor Hume R. Craft, whose full name was Hume Richter Craft.  Hume R. Craft was born in Watertown, New York, in 1912 and died in Aurora, Colorado, in 1981.  He is buried in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Todd writes:

I have a WW II draft card for him, at that time (1940) he was living in Hickory, NC, where he was a teacher at Claremont Central High.  The school actually has its own Wikipedia page. . . .

I'm not sure exactly how he came to work at Oak Ridge as a "health physicist," but you have to remember Oak Ridge was a top secret facility in WW II. . . . I found a family tree at that includes him, and shows he had two sons. . . .

Todd also found a New York Times obituary for pre-Shortzian constructor Anne Fox.  He notes:

[A]las, the story pretty much ends there.  I don't even know if Fox is her married name or maiden name.  Nevertheless, I can tell you she was born 9 Jul 1911.

Todd found more information on pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Tap (Stafford P.) Osborn as well:

[H]e was born Stafford Palmer Osborn 13 May 1923 in Nice, France to American parents.  He served in the military during WW II (at the time he enlisted he was manufacturing autos), after the war he went into the silversmith business near Boston.  With this, and some luck, I found his obituary.  It's only a preview, the original is from the Boston Globe . . . and behind a paywall. . . .

Even better, I managed to find another article about him . . . from 1957!  With a picture!!

According to Bramesco & Lasher, he didn't get into crossword constructing until 1972, then became rather obsessed with it and gained rapid success.  So it's pretty neat to have an article about him from 15 years before that all happened.

Todd also made a very interesting discovery about pre-Shortzian constructor Alvin Ashby:

I know Alvin Ashby has had at least 1 puzzle in the NYT (11 Oct 1942).  I also knew he was from Utah because it was mentioned in the S&S 75th anniversary volume.  I also found a couple of articles online mentioning math games by an Alvin Ashby of Bountiful, which is in Utah.  Those were in 1956.  I found several of his puzzles online, starting in 1932 and going until 1973.

Well, Ancestry[.com] points to one person named Alvin Jordan Ashby who was born in Taylorsville, UT in 1901 and died in Bountiful in 1979.  I found records of him in the 1910, 20, 30, and 40 census.  I found other information in sources about where he lived and what he did.

And with some nice sleuthing and more than a bit of luck, I found an obituary for this man.  There's just one little problem: not a bit of this biographical info mentions anything about crosswords or puzzles, which seems very odd given how many Mr. Ashby created and for how long.

I only found 1 other person with a similar name in this locale, and I'm pretty sure it isn't him.  This guy fits in terms of dates, but his main occupation was a farmer.  But he was also a high priest and secretary of the local ward, and the picture of him sports glasses.

Alvin Ashby

I think this is our man . . . but it's frustrating that I can't make the connection.  Possibly I could find someone who knew him (he married but appears to have had no children).

Further research turned up another article on Alvin Ashby, making that connection between the farmer and the crossword constructor.

Thanks again for all this great research on pre-Shortzian constructors, Todd!