Friday, August 29, 2014

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge—Plus More Todd Gross Research

Project Update

It's been an amazing week on the proofreading front, with approximately six more months done!  The puzzles started coming in Tuesday evening, when Mark Diehl sent a batch of 31.  Early Wednesday morning, he sent 28 more, then another 31 late that afternoon and 31 more Thursday morning!  Whew!  An hour or so later, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Then Thursday night, Mark sent 29 more—and then another 24!  Thanks so much again, Mark and Todd—great job!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge

While we're on the subject of proofreading, recently I've been thinking about ways to increase our speed without compromising accuracy.  To this end, I've come up with what should be another fun contest—the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge!  Unlike the litzing contests, though, the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge won't be about speed.  The goal won't be to proofread as many puzzles as possible but to find as many mistakes as possible.  So it will be to your advantage to proofread slowly and carefully.  Obviously, though, the more puzzles you proofread, the more mistakes you'll find!  Here are the rules:

1.  The contest will run from September 1, 2014, until 11:59 p.m. on October 31, 2014.
2.  The minimum number of puzzles each contestant must proofread is 30 (one month, roughly speaking)
3.  Contestants should follow the style rules outlined in the proofreading guide.  If you've never proofread before, you'll need to own Crossword Compiler and contact me first for the proofreading self-test.
4.  Reporting of the number of mistakes found will be on the honor system, so you'll keep your own tally and report it when you return your proofread puzzles.  I'll keep a running total of the mistakes found on the Contest Totals page so you'll be able to see how your total stacks up against other totals.
5.  Logical groupings of mistakes will count as one mistake.  An example of this would be if you discover three missing ellipsis points; this would count as one mistake, not three.  Another example might be an underscore that is two lines too long; deleting the extra two lines would count as one mistake, not two.  Adding missing quotation marks would also count as one mistake, not two.  You get the idea.  It's definitely possible to find more than one mistake in a clue, but they have to be clearly different mistakes.  An example might be a misspelled name, followed by an incorrect punctuation mark; that would count as two mistakes.
5.  Prizes will be as follows:
1st Prize:  All prizes listed below
2nd Prize:  $25 Amazon gift card
3rd Prize:  A surprise pre-Shortzian artifact from my collection
Random Prize:  A Puzzazz e-book of your choice
I'll announce the contest again on September 1—just a few days away!  Until then, enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Todd Gross's Research

In addition to continuing with proofreading, Todd has been busy researching again and has come up with some great finds about three pre-Shortzian constructors, two of whom were women.

Diana Sessions

The first is Diana Sessions, who published at least 70 pre-Shortzian puzzles in The New York Times and about whom Todd wrote:
She was born Diana Robinson in Anniston, AL on 2 Oct 1922 and passed away 14 Feb (Valentine's Day) Anniston, AL.  My sense is she never lived anywhere else.  In the interim, she married Lewe Sessions on 29 Jul 1942 and raised 4 children.
And yes, the R in Diana R Sessions stands for Robinson.
I haven't found an obituary yet, but I found two articles about her.  Both are from The Anniston Star.  One, from 4 Feb 1968, is a bio that describes her work with crosswords.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]  It also has a nice picture of her, with one of her daughters.  By my count, she would have been 45 at the time. . . .
Diana Sessions (right).  Image courtesy of
  The Anniston Star.
Even more interesting, however, is the other article I found, printed on 29 Dec 1974.  Apparently, she was something of an amateur astrologer (one wonders how she found time to do this with raising 4 children and limiting herself to 4 crosswords a year) . . . , and at least according to the article, a pretty good one.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]  I'm sure they're cherry-picking the better results, but if people kept going to her to foretell their future, she can't have been too bad at it.
Todd added later:
I'm looking at her 1940 Census record.  It says she had 1 year of college at age 17...but I suspect that's a transcription error.  It also says her parents have no income from their jobs...and neither do a lot of other working folk on that page.  Strange.
Nancy Scandrett Ross

The second female constructor Todd reports on is Nancy Scandrett Ross, who published 34 or more pre-Shortzian puzzles (and 22 Shortz-era constructions) in the Times.  Todd wrote:
The Who's Who bio mentions her being born in NYC, attending Smith College, her career, retiring and moving to Eugene, OR, etc.  But it said nothing about living in Georgia in 1940 when the census was taken.  And her father wasn't living with them.  And none of them apparently worked.  Interesting.
Even better, I got a picture of her from the 1952 Smith College catalog, the year she graduated.  I'm enclosing the picture.  It's really nice putting a face to a name.  I'm really glad Jim Horne came up with idea of having pictures of constructors.
Nancy Scandrett [Ross].  Image cour-
tesy of Smith College.

Bert H. Kruse

Finally, Todd found the following information about pre-Shortzian constructor Bert H. Kruse, who published 63 known pre-Shortzian puzzles in the Times:
Bert Kruse is a modestly common name, and I really didn't have anything beyond his/her name to work with.  But with some effort, and some real luck, I can now confirm that Bert is indeed a he, and has in fact passed away. . . .  And the reason I can confirm it is I found an online obituary for him that mentions he constructed crossword puzzles.  [Ed.:  Click here to read it.]
Thanks so much again, Todd, for all this terrific research!  It really helps bring the pre-Shortzian constructors to life!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Geography Quiz . . . and More Funny Typos

Project Update

The summer heat must be affecting this project's progress—the litzers and proofreaders are on fire!  Early Sunday morning, Todd Gross sent in 10 proofread puzzles.  Then just before noon, Denny Baker sent 28 more.  On Tuesday morning, Denny sent 7 reassigned litzed puzzles, and that night, Todd sent 10 more proofread puzzles.  Wednesday morning, Denny sent another 4 reassigned litzed puzzles, putting us at 16,049 on the litzing thermometer and moving into 5th place in the litzer totals—congratulations, Denny!  Great job, everyone, and thanks for another exciting week!

Geography Quiz

I've come across numerous unusual geographical entries in pre-Shortzian puzzles, so I thought putting together a little quiz with some of the more bizarre-sounding ones would be fun!  I've listed ten such geographical names along with their original clues below; your job is to match each of these names to its picture using only the information provided by the clues, names, and hints in the photo.  (The pictures are in a random order, of course!)  The answers are at the end of this post—can you get all ten correct?  Please feel free to post your scores as comments.

  1. Arkhangelsk
    • Date:  December 27, 1942
    • Constructor:  Alexis P. Boodberg
    • Litzer:  Alex Vratsanos
    • Clue:  U.S.S.R.'s great Arctic seaport.
  2. Kirkcudbrightshire
    • Date:  October 8, 1950
    • Constructor:  Harold T. Bers
    • Litzer:  Anonymous
    • Clue:  Southern Scottish County.
  3. Westmoreland
    • Date:  March 13, 1960
    • Constructor:  Hume R. Craft
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Virginia county, Washington's birthplace.
  4. Campobello
    • Date:  February 3, 1961
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Famous island in Passamaquoddy Bay.
  5. Colmar
    • Date:  February 26, 1961
    • Constructor:  Roberta H. Morse
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Small city in E. France.
  6. Suakin
    • Date:  April 30, 1960
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Sudanese port on Red Sea.
  7. Sakhalin
    • Date:  December 26, 1961
    • Constructor:  Arthur Schulman
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Island N of Japan.
  8. Zanesville
    • Date:  January 29, 1962
    • Constructor:  Bettie Lou Fisher
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Ohio pottery center.
  9. Araxá
    • Date:  June 9, 1962
    • Constructor:  John Byrne
    • Litzer:  Ralph Bunker
    • Clue:  Brazilian spa.
  10. Anticosti
    • Date:  October 10, 1962
    • Constructor:  Unknown
    • Litzer:  Mark Diehl
    • Clue:  Island at mouth of St. Lawrence River

Picture 1 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 2 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 3 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 4 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Picture 5 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 6 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 7 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 8 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 9 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Picture 10 (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published May 26, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  As I mentioned last week, I've been seeing increasingly fewer themed puzzles as I review packets from further and further back in time, so seeing even repeated word themes every once in a while is refreshing.  It's a real treat, however, when I come across a consistent, genuinely interesting theme from the early '60s, particularly in a daily crossword!  This themed puzzle contains six symmetrical entries that start or end with something related to light but that aren't merely examples of that light source, such as LANTERN JAW and TULIP BULBS.  The theme does have a few inconsistencies:  TULIP BULBS is the only theme entry that contains a plural light source (and also the only one that ends with a light source), and LAMPEDUSA is the only theme entry that is completely unrelated to its light source.  Despite these minor faults, the theme feels strong for its time, and the theme entries, which skew on the lively side, interlock elegantly.  The fill also feels better than average, which is even more impressive given that the puzzle contains six theme entries!  My favorite nonthematic entries include SKYLARK, SHOWCASE, BIGWIG, TWIRLERS, and STEW POT, and the only entry I haven't seen before or heard of is AKYAB (Burma port on the Bay of Bengal.).  (Note to self:  Put Akyab in a future geography quiz!)  This puzzle has some interesting clues as well, such as "Panjandrum, modern style." for BIGWIG and the contemporary "Senator from Hawaii." for FONG and "Astronomer's measure." for LIGHT YEAR.  All in all, this is a very impressive themed early '60s puzzle!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Funny Typos

Before I present the answers to the Geography Quiz, here are some more typos our proofreaders found amusing:
  • Entry:  ACE
    • Right:  Red Baron, e.g.
    • Wrong:  Red Baton, e.g.
  • Entry:  ADAMIC
    • Right:  Of an early man.
    • Wrong:  Off an early man.
  • Entry:  ASSET
    • Right:  Item in the black
    • Wrong:  Item in the back
  • Entry:  CARNE
    • Right:  Chili con ___
    • Wrong:  Chile con ___
  • Entry:  CLONE
    • Right:  Product of asexual reproduction.
    • Wrong:  Produce of asexual reproduction.
  • Entry:  HEALTH FOOD
    • Right:  Diet store sign
    • Wrong:  Diet score sign
  • Entry:  LOBE
    • Right:  Ear part
    • Wrong:  Ear art
  • Entry:  NELL
    • Right:  Mistress Quickly
    • Wrong:  Mistress Quigley
  • Entry:  REALTY
    • Right:  Estate; property
    • Wrong:  Estate; properly
  • Entry:  STY
    • Right:  Porcine abode
    • Wrong:  Porcine adobe
The CLONE typo was pretty funny, but my favorite of these has to be the NELL one!  Now it's time for BEQ's mistress to become more famous so we constructors can have another NELL clue (if NELL Quigley did become more famous, we all know who the first constructor to put her in a puzzle would be, of course!).  Below is a painting that includes Mistress Quickly:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Answers to Geography Quiz

Finally, here are the answers to the Geography Quiz:

Arkhangelsk:  Picture 9
Kirkcudbrightshire:  Picture 7
Westmoreland:  Picture 8
Campobello:  Picture 5
Colmar:  Picture 10
Suakin:  Picture 1
Sakhalin:  Picture 3
Zanesville:  Picture 2
Araxá:  Picture 4
Anticosti:  Picture 6

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ralph Bunker's Awesome Solving Animations, Reflections on Early '60s Crosswords, and Funny Typos

Project Update

This week has been relatively calm in terms of progress on the project . . . that is, since Category 5 Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project Hurricane Mark swept through!  Mark Diehl sent 61 proofread puzzles Saturday night and requested six more months' worth, which was a thrilling after-the-flood event!  Thanks so much, Mark, and keep up the great work, everyone—I'm looking forward to receiving more litzed and proofread puzzles this coming week as we make our way through the dog days of August!

Ralph Bunker's Awesome Solving Animations

In other news, litzer extraordinaire/programming whiz Ralph Bunker created a new section of his Web site for the pre-Shortzian puzzles!  He plans to create an animation of himself solving a new pre-Shortzian puzzle a day, an ambitious goal that he feels will ultimately make him a better solver.  For those of you interested in solving or immersing yourselves further in the pre-Shortzian puzzles, following Ralph's regimen by solving the same puzzles he does could be a great way to get exposed to them on a regular basis.  Ralph makes following in his footsteps especially convenient by providing a direct link to the XWord Info page where each pre-Shortzian puzzle he works on can be solved!  The animations themselves are pretty nifty—they show exactly how long Ralph spent staring at each clue before entering the correct (or incorrect) answer; his personal comments about particularly interesting clues; and, ultimately, the duration of time he spent wrestling with each puzzle.  I think Ralph's "stare-time" is the most insightful feature of his animations—it can be a excellent indicator of whether a particular clue was appropriately written for its target difficulty level.  For example, a clue that didn't cause Ralph to skip a beat in a Saturday puzzle may have been too straightforward; on the flip side, a clue that flummoxed him for more than a minute in a Monday puzzle may have been inappropriately challenging.  It would be interesting to crunch these numbers and try to break down the true transparency of individual crossword clues rather than rely on approximations in existing clue databases and past puzzles.  To access Ralph's animations, follow this link and click on "Solution animations from the Pre-Shortzian epoch."  The "Fast forward" button makes Ralph's solve appear in a video-like format, and the other three main buttons allow you to sort the entries in different ways.  Thanks for breathing some new life into these puzzles, Ralph!

Picture of Ralph's pre-Shortzian animations page 

Reflections on Early '60s Crosswords

Now that I'm nearly finished reviewing packets of litzed puzzles from the early '60s, I've had some time to assemble my thoughts on how puzzles changed during this tumultuous decade.  The biggest observation I've made is that, not surprisingly, many fewer themed puzzles were published during the early '60s.  I've come to believe that 1961 was the pivotal year for Sunday puzzles in terms of themes—almost all the Sunday puzzles I've seen from more recent years have had themes, and nearly all the ones I've seen earlier than mid-1961 have been themeless.  One thing that surprises me is that themeless puzzles of the early '60s seem, on a whole, to be smoother and more ambitious than those in the late Farrar, Weng, and even Maleska eras!  Although most early '60s themelesses still had 74 or more words, I've started seeing an increasing number of themelesses that have 70-, 68-, or even 66-words.  In the Sunday department, I've seen some wonderfully open grids with seas of white in their centers or sparkly stacks of 9-, 10-, and 11-letter entries in their corners that had the same quantity of sub-par fill as their wordier counterparts!  These trends seem to hold and even become more prevalent in the few packets of '50s puzzles I've reviewed.  What could explain this apparent decline in smoothness and ambitiousness of themeless puzzles?  One theory I came up with is that after themes really caught on, constructors became so accustomed to filling grids with higher word counts that they fell out of practice working with more open ones.  Hand-constructing a puzzle with, say, a simple repeated word theme in a 78-word grid is much easier than trying to pack lively entries into a highly ambitious grid; perhaps many constructors no longer saw the point of filling fresh, open themeless grids when themed puzzles were just as easy (if not easier) to market.  Another possible explanation is that the generation of '50s constructors was simply phased out by an influx of newcomers who wanted to experiment more with themes.  Either way, I find this fascinating, and I look forward to seeing what other trends surface as I continue to review packets from earlier on!

Featured Puzzle

This week's featured puzzle (whose constructor is unknown) was published May 30, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl.  The 68-worder is one of numerous early '60s themelesses that have made me think, "How did the constructor build this by hand?"  The first thing I noticed was its wide-open corners:  The constructor stacked three 10-letter entries (which was rather unusual for a pre-Shortzian puzzle) and even went so far as to cross it with a second triple-stack of 8- and 9-letter entries (something I've never seen in a pre-Shortzian puzzle!).  Then I noticed the lovely swath of 6- and 7-letter entries that cross each stack on the other side.  When I was done admiring these parts of the grid, my eyes traveled to the upper right and lower left corners, which stand out as being almost inelegantly closed-off and easy to fill.  For some inexplicable reason, these corners remind me of the unnaturally delicate arms of the otherwise mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.  In any case, the grid has an incredibly smooth fill for its time—I especially like how this puzzle screams 1961 by including PEACE CORPS (clued as "Subject of a recent Executive Order.") and ATOMIC AGE ("It began in 1945.") in the upper left alone!  Other entries I really appreciated seeing were PTOLEMY, EXTROVERTS, CONCERTINA, the quaint BETWIXT, STALWARTS, and MINIATURE.  That's a lot of zing for a 68-word grid!  I also appreciated that this puzzle taught me some awesome-sounding new words and terms, such as PISIFORM ("Resembling peas in size and shape."), STORIATION ("Ornamentation with designs of historical scenes."), SIDERAL ("Relating to the stars: Rare."), and SWEET SAINT ("Richard III's appellation for Lady Anne.").  Even the clues seem to sparkle, from the then-current ones for ISRAEL and ADLAI ("13-year-old republic." and "First name at the U. N.," respectively) to the extra-effort ones for SNOB and BABEL ("Word that originally meant a 'commoner.'" and "Site of a tower 'whose top may reach unto heaven.'," respectively).  What's even more impressive about this puzzle is that there's hardly any shorter junk—it's pretty much limited to LAWD ("De ___, character in Green Pastures."), RASC ("Service Corps of the British Army: Abbr."), RATAL ("Amount on which taxes are assessed."), and a smattering of less-common foreign terms (such as PASSY, BANDERA, and DROLES).  In all, this puzzle is truly remarkable for its time!  I've pasted the solution grid below.

Funny Typos

To close off today's post, here are some funny typos that our proofreaders have diligently caught and recorded:
  • Entry:  ADORE
    • Right:  Antonym for abhor
    • Wrong:  Antonym for adore
  • Entry:  AIRS
    • Right:  Affectations
    • Wrong:  Affections
  • Entry:  EDOM
    • Right:  Biblical kingdom
    • Wrong:  Biblical kindom
  • Entry:  ELEGY
    • Right:  Gray's churchyard opus
    • Wrong:  Gray's graveyard opus
  • Entry:  ELOGE
    • Right:  Praise for the dead
    • Wrong:  Praise for the deed
  • Entry:  INSTATED
    • Right:  Put in office
    • Wrong:  Putin office
  • Entry:  LEX
    • Right:  Roman statute
    • Wrong:  Roman statue
  • Entry:  MATE
    • Right:  Husband or wife
    • Wrong:  Husband of wife
  • Entry:  PROS
    • Right:  Golf V.I.P.'s
    • Wrong:  Gold V.I.P.'s
  • Entry:  TRAP
    • Right:  Place for a golf ball
    • Wrong:  Place for a golf club
Proofreader Todd Gross thought the last funny typo was particularly amusing; as he put it, "I'm imagining a frustrated golfer throwing their club into a sand trap (not hard to imagine, actually)."  Here's a picture of a golf club that's definitely seen better days:

Image courtesy of

Friday, August 8, 2014

Interview with Ed Julius, 1973 Puzzles Up, Call for Proofreaders, Proofed vs. Unproofed Puzzles, and a Surprising Entry

Interview with Ed Julius

This week I'm delighted to present an interview with pre-Shortzian constructor Ed Julius!  Ed is a professor of business administration at California Lutheran University whose specialty is financial accounting and . . . crossword puzzles!  To read more about Ed, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above—and be sure to check out this week's featured puzzle below, which he published in 1974, as well as the interview's links to downloadable PDFs of two of his favorite puzzles!

Project Update

Great news:  The proofread puzzles from 1973 are now up on XWord Info, thanks to Jim Horne—we've finished 21 years!  And after the few remaining weeks of puzzles come in that are still out with litzers, we'll be done converting all the 52 years of pre-Shortzian puzzles we have!

It's been a very busy week on the proofreading front:  Early Saturday morning, Todd Gross sent in 9 puzzles, which were followed by 9 from Mark Diehl on Tuesday night.  Mark sent 23 more Wednesday night, and then Thursday morning Todd sent in 10 more.  A few hours later, Denny Baker sent 30 more, and then 31 more came in from Mark that evening, followed by another 29 from Mark later that night!  Thanks so much, everyone—awesome job!

Call for Proofreaders

We still need proofreaders—the more people we have proofing, the sooner we'll be able to get all the litzed puzzles up on XWord Info!  If you think you'd be a good proofreader and own Crossword Compiler, please let me know and I'll send you the proofreading self-test.  As with litzing, any and all amounts of help with this effort will be most appreciated!  Also, one of our proofreaders thought of a way to hold a proofreading contest (with prizes, of course!) that wouldn't directly involve speed, so stay tuned. . . .

Proofed vs. Unproofed Puzzles

Recently someone suggested to me that we simply post the unproofread puzzles—in fact, I myself thought of doing this a year or two ago.  The main advantage would be that all the litzed puzzles we have would be available now (and backed up on an additional server); the main disadvantage would be that the puzzles vary considerably in how accurately they've been litzed—a significant percentage would contain major errors.  Another big disadvantage would be that posting the unproofread puzzles now and then replacing them with proofread puzzles later would mean a lot of extra work at XWord Info.

More on BTS

In other news, litzer Martin Ashwood-Smith restored my faith in pre-Shortzian fill standards!  Last week's featured puzzle contained the entry BTS (clued as "British titles: Abbr."), which I had erroneously assumed stood for British titles.  Martin pointed out that BTS is actually the abbreviation for baronets.  I wouldn't want to add BTS to my word list now, but at least it's a legitimate piece of fill.  Martin and I have also been having an interesting correspondence about the history of stacks in crosswords, which I may write more about later.  To make a long story short, triple stacks of 15-, 17-, and even 19-letter entries have been around for quite some time, and even quad stacks came into existence before Joe Krozel introduced them to the Times in 2009.  Luckily for historical purposes, the history of quint stacks is quite straightforward!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, which can be solved on XWord Info, was constructed by Ed Julius; published January 15, 1974; (pun mode on) ed-it-ed (pun mode off) by Will Weng; and litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick.  This nifty themeless, which was Ed's Times debut, features six interlocking 15-letter entries in a 78-word grid, a themeless structure similar to that used in many Manny Miller puzzles from the Farrar era.  The 15-letter entries have a nice dash of sparkle—I especially like BEGIN THE BEGUINE (clued as "Cole Porter tune"), THE HASTY PUDDING ("Harvard club"), and REGRESSION LINES ("Math ratio entries")!  I wasn't hugely fond of regression lines last year, since that was the chapter my AP Statistics course covered while I was out of town, but I eventually figured out how they worked by the time we got around to the slope of the regression line t-test.  Just imagine trying to squeeze SLOPE OF THE REGRESSION LINE T-TEST into a crossword!  Anyway, as for the rest of the fill, Ed expertly balanced his grid-spanners with clean 3s, 4s, and 5s.  The only entries that really gave me pause were DREE ("Suffer, in Scotland") and TENE ("Filament: Suffix), which makes the puzzle quite well built for its time.  The clues are mostly straight definitions, but I appreciate that Ed wove in a few more unique ones, such as "Durocher's nickname" for LIP and the misleading "Famous doctor" for SEUSS.  My favorite clue, however, is the self-referential "Edward of TV" for ASNER!  In all, this is a solid pre-Shortzian puzzle with a pleasing amount of oomph.  The puzzle can be viewed on XWord Info; for those of you whose fingers have had too much of a workout from litzing or proofreading, I've pasted the solution grid below so you don't have to click on anything!

Entry of the Week

Today's featured pre-Shortzian entry, which gave me a real laugh, comes from the December 27, 1942, crossword, which was constructed by Alexis P. Boodberg, edited by Margaret Farrar, and litzed by Alex Vratsanos.  Back in the early days of the Shortz era (August 27, 1995, to be precise), constructor Martin Schneider famously used the entry PENIS in a Times crossword, cluing it as "The ___ mightier . . . " (as in "the pen is mightier than the sword").  This "partial phrase" has yet to be reused in a more recent Times puzzle, and I hadn't seen any entries that caused me to raise my eyebrows quite so much in a pre-Shortzian puzzle . . . until I came across the entry DILDO in Alexis P. Boodberg's grid!  The clue?  "West Indian cactus."  It turns out that dildo is the unfortunate term for several species of long, narrow cacti, such as Acanthocereus tetragonus and Pilosocereus royenii.  Unfortunate as the term may be, I'd much prefer to call them dildos than to try to pronounce their full scientific names!  Here's a picture of Pilosocereus royenii, which does indeed look quite phallic:

Image courtesy of

Friday, August 1, 2014

East Coast Wrap-Up, August Litzer of the Month Peter Broda, and Greek Entries of the Week

East Coast Puzzle Extravaganza Wrap-Up

I've just returned from an amazing couple of weeks on the East Coast, where I spent four awesome days and nights in Portland, Maine, at MaineCon, the National Puzzlers' League convention!  I had a blast playing Bananagrams and Fluxx at midnight, meeting new NPLers and reuniting with old friends, trying new games such as Cluesome and Paperback, solving a brilliant Extravaganza with an equally brilliant team of runners, and exploring some of Portland's lovely restaurants!  On one of the days, I went to lunch with Stan Newman (a.k.a. Famulus) at a place that served sapid lobster pizza and other seafood treats; when we got back to the hotel, Stan gave me two references books that were used by many pre-Shortzian constructors:  the Longman Crossword Key and Funk & Wagnalls Crossword Puzzle Word Finder.  Both of these tomes are full of possible crossword entries sorted by letter pattern; the main differences are that the Funk & Wagnalls includes 2–6 letter words (whereas the Longman Crossword Key includes 3–15 letter words) and that the Funk & Wagnalls allows you to find words with more than one fixed letter.  The Funk & Wagnalls is particularly interesting since it describes a deliberate process for how words were selected for inclusion in the book, which has definite connections to modern-day word-list scoring.  Thanks again for these neat old references, Stan!

I was also delighted to have lunch in Philadelphia with Bernice Gordon, who has become my "adopted grandmother" of sorts!  She showed me some of her more recent constructions, and we had a lot of fun playing a game called Bookworm on her computer (which can be played online).  Bernice also gave me several beautiful books, a couple of which she bought in England years ago!  My favorite of these books, An Exaltation of Larks, contains the names for different groupings of people and animals, such as "a siege of herons" and "an untruth of summoners."  The book also has lovely illustrations to accompany many of the terms and etymological information about some of the more esoteric ones.  I look forward to looking through Bernice's books in more detail when time frees up and jet lag fully wears off!

I also spent a few days in Pleasantville, New York, where Will Shortz generously made his crossword book and magazine collection available.  Using his complete collection of Simon & Schuster volumes, along with countless other contemporary puzzle books, I was able to identify the first names and/or genders of many more pre-Shortzian constructors.  One of the most interesting discoveries I made was that Horiguchi (whose first name turned out to be Yurie) submitted her crosswords to the Times from Tokyo.  I wonder if English was Yurie Horiguchi's first language—if not, then her ability to construct quality American-style crosswords by hand is even more impressive!  Will also gave me a few extra copies of The Bantam Great Masters Winning Crossword Puzzles series, which has photos and bios of numerous pre-Shortzian constructors, and let me photocopy more extensive bios of certain puzzlers from his Four-Star Puzzler anthology.  I'm planning to scan these in the near future and make them available on Scribd.  Will and his assistant, Joel Fagliano, also gave me a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how New York Times puzzles are selected and edited, although I spent most of my time conducting research.  Thanks so much again for the books and for letting me do some great research, Will!

Finally, right before touring the college renowned in crosswords for calling its students ELIS, I was able to pay a visit to Noah Webster's grave—here's a picture:

Noah Webster's grave in New Haven, CT

Project Update

On the litzing and proofreading front, there was a lot of activity while I was gone!  Thursday the 17th, Alex Vratsanos sent in 1 litzed puzzle.  Saturday the 19th, Todd Gross sent in 11 proofread puzzles.  Sunday the 20th, Nancy Kavanaugh sent in 7 reassigned litzed puzzles, and then early Monday the 21st, an anonymous litzer sent in 4 puzzles.  Later that morning, Denny Baker sent 31 proofread puzzles.  Tuesday the 22nd, Larry Wasser sent in 28 more proofread puzzles.  Saturday the 26th, Martin Herbach sent 7 more litzed puzzles, putting our total at 16,038 on the litzing thermometer!  Sunday the 27th, Denny sent in 29 more proofread puzzles.  Tuesday the 29th, Todd sent in 16 more proofread puzzles.  And over the past couple of weeks, Howard Barkin sent in 31 more proofread puzzles.  Thanks so much, everyone, for all this great work—we're making excellent progress and on track to finishing the litzing by the end of this month!

August Litzer of the Month Peter Broda

Now that we're in August, we have a new Litzer of the Month—Peter Broda!  Peter is a New York Times constructor who hails from Regina in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.  To read more about him, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, "Fabrication," was constructed by Diana Sessions; published August 26, 1962; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mike Buckley.  This 21 x 21 tour-de-force features 16 symmetrical theme entries that contain a type of fabric, such as WOOL GATHERER (clued as "Idle fancier.").  All the theme entries are elegantly arranged in either stacks of two or, in the center, mind-boggling interlocking webs; to top off the eye-pleasing gridwork, the constructor mostly included theme entries that don't directly tie into the types of fabric they contain!  My favorite theme entry is LAME DUCK ("Act of 1933."), which completely disguises its original fabric, lamé, though FLANNEL CAKE ("Menu item.") and CREPE PAPER ("Party decoration.") are close runners-up.  Cramming in 16 stacked and interlocking theme entries is no easy task, but the constructor made it look like a piece of cake by producing such a consistently smooth fill!  The central entry, SCARFED, is a lovely touch that subtly gets at the theme, and entries like CHARCOAL, CHAPLIN, and WALRUS add a nice bit of zest to this puzzle's 146-word grid.  Speaking of 146 words, I really appreciate that the constructor opted for a word count slightly above the modern New York Times limit of 140 rather than throwing in some lengthy partials and additional obscurities in a more open grid.  I don't see any pairs of black squares that would have been particularly easy to remove, and the grid certainly doesn't feel chunky and sectioned off as a result of the higher word count.  Most of the less-than-stellar entries that did wend their way into the grid appeared in numerous other pre-Shortzian puzzles—the only one that really irks me is BTS ("British titles: Abbr."), but this entry too was used as recently as the Maleska era.  I much prefer the way old Los Angeles Times and Merl Reagle puzzles treated BTS (by cluing it as the abbreviation for boats and beats, respectively).  In all, this is a standout pre-Shortzian puzzle, and I look forward to seeing more from Diana Sessions as I slowly make my way through litzed packets!  Below is the answer grid with highlighted theme entries:

Entries of the Week

The July 22, 1962, crossword, "All Greek to Me" by Jules Arensberg, contained scads of unusual words purportedly from Greek as theme entries.  I've listed an ennead of my favorites below:  
    • Neighbor whose house is on fire.
    • Tightrope walker.
    • Pet names.
    • Imaginary lopsided beast adapted for circling hills.
    • Lean monster that feeds on patient wives.
    • One skilled in table talk.
    • Whoop by slapping hand against mouth.
    • Beard growing.
    • Fear of being stuck with needles.
I knew the word deipnosophist from a previous entry of the week and ucalegon from hearing Will Shortz list it as his favorite word so many times, but the rest of these were new to me.  The two words on this list that intrigued me the most were gyascutus and Chichevache—here are some beautiful pictures of these two imaginary beasts I found on DeviantArt!

Gyascutus image courtesy of DeviantArt

Chichevache image courtesy of DeviantArt