Friday, September 26, 2014

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles, Maleska's Millennium Mistakes, and Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

Proofreading 1967 Puzzles

It's been an amazing week on the proofreading front—I'm now sending out puzzles from 1967!  Some puzzles from 1968 and 1969 are still being proofread, but there should be another full year completed in the not-too-distant future!  This week's shipments started off late Friday night when Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles with 30 mistakes, which were followed the next morning by 30 more puzzles with 19 mistakes and, Saturday afternoon, by another 31 with 17 mistakes.  Sunday morning, Mark sent 31 more puzzles with 15 mistakes, then another 29 that afternoon with 11 mistakes and 31 more that evening with 21 mistakes (passing the 400 mark—congratulations, Mark!).  Monday night, Mark sent 31 puzzles with 27 mistakes, which were followed Tuesday night by 25 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Thursday night he sent 27 more puzzles with 5 mistakes, then a couple of hours later, another 31 puzzles with 11 mistakes—wow!  Thanks so much, Mark!  Needless to say, Mark is currently in first place in the proofreading contest—as I write this, he has found 472 mistakes, and I'm guessing he'll top the 500 mark this coming week!  Thanks again, Mark—awesome job!

Maleska's Millennium Mistakes

I recently received an e-mail from Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had found a mistake in the April 23, 1972, puzzle constructed by Eugene T. Maleska and edited by Will Weng.  The word millennium was misspelled millenium.  Maleska misspelled this word more than once:  On August 9, 1985, the word MILLENIUM appeared as a grid entry—egad!  Thanks again for pointing this out, Martin!

Todd Gross on Sidney L. Robbins and Elmer Toro

I also recently heard from litzer and proofreader Todd Gross, who had been researching pre-Shortzian constructors and come across some new information.  Todd found a death notice for Sidney L. Robbins, a very prolific constructor who apparently was born in August of 1909 and who, according to my (incomplete) records, published 153 pre-Shortzian puzzles and 50 Shortz-era puzzles.

Todd also thought he might have found information on Elmer Toro, who published six puzzles in the Times between 1969 and 1977:
Among several constructors I've tried to look up, Elmer Toro is a particularly interesting case.  I found someone I think is our constructor, but I'm not sure.  There aren't many Elmer Toros, but there is more than one.  The guy I think is our constructor is rather interesting, you can read about his work for the NYPD and related agencies here.  I found that he later moved to Florida, where he worked for a few years as a police officer but retired last year (2013), see here.

Very interesting discoveries, Todd—thanks again!  I look forward to reading any future updates.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published Saturday, January 21, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This puzzle features eight symmetrically interlocking theme entries that appeal to solvers with a sweet tooth, such as A FINGER IN THE PIE and CANDY CANE.  The puzzle masterfully uses stacking and interlock at multiple points (such as with the two down theme entries) to cram all eight sweets into the grid, though the overall quality of the theme suffers a bit as a result.  I find it slightly inelegant that two theme entries use the same sweet (PIE); also, I've never seen COOKY JAR spelled with a Y, and APPLEJACK sticks out as the only liquid sweet in the puzzle.  Still, the theme is impressive for its time, and the teenager in me has a hard time criticizing a theme that relates to junk food!  The nonthematic fill is a mix of entries that feel fresh—including BUSBOYS, HATPIN, ORBITAL (complete with the "modern" clue "Pertaining to a satellite's path."), and the quasi-thematic GINGER and ICED—and entries that are neither sweet nor savory, including SSES ("Compass points."), ATHL ("Sports: Abbr."), and ARGALAS ("African storks.").  Argala is such an uncommon term that it doesn't appear in Merriam-Webster; after Googling argala, I discovered that this type of stork is better known as the greater adjutant, which still seems rather obscure.  In sum, this puzzle has a sweet theme idea, but the execution isn't fully consistent, and the nonthematic fill feels a bit iffy in parts.  I nevertheless look forward to seeing more themed daily puzzles from this time period as we continue our journey through crossword history!  The puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below:

Friday, September 19, 2014

1970 Puzzles Up, PS Notes, Contest Update, and Harold P. Furth Joins Youngest Constructors List

1970 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

We're making terrific progress with the proofreading these days—just last week the 1971 puzzles went up on XWord Info, and this week the 1970 puzzles are up!  Thanks again to Jim Horne for posting them and representing some of the trickier ones so well on the site!  To see them, click here.  If you're wondering how a whole year of puzzles was proofread in a week, the answer is, it wasn't.  The puzzles get sent out in batches to different proofreaders and come back at varying times.  After they're returned, every single puzzle gets looked at again for any obvious remaining mistakes—usually these are just in the Information fields, which proofreaders don't check.

PS Notes

Next, all the litzer and proofreader notes for puzzles that year are investigated.  These notes indicate when someone has found what appears to be—and usually is—an editorial mistake in a puzzle.  Any confirmed mistakes are noted in a PS Note ("Pre-Shortzian Note") for future posting on XWord Info.  PS Notes also generally indicate whether the mistake was unchanged or changed—if the former, the PS Note says what the correct version should have been; if the latter, it provides details on what was changed.  PS Notes may also contain information unrelated to mistakes, as in the example pictured below for the puzzle published on July 4, 1976:

PS Notes are posted as time permits; since things have been very busy here at Litzing and Proofreading Central, most will likely appear after all the proofreading has been completed.  In the meantime, if you happen to come across any mistakes in the pre-Shortzian puzzles, please let me know so they can be corrected.

Proofreading Contest Update

It's been another great week on the proofreading front!  Early Monday morning, Todd Gross sent in 4 puzzles with 3 mistakes.  Then Wednesday morning, Mark Diehl—who's currently in the lead with 307 found mistakes!—sent in 30 puzzles with 39 mistakes, followed by 12 more with 8 mistakes that night and then another 8 with 1 mistake.  Thursday evening, Denny Baker sent 30 more puzzles.  Later that night, Mark sent 30 more with 18 mistakes.  Then early Friday morning, Todd sent 7 more puzzles with 9 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 30 puzzles with 21 mistakes, then 30 more with 59 mistakes.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much!  We're in the '60s now—rad!

Harold P. Furth Joins Ranks of Youngest Constructors

Recently I was browsing through the college section in my local library and came across a 1982 book called My Harvard, My Yale.  It's a collection of short essays by notable graduates of Harvard and Yale about their college days.  Curious, I began looking through it and came across the reminiscences of a Harvard alumnus named Harold Furth.  Harold was born in Vienna and attended Harvard twice, from 1947 to 1951 and from 1952 to 1956.  He was a professor of astrophysics and the director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory for many years.  He died in 2002, 20 years after the book was published.

Harold P. Furth as an adult. Photo
courtesy of Wikipedia.

What most interested me about Harold's memoir, though, was that in the very first paragraph, he wrote:
During my last three years in boarding school, I created a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.  Later on I found that professional puzzle-makers have special equipment:  lists of all twelve-letter words ending in ICK, and so forth.  For me, the Sunday puzzle was an insanely ambitious labor, relieved by flashes of insight and ecstasy when a whole corner would fall into place.
     Being fond of puzzles, I did well in physics, but found the exercises stultifying. . . .
Later, Furth wrote for The Harvard Lampoon and published some poetry in The New Yorker, signed only with his initials.  He notes:
In fact, the only "literary" item that I have ever signed with my full name, prior to this one, is a New York Times crossword puzzle that appeared one Sunday in the winter of 1948.
How fortuitous!  I checked my database and discovered that Harold constructed the  puzzle that was published on December 12, 1948; his byline was "Harold P. Furth."  According to Wikipedia, Harold was born on January 13, 1930, which means he was 18 years, 10 months old when his puzzle was published and so is now the 28th-youngest constructor ever to have a crossword puzzle published in the Times!  I was thrilled to be able to find this new record—who knows what others will appear over time as we continue making our way through the pre-Shortzian canon!  To see XWord Info's full list of Youngest Constructors, click here.

Featured Puzzle

Appropriately enough, today's featured puzzle, "Myths and Legends," was constructed by Harold P. Furth; published December 12, 1948; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Barry Haldiman.  This 166-word 23 x 23 is one of the few 1940s Times crosswords whose theme doesn't center around current events—rather, it contains a sprinkling of classical mythology references, such as TALARIA, CHARON, and BACCHUS (which are, incidentally, the first three across entries).  The theme entries' relatively short lengths and asymmetric arrangement ultimately make this puzzle feel more like a giant themeless, though I nevertheless appreciate the forward-thinking use of a noncurrent events theme.  Highlights/interesting words in the nonthematic fill include HUDIBRASTIC (clued as "Satirical in Butler's manner."), BARBETTE ("Gun platform."), ANALECTIC ("Made up of literary selections."—a much more interesting term than the crosswordese ANA!), ROTARIAN ("Member of a great civic club."), CAVEMEN, CATAPULT, and COGNAC.  There aren't very many iffy entries in this one that haven't appeared in other pre-Shortzian puzzles, though ENNUIED ("Bored.") seems like a bit of a stretch.  Overall, this is a cleaner-than-average puzzle with a nice dose of theme material—and certainly an auspicious debut for the then-teenage Harold Furth!  I very much enjoyed learning more about Harold's impressive life, and I hope to stumble upon more nuggets about pre-Shortzian constructors as time goes on.  In the meantime, here's the solution grid to Harold's puzzle (without highlighted theme entries, since the theme is relatively self-explanatory and the entries aren't arranged with any rhyme or reason):

Friday, September 12, 2014

1971 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, Plus Proofreading Contest Update

1971 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

Great news:  The proofread 1971 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  As usual, Jim Horne did a great job with these—thanks again, Jim!  Since the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge began, we've been making terrific progress with the proofreading—in fact, the 1970 puzzles should be done within the next week or two!  I'm now sending out puzzles from 1969 and 1968, so we should have 1969—the first year of the turbulent '60s—finished soon!  Thanks so much again, everyone!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge Update

Mark Diehl now leads the pack in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 241 found mistakes (and Howard Barkin isn't far behind, with 176!)!  Here's how the week shaped up:  Late Friday night, Mark sent in 30 puzzles with 34 mistakes.  Then Saturday morning, an anonymous proofreader sent in 16 puzzles with 20 mistakes.  Sunday afternoon Denny Baker sent in 30 puzzles but didn't track the mistakes.  Late Wednesday afternoon, Mark sent 31 puzzles with 12 mistakes; then 3 minutes later, 20 puzzles with 11 mistakes; and late that night, 30 more with 16 mistakes!  Howard Barkin sent in 31 puzzles with 72 mistakes, then 30 puzzles with 36 mistakes, then 16 puzzles with 24 mistakes, and finally 11 puzzles with 14 mistakes!  Great job, everyone!

In going through the puzzles, Howard noticed that a few clues were completely different from the ones on the PDFs.  This has happened before, usually because some puzzles were originally litzed from books or CDs, where editorial changes were sometimes made.  When we come across situations like this, we change the clues back to what the original clues on the PDFs were.  However, in order to do this, we need to check the litzed puzzles carefully against PDFs, otherwise situations like this go unnoticed.  Typically the edited clues for books or CDs made sense, so there's no way to catch them unless the puzzles are proofread against the originals on the PDFs.  Though doing this is more time-consuming, it allows us to replicate the original puzzles as faithfully as possible.  Thanks again for catching these edited clues, Howard!

If anyone else would like to take the self-test and help out with the proofreading, just let me know!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published January 28, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by the prolific Ralph Bunker.  Each of this puzzle's theme entries ends in a plural season (e.g., JONATHAN WINTERS); as a bonus, the constructor included the reveal entry FOUR SEASONS (clued as "One year.") at 10-Down.  I really appreciate the numerous levels of consistency this theme demonstrates:  All theme entries end in a season, all the seasons are plural, and exactly half the theme entries are people (and half places),  Having a reveal entry makes this puzzle even more impressive, and having JONATHAN WINTERS cross two other theme entries is truly spectacular!  Even though I wasn't familiar with BILL SUMMERS ("Big League umpire") or GLENS FALLS (Charles Evans Hughes's birthplace, in N. Y.), this puzzle's theme is a winner in my books.  The nonthematic fill has a slew of fun and fresh entries, such as CROSSTOWN, RAPPORT, CARBON, and, my favorite, CAMP DAVID (complete with the contemporary clue, "Where Eisenhower and Khrushchev met")!  The nonthematic fill also feels very polished—the only entries that stand out to me as being particularly unusual are AROSA ("Popular ski resort in Switzerland.") and BOSKY ("Like a dell.").  BOSKY, which has appeared in just two other pre-Shortzian puzzles so far, especially intrigued me; it turns out that this word, which Webster defines as "having abundant trees or shrubs" or "of or relating to a woods," comes from the middle English bosk (meaning "bush") and has been around since the 16th century.  In all, with its top-notch theme and smooth, sparkly fill, this is a stellar pre-Shortzian puzzle!  I hope I come across more of this mystery constructor's work as I continue to review the litzed puzzles.  For now, this puzzle's answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Litzing Done, Proofreading Contest Under Way, 1972 Puzzles Up on XWord Info, September Litzer of the Month Tracy Bennett, and a Gem from Stan Newman's Collection

Litzing Done (for Now)

We reached another major milestone on Saturday:  The final available litzed puzzles came in, so we're now done!  We finished up one day before my goal of having all the litzed puzzles back by the end of August—thanks again, everyone!  As the litzing thermometer shows, we're at 16,077—148 puzzles shy of the 16,225 pre-Shortzian crosswords.  Most of the missing puzzles weren't published in New York because of newspaper strikes; at some point in the future, I'll continue looking into other ways of locating these puzzles.  In the meantime, thanks so much to everyone who made it happen—awesome, awesome job!

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge Gets Under Way

Here's the lowdown on the rest of this past week:  On Saturday afternoon, Tracy Bennett sent in 31 proofread puzzles.  That night, Martin Herbach sent 28 litzed puzzles, and then two minutes later, Mark Diehl sent in 31 proofread puzzles!  Monday morning, September 1, the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge officially began, and Mark sent the first batch of puzzles—26, with 16 mistakes!  A couple of hours later, he sent another 26 with 31 mistakes . . . then that afternoon, 31 more with 73 mistakes!  Late that night, Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 13 mistakes.  Early Tuesday morning, Mark sent 28 more puzzles with 13 mistakes, and late that night, another 31 with 15 mistakes.  Wednesday afternoon, Todd sent 10 more puzzles with 9 mistakes, and late that night, Mark sent 31 more with 20 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon, Todd sent another 10 puzzles with 25 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 puzzles with 31 mistakes.  As I write this, Mark has found the most mistakes so far (168) and is followed by Todd (47) and Howard (31)!  Great job, everyone!  If you'd like to participate in the contest, just let me know—details, along with the latest proofreading totals, can be found on the Contest Totals page.

1972 Puzzles Up on XWord Info

In other news, thanks to Jim Horne, the 1972 puzzles are now up on XWord Info!  I hope you all enjoy looking through and/or solving this latest installment.  We're almost done proofreading the Will Weng puzzles—just three more years to go, most of which are done or well on their way!  I've even been sending out a few packets of Farrar puzzles for proofreading, and I expect we'll be well into the age of puzzles with periods at the ends of their clues by the time the proofreading contest winds down.

September Litzer of the Month Tracy Bennett

I'm also delighted to announce that New York Times constructor Tracy Bennett is the September Litzer of the Month!  In addition to having litzed 49 puzzles, Tracy has proofread hundreds more, usually sending a new batch at the end of each month.  To read more about Tracy, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

A Gem from Stan Newman's Collection

I was looking through my rapidly expanding collection of old crossword books and came across one that particularly intrigued me:  Puzzles for Everybody.  This book, which comes from Stan Newman's collection, appears to have been published in 1955.  The book is jam-packed with crosswords, anagrams, trivia quizzes, and all sorts of other word and math puzzles . . . and there's a picture of a different scantily-clad (for that time period, at least) woman every few pages whose name is incorporated into one of the puzzles!  (Since this book's publisher is Avon, referring to these women as "Avon ladies" from here on out seems fitting!)  What I find fascinating is that this book is titled Puzzles for Everybody but clearly targets a male solving audience!  The book seems to epitomize the rampant sexism during the '50s and '60s by indirectly excluding women from "Everybody."  In any case, the crosswords in this book definitely aren't as eye-catching as the Avon ladies!  To their credit, these 11 x 11s don't contain very many glaring obscurities, but they appear to rotate through the same few grid patterns and are heavy on crosswordese. The grid patterns themselves have handfuls of unsightly cheater squares, but at least there aren't too many two-letter words.  The clues are mostly standard, though there are a few clever ones, such as "It's all around you" for AIR.  I was ultimately more impressed with some of the novel variety puzzle forms in this book than with the crosswords.  One of my favorites was a letter maze that, when traced properly, spelled the 8-word, 39-letter phrase KEEP DIGGING AND YOU WILL EVENTUALLY LOCATE IT!  In sum, this puzzle book was quite entertaining to look through, and the Avon ladies definitely distinguished it from some contemporary volumes I've thumbed through.  Here are some pictures of Puzzles for Everybody:

Front cover

Crossword No. 1

An "Avon lady"

Back cover

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published June 28, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh.  Instead of going with the traditional themeless structure from this time period (four corners with scores of seven-letter entries), the constructor of this sparkly 70-worder opted for a more sectioned-off grid with numerous wide-open spaces.  I don't think I've seen such a grid in a pre-Shortzian puzzle—I really appreciate the creativity and ambitiousness of this design!  The 6 x 5 chunks in the upper right and lower left are particularly visually appealing, and the middle and remaining two corners don't disappoint aesthetically.  Highlights in the fill include PARSEC, KNIVES, SANS SERIF, WIREMAN, SUNDAE, and SLIPPERS; also, although I've never heard of QUANTICO (clued as "Marine Corps base in Virginia."), it sounds nice and uses a Q.  What really makes this puzzle stand out, though, is that the fill is almost junk-free:  The only two entries that seem unreasonably obscure are RABIC ("Pertaining to hydrophobia.") and CUNEO ("Wedge-shaped: Comb. form.)—very impressive given the challenge posed by the grid structure!  The clues are mostly standard definitions—the only one that really gave me pause was "Former monetary units of Lithuania." for LITS.  This is exactly the type of clue that proofreader Todd Gross would cite as being unnecessarily obscure; I would have much preferred something like "Wagons-___ (sleeping cars)."  Nevertheless, this puzzle feels very strong on the whole, and I look forward to seeing more creative themeless grids as I continue looking through puzzles from the the early '60s and late '50s!  For now, this puzzle's solution can be seen below: