Friday, October 31, 2014

Spooky End to the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge?, Blast! from the Past, and More Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau Photos

Spooky End to the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge?

Happy Halloween!  We're in the final hours of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, and if you take a look at the Contest Totals page, you'll see that Mark Diehl is in the lead, with nearly 1,700 found mistakes (congratulations, Mark!)!  But could that change between now and midnight—might a ghost proofreader suddenly overtake him?  We'll have to wait and see—I'll announce the final results in a special post tomorrow!

"So many ghastly—and ghostly—mistakes!"

In the meantime, here's a recap of the past week.  Late Friday night Mark sent in 31 puzzles with 57 mistakes, and then 30 more with 43 mistakes Saturday night.  Sunday evening Todd Gross sent 10 puzzles with 16 mistakes, which were followed later on by 34 from Mark with 27 mistakes and then another 17 from Mark with 27 mistakes.  Late Tuesday afternoon Mark sent 30 more with 55 mistakes, and on Wednesday night he sent 31 more with 17 mistakes and then 30 with 55 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent 31 with 50 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more with 16 mistakes and then 19 more with 14 mistakes later on.  And this week Howard Barkin sent in 31 puzzles with 33 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—terrific job!

New Feature: Blast! from the Past

As most of you know, we finished litzing all the available puzzles some time ago, and now that the litzing phase of the project is behind us—at least until more puzzles are found—I've decided to retire the Litzer of the Month feature and replace it with something new.  The Litzer of the Month page and all the interviews will remain a permanent part of the site, however, and can be viewed by clicking here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

The new feature is Blast! from the Past—if you were a fan of the PS Stumpers on Twitter (see @pspuzzleproject), be sure to check out Blast!  Each week a new Blast! challenge will appear in the sidebar where the Litzer of the Month announcement used to be.  If you think you know the answer, e-mail it to me at preshortzianpuzzleproject at gmail dot com (using the usual format).  Unlike with the PS Stumpers, though, you only get one guess (and no extra hints!), so be sure it's your best!  There are no prizes, but there'll be fame and glory if you win:  The following week, I'll post the name of the first person to send in the correct response here and on Twitter and Facebook.  (If you're the first but you'd rather remain anonymous, that's fine too—just let me know!)  Good luck!

More Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau Photos from Todd Gross

Following up on last week's post about Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau, Todd Gross found a couple of group shots of these two pre-Shortzian icons.  I've edited the photos so they contain just the constructors themselves:

Louise Seifert (Earnest), 1933

Eileen O'Hara (Lexau), 1947

Thanks so much again for these new photos, Todd!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published October 31, 1968; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Martin Herbach; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  For those of you who want to take a crack at this puzzle before reading on, it's available on XWord Info.  The puzzle contains four symmetrically interlocking theme entries that are appropriate for Halloween but that don't necessarily relate to this spooky holiday, such as A GHOST OF A CHANCE.  Two of the theme entries, GRAVEYARD SHIFTS and CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, are Halloween-ized in their clues as "Costumes for tonight." and "Out-of-season spook, maybe.," respectively.  The central down theme entry, TRICK OR TREATS ("Slogans for tonight."), is a somewhat awkward plural, though I really admire how nicely it crosses the central across theme entry and holds the puzzle together.  The nonthematic fill also feels somewhat spirited, with the frightful-yet-lively entries SILENCER, STARK, ASTART, TROUNCE, and PSYCH; also, the INHALANT/NONUSER crossing is reminiscent of a Halloween party that has run afoul of the long arm of the law!  Neither INHALANT nor NONUSER is clued in connection with drugs, though this crossing is nevertheless curious.  Spooky entries aside, the puzzle contains a handful of additional fresh words and phrases, such as ICEBERG, TOE DANCE, and TIE BAR.  Going back to the Halloween theme of today's post, there are also a few pieces of fill on the grisly side, such as the six-letter partials, ONE TOO and SPEED A; RECRAM ("Study for another exam."); and ESTHS (which seem to be much more well known as Estonians).  The timeliness of the theme and the multitude of creepy entries/clues make up for these blemishes, though, and the puzzle thus feels quite strong overall.  The puzzle can be viewed and further analyzed on XWord Info; as usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:

Or can it?  MWAHAHAHA!

And now for the treat . . .

Friday, October 24, 2014

1968 Puzzles Up, Plus Todd Gross on Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau

1968 Puzzles Up on Xword Info

Great news:  The 1968 proofread puzzles are now up on XWord Info and, as usual, beautifully displayed by Jim Horne!  We've now proofread 26 years; I'm currently sending out puzzles from 1961 to 1966, and the first puzzles from the 1950s should go out for proofing soon!

We've had another very busy week as we near the end of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge (which Mark Diehl leads, at 1,330 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!).  Early Saturday morning, new proofreader Wei-Hwa Huang sent in 31 puzzles with 52 mistakes.  They were followed a few hours later by 6 puzzles with 24 mistakes from Mark.  That afternoon, Todd Gross sent 10 puzzles with 8 mistakes; a few hours later, another 31 with 13 mistakes came in from Mark.  Later Saturday night Mark sent in 30 more with 33 mistakes and then another 12 with 8 mistakes.  Sunday morning, he sent 22 more puzzles with 8 mistakes and then 8 more with 1 mistake that afternoon; 30 more with 39 mistakes followed late that night.  Monday night, Todd sent 14 more puzzles with 20 mistakes; later on, 26 more with 25 mistakes came in from Mark.  Tuesday morning Mark sent 20 puzzles with 58 mistakes and then 33 more with 53 mistakes that night.  Late Wednesday night he sent 31 puzzles with 32 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Todd sent 11 puzzles with 13 mistakes, which were followed by 30 more with 32 mistakes from Mark late that night.  Friday afternoon, Denny Baker sent in 23 puzzles but didn't count the mistakes.  This has truly been an amazing week—thanks so much, everyone!

Todd Gross on Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau

Litzer, proofreader, and pre-Shortzian historian Todd Gross has been busy researching and recently uncovered information about two more constructors:  Louise Earnest and Eileen Lexau.

Louise Earnest
According to my (still incomplete) records, Louise Earnest published 30 puzzles during the pre-Shortz era.  Todd writes:

Photo courtesy of the Warwick Valley Dispatch.
She was born Louise Seifert in September of 1915 in York County, PA.  She married William Earnest in nearby Dover, where they lived for a time raising their two children before moving to Warwick, NY.
The above photo is from an article in the Warwick Valley Dispatch, announcing a showing of her artwork in September, 2005 on her 90th birthday.  Another article from the Dispatch, which you can read here (p. 10), gives more details about her life, including her work as a crossword constructor.
It appears Ms. Earnest is still alive—at the age of 99!—and living in Warwick.  If so, she could become the second centenarian pre-Shortzian constructor late next year.
Great find, Todd!  The Dispatch article notes that Louise Earnest has "an extensive library and hundreds of the crossword puzzles she constructed have been published in the Daily and Sunday 'New York Times,' in Margaret Farrar's books, pocket books and Will Weng's collections"; she also "won prizes in Bantam's Great Crossword Puzzle Hunt."  A fascinating portrait of a legendary pre-Shortzian cruciverbalist!

Eileen Lexau
Todd also found a great piece on Eileen Lexau, who, according to my records, published 17 puzzles in the pre-Shortz era (and, per XWord Info, 10 in the Shortz era).  Todd reports:

Photo courtesy of the Star Tribune
She was born Eileen Agnes O’Hara in 1927 in St. Paul Minnesota.  Her long and rich life is summarized in her obituary here and a follow-up Pioneer Press article on 27 Nov (citation in Pre-Shortzian Constructors), I’ll just hit the highlights.  She was born and bred Catholic, graduating from the College of St. Catherine in 1948, working for Catholic Worker in New York City after graduation, and returning to St. Paul to become an assistant editor at Catholic Digest, where she met Henry Lexau.
They married in 1952, raising six children.  In 1970, with her children grown, she worked for several Minnesota state agencies, including the Dept. of Natural Resources, where she retired from in 1990.  She passed away in November of 2004.
The follow-up article mentions it would “take Lexau anywhere from several days to several weeks to perfect a crossword puzzle, and she didn't mind sharing the half-finished product with her family.”
Another great find, Todd!  Eileen Lexau had apparently said the following about crossword construction to the St. Paul Pioneer Press two years earlier:  "'It's absorbing.  It takes you out of yourself.'"  One of her daughters, Elizabeth, noted that Eileen "didn't make a great deal of money at it, but it gave her joy."  Thanks so much again for all this terrific research, Todd!  And thanks, too, to George Barany, Nancy Herther, and Jon Jeffryes, who helped locate some of this material.

Featured Puzzle

This week's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published June 25, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  The puzzle contains six symmetrically interlocking theme entries that either start or end with a type of seafood; as a bonus, none of the theme entries directly relates to its original seafood variety.  The theme set feels fresh (pun intended!)—I especially like the entry LITTLE SHRIMP (clued as "Insignificant one")!  Although I'd never heard of LOBSTER TRICK ("On a newspaper, the sunrise watch.") before looking through this puzzle, I appreciated learning this colorful phrase.  However, MUSSULMAN ("Mohammedan.") bothers me a bit since it's the only theme entry that contains a homophone of a type of seafood rather than the seafood itself.  I also think the puzzle would have been even stronger if all the theme entries had started with a type of seafood or if there had been more of a balance of theme entries that started with a type of seafood and ones that ended with a type of seafood.  Nevertheless, I always appreciate seeing puzzles with solid themes in an era in which almost all daily puzzles were themeless, especially when they relate to what I had for dinner (shrimp scampi)!  The nonthematic fill, although peppered with uncommon letters, feels a bit chewy (again, pun intended!) in places—I can imagine that the SPEZIA ("Italian city (with "La"))/UZBEG ("Native of Turkistan.") crossing stumped many solvers, and I wasn't thrilled to see the crosswordese-y AYRE ("Point on the Isle of Man."), the technical legal term ADEEMS ("Revokes legally."), or the minor city ARMONK ("Village north of White Plains.").  The inclusion of RECIPE at 41-Down is a nice touch/thematic tie-in, however, and seeing a handful of J, X, and Z words that don't show up as often in crosswords is refreshing.  In all, this is an above-average pre-Shortzian puzzle in terms of theme, with numerous rare letters to keep things lively!  The solution grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below:

Friday, October 17, 2014

In the Farrar Era—and Mark Diehl Passes 1,000 in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge

Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge:  Mark Diehl Passes 1,000!

Only two more weeks of the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge remain, and just this morning Mark Diehl passed 1,000—he has now found 1,004 mistakes!  Congratulations, Mark!

It's been a very busy week, starting with 21 puzzles containing 11 mistakes from Mark on Friday night.  Saturday afternoon he sent 32 more with 12 mistakes, which were followed by another 22 with 35 mistakes that night.  Sunday morning he sent 30 more with 19 mistakes, then another 31 with 27 mistakes that night, and still another 30 with 34 mistakes later on, putting his total found mistakes at more than 900!  Late Monday morning Denny Baker sent in 31 puzzles but didn't count the mistakes.  That afternoon Mark sent 31 more with 18 mistakes, which were followed by 29 more with 19 mistakes that night.  Mark sent another 31 with 20 mistakes Tuesday night and then 30 with 9 mistakes late Wednesday night.  Thursday afternoon Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 12 mistakes.  That evening Mark sent 22 more with 15 mistakes, which were followed by another 25 with 9 mistakes Friday morning, putting his total over 1,000!  Then this afternoon Todd sent in 10 more puzzles with 8 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 32 puzzles with 30 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're making terrific progress!

In the Farrar Era

Last week XWord Info's Jim Horne pointed out that with the last installment of proofread puzzles on XWord Info—1969—we were now finished with the Will Weng puzzles and into the Margaret Farrar era, which began on February 15, 1942.  Indeed, the last puzzle Farrar edited was the January 5 Sunday opus by Frances Hansen, appropriately titled "Ring in the New"—not only for the New Year but also for the new editor, Will Weng.  On that day, the Times published a lengthy announcement of Farrar's retirement, noting that, at 71, she was currently editing her 97th crossword puzzle collection for Simon & Schuster and had edited 18 puzzle books for the Times.  The full text of this fascinating article, which contains several amusing anecdotes and reminiscences by Farrar, is available through libraries on ProQuest.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Several weeks later, on January 26, the Times published the following particularly charming letter from a reader:

Courtesy of The New York Times

Fortunately for us, we're working backwards in time, so rather than bidding adieu to Margaret, we're heralding in her era!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published on July 16, 1960; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  This eye-catching 64-word themeless is ambitious, wide open, and beautifully filled—in fact, the puzzle doesn't have a single entry that feels particularly obscure, and there are only a couple of short entries that seem subpar (ESNE and LIGNE), both of which appeared in numerous other pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era crosswords.  I don't think I've come across a single pre-Shortzian puzzle that contains this few iffy pieces of short fill!  The upper right and lower left corners are particularly aesthetically pleasing:  In addition to incorporating only 6-, 7-, and 8-letter entries, these corners have a smattering of Scrabbly letters and contain numerous fun, in-the-language entries, such as CRAVAT, RIPPLE, PELLET, CRIMEA, and the IMPALE/IMPALA crossing.  Other highlights in the grid include MAN EATER, DRESSING ROOMS, and TROLLEY; admittedly, none of these entries knocks my socks off, but I really appreciate how cleanly they interlock.  I'm not as fond of CIGARETS (as opposed to CIGARETTES), and I've never heard of a MUSK TREE (clued as "Highly scented Australian plant."), but I'm just nitpicking at this point.  The clues also have a nice amount of spice—"Favorite beatnik word." for LIKE and "'All men are ___'" for LIARS particularly tickle me.  I find it fascinating that the word like has been prevalent in our dialect for more than 50 years—nowadays, like has become so commonplace that it's frequently used as a conversation filler!  In all, this is a masterful pre-Shortzian construction, and I look forward to locating additional gems as I finish looking through litzed puzzles from 1960.  Now that the wheels of the proofreading machine are spinning so fast, I have a feeling the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project in its entirety will be complete before I achieve my personal goal of looking through every New York Times crossword in detail!  For now, here's the solution grid for this week's featured puzzle:

Friday, October 10, 2014

25 Years of Puzzles Up, Plus Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

25 Years of Puzzles Up—1969 Complete

We reached a major milestone yesterday:  The 25th year of proofread puzzles—1969—went off to XWord Info, and, thanks to Jim Horne, they're now up with all the others through November 20, 1993!  Great work, everybody—it's wonderful to see so many years of the puzzles fully litzed, proofread, and readily accessible!

We've been making amazing progress with the proofreading lately—so much so that I'm optimistic about potentially finishing by the end of next summer (though I wouldn't place bets on that quite yet!)!  Saturday morning Mark Diehl—who currently leads the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 769 found mistakes (congratulations, Mark!)—sent 21 puzzles with 22 mistakes, then 31 more that night with 16 mistakes.  A short while later Tracy Bennett sent in 31 puzzles with 42 mistakes.  Then Sunday afternoon Mark sent 20 puzzles with 14 mistakes; late Tuesday night he sent another 26 with 14 mistakes, which were followed by 17 puzzles with 12 mistakes Wednesday night and then later 30 more with 38 mistakes.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent another 23 with 12 mistakes, then 19 more with 20 mistakes.  Late that night Dave Phillips sent in 31 puzzles with 46 mistakes, and Friday morning Todd Gross sent 5 puzzles with 9 mistakes.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much!

Dave Phillips's Proofreading Log

Last night new proofreader Dave Phillips sent in his first batch of proofreading, along with an Excel file he'd made of all the litzing mistakes he found!  Though listing all the mistakes isn't necessary, I found looking through the file fascinating—I was especially intrigued to discover that the litzing mistakes aren't evenly distributed throughout a month.  Further, when a puzzle has one litzing mistake, the probability of that puzzle having an additional mistake appears to increase:  Of the 22 puzzles that had litzing mistakes, only 8 had a single mistake!

It's also very interesting to see what kinds of mistakes typically appear—usually just straightforward typos, but sometimes the mistakes are related or even completely different words!  As I've mentioned before, a few people have asked me why we don't just post the unproofread litzed puzzles, since proofreading is such a time-consuming—and, for many, tedious—process.  This is why!  Thanks so much again for sending this, Dave!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published December 13, 1969; edited by Will Weng; litzed by Martin Herbach; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  Now that the 1969 puzzles are live, the puzzle can be either viewed or solved on XWord Info.  This brilliant Weng-era crossword ties the record for the lowest block count in a pre-Shortzian New York Times puzzle:  23.  [Note:  I also blogged about the other 23-blocker from the Maleska era.]  What really makes this puzzle stand out, however, is that it doesn't just set a record—the four symmetrical, interlocking 15-letter entries form a theme of terms related to accounting and computing, and the fill is both lively and largely junk-free!  The strongest entries in the nonthematic fill are HOME RUN, MEDUSA, SIDE BETS, SICILIA, EPIGRAM, and TUNE OUT, but I also loved seeing the more unusual words PICTISH ("Of an Old British people."), BELDAM ("Hag."), PHENOLIC ("Kind of acid."), SNUFFER ("Candle device."), and PLICATE ("Folded.").  I'm less enthusiastic about the long nonthematic entry PAN FRYER ("Cooking chicken."), which seems to be much more commonly referred to as FRYER; in addition, SERENES ("Tranquil expanses."), SOBERER, and CEDER strike me as somewhat roll-your-own/not-really-in-the-language.  Nevertheless, I'm still blown away that this puzzle has 23 blocks, a comprehensive theme, and so many lively entries in the nonthematic fill—it's truly a masterful construction!  The clean short fill is further evidence of this mystery constructor's expertise—the only short entry that was completely new to me was RAUS ("German's 'Out!' for short."), and the puzzle has just two partials (I SEE A and IF AND), both of which are short and don't detract much from the filled grid's overall visual appeal.  Although many solvers may have been frustrated by the high number of foreign words in this grid, I appreciated seeing them, since three are from Latin (ITER, AMAS, and SICUT), which is my favorite language.  Finally, I was intrigued by the entry LA VERNE—since the sitcom "Shirley & Laverne" didn't exist until seven years after this puzzle's publication, the constructor was forced to clue this entry as the rather obscure "Southern California town."  I've lived in Southern California for years, and I'd never heard of La Verne before seeing the entry in this puzzle.  The puzzle is thus one of those rare crosswords that might have been more accessible had it been published at a later time!  In all, this is an extraordinarily elegant pre-Shortzian puzzle from a constructor's standpoint, and I can imagine that a good number of Weng's solvers enjoyed puzzling through it.  I even had more fun than usual blogging about it, which really says something about its quality!  Here's this puzzle's solution grid (with highlighted theme entries):

Friday, October 3, 2014

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa, Plus Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

Proofreading 1966 Puzzles

It's been another busy week, starting off with 19 puzzles from Mark Diehl that had 19 mistakes.  Saturday afternoon he sent 33 more with 38 mistakes, then later on 27 more with 8 mistakes, 16 with 35 mistakes, and 6 with 2 mistakes!  Sunday morning, Mark sent another 31 with 16 mistakes, then later that afternoon, an additional 30 with 16 mistakes.  Late Monday night Todd Gross sent in 16 puzzles with 20 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more from Mark late Thursday afternoon with 15 mistakes.  And this week Howard Barkin sent 31 puzzles with 24 mistakes.  Thanks so much, everyone—though some puzzles from 1967, 1968, and 1969 are still out with proofreaders, quite a few from 1966 have already come in!  And as I write this, Mark still leads in the Pre-Shortzian Proofreading Challenge, with 621 found mistakes—congratulations, Mark!

October Litzer of the Month Ed Sessa

I'm delighted to announce that Ed Sessa is the October Litzer of the Month!  In addition to being a New York Times constructor and retired pediatrician, Ed is also a bird carver.  To read more about him, click here or on the Litzer of the Month tab above.

Martin Ashwood-Smith on Vaughn Keith

I recently received an e-mail from litzer and quad-stack constructor extraordinaire Martin Ashwood-Smith, who had been wondering about Maleska-era constructor Vaughn Keith, "one of the early (if not the earliest) masters of the triple stack genre."  Martin had found an obituary from 1990, which you can link to here, and wrote:
He was a school teacher who died at the young age of 40 of AIDS. The obit shows that this talented man faced his death with great bravery. The obit speaks for itself. Very sad, and also inspiring.
Vaughn Keith was a classicist who seems to have led a fascinating life.  Thanks so much again for this great find, Martin!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published March 22, 1961; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker.  Each of this puzzle's theme entries is a TV or movie reference that contains at least one title, such as MRS MINIVER (clued as "Theatrical headliner of 1942.").  Having each theme entry be a TV/movie reference adds a nice level of consistency to the puzzle, and I especially appreciate that none of the titles is directly repeated.  My favorite theme entry is MR PENNYPACKER ("Theatrical headliner of 1959."); even though I'm not familiar with the movie The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, the words are so much fun to say!  The nonthematic fill also seems pretty solid—I especially like the entries SANTA MARIA, KNIGHTHOOD, and END TABLE, and the only rather iffy piece of fill is the plural RT HONS ("Titles for some civic officials.").  Clues that pique my interest include "Abbreviation useful in the 1800's." for TERR and "Piquancy (from French for orange peel)." for ZEST.  Overall, this puzzle, with its cute theme and minimal reliance on obscurities, is a zesty gem from the early '60s!  The answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below: