Thursday, December 31, 2015

Interview with Mary Virginia Orna—and Maleska's Edits of One of Her Puzzles

Mary Virginia Orna

It's New Year's Eve, and I have a special end-of-the-year treat:  an interview with pre-Shortzian constructor and chemistry professor Mary Virginia Orna!

I first wrote about Mary Virginia Orna back in May of 2014, after project historian Todd Gross had uncovered some interesting information about her and a number of other constructors.  According to my (incomplete) records, Mary Virginia published 28 pre-Shortzian puzzles between 1979 and 1988, and I'd been meaning to try to contact her for some time.  I finally did recently and was delighted when I heard back from her!

A professor of chemistry at The College of New Rochelle in New York, Mary Virginia has had a lifelong interest in languages.  To learn more about her, first read her fascinating article on crossword construction, "Always a Cross(ed) Word," which I've posted on Scribd, and then my interview with her by clicking on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above or here.

I've also posted Eugene T. Maleska's edits of Mary Virginia's "Mayhem" puzzle, which was originally published on May 12, 1985.  Will Shortz showed them to me a couple of summers ago when I was researching pre-Shortzian constructors and let me make a copy (thanks again, Will!).  Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Holidays! A New Puzzle, Plus an Olio of Todd Gross Pre-Shortzian Constructor Research: The Sequel

Project Update

Happy Holidays!  One of the more interesting things that's happened since the previous post is that we seem to have discovered a new, previously unlitzed pre-Shortzian puzzle!  Here's how it all went down.  Earlier this week, Jim Horne and I were trying to straighten out exactly how many missing puzzles there were.  Jim noticed a discrepancy in our records for the August 13, 1978, puzzle—the first Sunday during one of the strikes.  Barry Haldiman's records indicated that a puzzle had been published that day ("Putting on Airs," by Louis Sabin [see more on Lou below]), but I hadn't been able to find the PDF on ProQuest.  I shot Barry an e-mail about this puzzle, which he apparently had added to his records after his original microfiche search of The New York Times Magazine.  Barry speculated that the puzzle might have come from microfilm that carried a different version (international or West Coast) of The New York Times, though why just this one strike puzzle turned up is a mystery.  Nonetheless, this discovery gives the missing puzzle quest a new ray of hope!  Barry sent me pictures of the puzzle and solution from a book preview on Amazon, and I litzed it yesterday.  Kristena Bergen proofread the puzzle, and then I sent it off to Jim.  So expect to see a new puzzle on XWord Info in the not-too-distant future!

This seems like the perfect time to publish another amazing olio of pre-Shortzian constructor research from historian, litzer, and proofreader Todd Gross!  This is such a wealth of information that I've decided to divide it into two sections:  The first contains several individual updates Todd sent to me, and the second features a collection of constructors he grouped together, which I've dubbed "The Sequel."  Thanks so much again, Todd, for all your tireless research!

Charles J. Matonti, Elio Desiderio, Jack R. Harnes, Betty Jane Cometa, and Lou Sabin

In mid-November, Todd sent me these photos of three constructors, whom he thought were all still alive and living in the New York City area.  Todd noted, "If I'm right, Charles Matonti turned 80 this year, Elio Desidario recently turned 89, and Jack Harnes turned a very respectable 93 a couple of days later."

According to my (incomplete) records, the first, Charles J. Matonti, published eight pre-Shortzian puzzles between 1980 and 1988 in The New York Times.  Here's a 1964 photo from the Cathedral College of Brooklyn, along with some information that accompanied it:

Elio Desiderio, whose middle name was Phillip, published 11 (or more) Times puzzles between 1974 and 1991.  This photo is from the 1944 Niagara Falls High School yearbook:

Elio Desiderio

Finally, Jack R. Harnes published at least 6 Times puzzles between 1982 and 1993.  The below photo and information are from the 1943 Harvard yearbook:

A few days after sending the above, Todd wrote me that while researching crossword-related obituaries, he'd come across an obituary for Betty Jane Cometa, which you can read here.  Betty Jane published 5 (or more) puzzles in the Times between 1982 and 1989.  Todd's discovery was particularly important because previously we hadn't been able to determine the gender of the constructor known only to us as "Cometa."  Todd reported that Betty Jane was born on September 11, 1932; according to the 1940 Census, lived in Nassau County, N.Y., when she was 7; and passed away this October at the age of 83.

Betty Jane Cometa

The next day, Todd sent me a link to a delightful article on Lou Sabin, which you can read here.  According to my records, Lou published 109 Times puzzles between 1955 and 1993 and so far has published 29 more during the Shortz era, the most recent appearing in 2009. Todd said that as far as he knew, Lou and his wife, Francene, were still alive.

Lou Sabin

Finally, at the end of November, Todd mentioned that he had been compiling a list of crossword constructors' birthdays (and, where applicable, dates of constructors' deaths).  His list includes pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructors, as well as a couple of constructors who published before the Times crossword began.  The file, too big to reproduce here, also contains information on constructors' cities and states, where available.

Todd Gross Olio:  The Sequel (Judith C. Dalton, Anne Fox, Judith Perry, Warren W. Reich, Judson G. Trent, and Thomas W. Underhill)

And now, here's Todd's opus!

Judith C. Dalton

Usually, when I’m researching a constructor, what I’m aiming for is (1) an article that mentions they constructed crosswords, and (2) a picture of them as close to their constructing age as possible.  I usually feel lucky if I can get both of these.  In this case, thanks to and a few fortuitous newspaper articles, I can actually give a pretty complete history of Judith Dalton.  [Ed.:  Judith Dalton published at least 8 Times puzzles between 1981 and 1993.]

She was born Judith Carol Kuta on 25 Dec 1943 (Christmas Day!) in Amsterdam, Montgomery County, New York.  I have a picture of her at Mont Pleasant HS in Schenectady, NY in 1961.

She then attended SUNY Cortland (in Cortland, NY), where she served as a co-editor of the Hilltop Press.  I have a picture of her from 1965 in that role.

She married Thomas Dalton on 3 July 1965 in Schenectady.  I was able to “screen scrape” the relevant info from, which allowed me to confirm I had the correct person.

Crosswords don’t enter the picture (as far as I know) until she and Thomas move to Saginaw, MI.  I don’t know when they moved, but this article says Thomas was Saginaw’s City Manager from 1978–1986.  It also says Judith (Judy) Dalton constructed puzzles for the New York Times (her first puzzle in XWordInfo is from 1981).

And thanks to the article about Mary Cee Whitten (which I actually found because I was working on Ms. Dalton) you link to, we know Judith Dalton was “public affairs co-ordinator  for a television station WNEM-TV in Flint-Saginaw-Bay City.”

And thanks to this article, I unfortunately can confirm that Ms. Dalton passed away on 8 Jan 1999 at the age of 55 in Indialantic, FL.

Finally, let me include a picture of just her from SUNY Cortland in 1965.  You may want this to be her XWordInfo gallery picture.

Anne Fox

Just a month or two ago, all I knew of Anne Fox’s biography was basic facts: she was born 9 Jul 1911 and passed away 21 Nov 1983 in Short Hills, NJ, and she had a husband named Charles.  I didn’t even know if Fox was her maiden or married name.  But I went back and looked in Maleska’s book Across and Down, which gives some nice tidbits about her life—including living in Tuxedo, NY and attending Cornell.  Well, with those facts, I resumed my search and was able to find more.  Not as much as for Judith Dalton, but interesting nonetheless.  [Ed.:  Anne Fox published 46 (or more) puzzles in the Times between 1964 and 1983.

She was born Anna McCreery Lamouree to John E Lamouree and Mary McCreery.  I don’t know where she was born, but probably somewhere near Tuxedo, NY, where she was raised, as her father’s family has deep roots in the area, as discussed in this article, which mentions Anna as a junior at Cornell.

As the article mentions, John was a co-owner of the drug store firm Paret & Lamouree, which had stores in Tuxedo and in Suffern, NY.  I was lucky to find an old photograph of the Suffern store.

Anne/Anna (I’ve also seen Ann in some places) did attend Cornell, but alas she didn’t graduate.  In her 3rd year she met Charles Fox and married him, and they moved in with Anne’s family in Tuxedo (according to the 1940 Census).  So no class picture of her as with Judith Dalton.  However, I did find a picture from her junior year (1931) of the sorority she belonged to (Sigma Kappa).  Here is the picture.

I’ll tell you which one is Anne in a bit, first I want to mention other tidbits I found about Ms. Fox.  First, an obit notice in the Apr 1984 Cornell Alumni News that makes the connection to crosswords clear.

Finally, an article from the Feb 1937 issue of The Alpha Delt, produced by the fraternity Charles Fox belonged to (Alpha Delta).  It shows that Charles wasn’t just freeloading off his new wife’s family.

As ETM noted, at the time Charles Fox “recently retired from a position as sales executive in the textile business.”  So Charles was certainly successful in his own right.

OK, now let me tell you which of those sorority women is Anne Fox.  She’s in the second row from the top, 3rd from the right, wearing a pearl necklace.  Here’s a grainy enlargement I made of Anne.

Judith Perry

Unlike Judith Dalton’s story, Judith Perry’s story is short and sweet.  In fact, you get pretty much everything you need to know from her obituary.  [Ed.: Photo below; Judith Perry published at least 22 pre-Shortzian Times puzzles between 1985 and 1993, plus 3 during the Shortz era.]

Photo courtesy of The
Barre Montpelier Times-

Judith Perry was born in Barre, VT on 8 Apr 1920, she graduated from the University of Vermont with a music degree in 1943, never married, taught and played piano and organ, created crossword puzzles, and passed away in Northfield, VT on 3 Mar 2011 at the age of 90.  As far as I can tell, she lived in Vermont her entire life.  I don’t know when the picture in her obituary was taken, I’m guessing well before she turned 90.

I only have one more thing to add.  There are several pictures of her from the U of VT.  I’m enclosing the one that looks best (in part because she’s in the smallest group): the Bluestockings Club of 1943.  I note bluestocking is defined as an intellectual or literary woman, though it’s not meant as a compliment.  I’m glad to see the label taken as a badge of honor, like other pejoratives (e.g. queer).

Warren W. Reich

Thanks to the Simon & Schuster book series (Super Crossword Book 9 – 1996), we know that Warren W. Reich lived in Albany, NY.  [Ed.:  Warren W. Reich published 13 (or more) pre-Shortzian puzzles in the Times between 1982 and 1993, plus 1 during the Shortz era.]

In fact, Warren W. Reich (sorry, don’t know what the middle W stands for) served as a professor in the Slavic and Germanic Languages department at SUNY Albany.  This picture from 1964 (when the dept. was founded) shows Mr. Reich, professor of German, on the far left.

I know this Warren Reich is our constructor because of an article about his wife Nina, who studied with another faculty member in the above photo (Madame Catherine Wolkonsky).  Most of the article, taken from the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of the SUNY Albany LLC News . . . is about Nina, but the last sentence mentions Warren and crosswords.

Image courtesy of the LLC News.

I can tell you a bit more about Mr. Reich.  He was born 26 Jun 1923, probably in or near Erie County, NY.  The 1940 Census shows him living in Tonawonda, and in 1943 he enlisted in the Army from Buffalo.  His occupation at the time was cabinet maker, so I’m guessing he got his education after WW II.

And I’m reasonably sure Mr. Reich is still alive.  Besides not finding an obituary, and having what appears to be a current address for him, I have this article from 2011 about a student reconnecting with him…a student from when he taught German at Mont Pleasant HS in Schenectady (sound familiar?).

If Mr. (Dr.?) Reich is fine with reconnecting with an old high school pupil, I’m hoping he won’t mind an interview with a fellow NYT constructor he’s never met before.

Judson G. Trent

[Ed.:  Judson G. Trent published at least 51 puzzles in the Times between 1978 and 1989.]

This one is a doozy.

Let’s start at the end, with an obituary in the Washington Post. . . .

The obituary appeared on 19 Oct 1989.  So it looks like Mr. Trent was born in 1914 (or late 1913) in Essex, CT, a pretty small community.  And I found him in two of the locations mentioned here: Sacramento [City Directory] in 1955 (working as a proofreader)

and in Boston in 1964 (working as a composer apparently for the Boston Globe).

One could ask how Mr. Trent could have been working full time in Washington since 1962 and be working in Boston in 1964, but we’re going to overlook that for now.  The tale gets a lot more interesting when we look at this Social Security claim for Mr. Trent.

Note the birth date and place match our obituary, so Mr. Trent was born Judson Gordon Trick, and changed his name to Trent in the early 1950’s, when he was 36 or so.  This name pops up in a few places.  First of all, I couldn’t find a connection to Muskingum College as mentioned in the obituary.  But I did find a Judson Gordon Trick attending Oberlin College (in Oberlin, OH) in 1937.

There’s a picture of him (the only picture I have) with a group called Theologians in this annual volume.

Mr. Trick is in the “third row,” wherever that is exactly.  So no, I can’t tell you which of these people is Judson Trick-or-Trent.  I also didn’t find this name connected to Yale University…but I did find a Reverend by that name living in New Haven in 1942.

Well, being a Reverend makes sense connected with the Theologians group at Oberlin…but the obituary mentions psychology, not theology.  And what does all this have to do with proofreading/printing, which is what he was doing when he started constructing (lots of) crosswords?  Could these be two different people?  Maybe…or maybe not.  All I can say is, I have several unanswered questions, and I wish I was as good at solving tricky puzzles as your average ACPT attendee.

Thomas W. Underhill

With Judith Perry, the obituary told you everything you needed to know.  For Thomas Underhill, the following obituary was posted by the Harvard Law Bulletin . . . and [was] surprisingly brief:

Fortunately, I have other sources to tell me more.  He was born Thomas Westlake Underhill on 6 Apr 1924.  [Ed.:  Thomas W. Underhill published 11 (or more) pre-Shortzian Times puzzles between 1986 and 1993, plus 1 during the Shortz era.]  I’m not sure where he was born, but probably in or near northern New Jersey, as I have a picture of him from 1941 at Summit HS in Summit, NJ.

I also have a picture of him from 1944 at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ.  Mr. Underhill is the second from the right.

This picture is the school’s Charter Club…actually, the group was large enough to need two pictures.  I was lucky Thomas sat in the front, so I could include the legend without making everything too small.

He went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, then a degree from Harvard Law School (hence the obit above).  But we haven’t mentioned crosswords yet.  We also haven’t mentioned that Thomas was a mystery writer.  He wrote a novel called The Cambridge Caper, which was published posthumously by his children.  Here is the introduction written by his daughter Sarah, which gives a nice overview of her father, including mentioning he constructed crosswords.

Sarah Wisseman isn’t just a mystery writer, she’s also an archaeologist who published “five books of non-fiction on ancient Greek vases, Greek archaeology, scientific methods in archaeology, and Egyptian mummies.”  This is from the About page on her personal website . . . , which I enclose a part of below.

Her website also has a Contact page, where one can e-mail Sarah. . . .

Finally, I want to mention another obituary I found, this one from Princeton University.  As you can see, they published a more thorough biography, including details I wasn’t aware of.

Score: Princeton 1, Harvard 0.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Updates on Charles Erlenkotter, Betty Jorgensen, and William J. Yskamp

Project Update

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Today I'm especially thankful for all the people who've helped out with the project and delighted to present some fascinating new information that's come in recently about several pre-Shortzian constructors—read on!

Charles Erlenkotter

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Donald Erlenkotter, Professor Emeritus of Management at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management (and former fellow Stanford student—M.B.A., M.S., and Ph.D.!).  Charles Erlenkotter, whose February 15, 1942, puzzle was the first crossword ever published in The New York Times, was Don's great-uncle.  Don informed me that the information about Charles's wife contained a couple of errors:

They give her name as Wilhemina Weinachten, whereas it should be Wilhelmina Weinacht.  In almost all records, she used the shortened version Mina.  We haven't been able to track down her death date, but it was after Charles's in 1948 and before her sister Henrietta's in 1951.

Don also enclosed this September 28, 1948, obituary from the Times, along with his current writeup on Charles, which "documents his early history with the Hamburg-American Line at San Francisco (1910–11) and as Southwestern regional manager at St. Louis (1914–17)."

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

In a follow-up e-mail, Don told me that he'd had two other great-uncles in addition to Charles—Walter and Francis—and that none of them had had any children.  Don didn't remember ever meeting Charles, though he did meet Frank once in San Francisco in the mid-1960s.  He added:

From an on-line search, I have the same set of 8 puzzles you have from the NYT.  I searched some other newspapers and turned up a dozen of his puzzles in The Washington Post.  The earliest was on 26 November 1939, and is titled "Meeting Place of the Puzzle Makers."  The last was on 9 October 1944.  Some are captioned "Daily Crossword Puzzle."

There are a number of entries for him on under passenger lists.  I included one in my writeup since it had dates of birth for him and his wife.  There's another for the two of them in 1911 for their arrival from Bermuda - undoubtedly on their honeymoon.

There's also an entry for him in Biography Index for 1949 - probably referencing the NYT obit.

In a subsequent e-mail, Don sent me a notice of Louise Erlenkotter's estate, as published in the January 24, 1937, New York Times:

Image courtesy of Donald Erlenkotter.

Don noted:

Unfortunately, I don't know of any photographs of Charles Erlenkotter.  Documents are scarce in my family - my grandfather, Herman Erlenkotter, was a West Point graduate and artillery officer, so the family moved frequently and didn't spend much time in NJ or NY.  He died in 1933, and the only photos I have from the family are from about 1912 into the 1920s, mostly of the children.

Don mentioned, though, that while searching for more crossword information on Charles, he'd found more of his puzzles in other papers:  34 Sunday puzzles in the Springfield Republican (Springfield, Mass.) from 1934 to 1945; 4 puzzles in the Pittsburgh Daily Post (9/21/24, 6/11/25, 7/11/25, 11/7/28); 1 in the Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.; 11/5/24); 1 puzzle printed twice in The Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.; 10/19/28 and 10/21/28); 7 puzzles in The Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.; 7/3/32, 12/4/32, 2/19/33, 8/6/33, 1/6/35, 3/24/35, 10/8/35) under the heading "Meeting Place of the Puzzle Makers," as also seen in The Washington Post; and 1 posthumous puzzle published on 7/4/54 in both the Denton Record-Chronicle (Denton, Texas) and The Daily Herald (Provo, Utah).

The Billings puzzle was preceded by this comment:

We haven't seen any puzzles by Mr. Erlenkotter, our Canadian contributor, on this page for some time.  Whenever we do, though, we feel quite pleased about it, because we know that here we have a puzzle that conforms beautifully to all rules of puzzle construction - with some original additions of Mr. Erlenkotter's own.

Have you ever noticed that these diagonally bi-symmetrical puzzles almost invariably have diagonal staircases running from the lower left-hand corner to the upper right?  There must be some strange reason for it, because there's certainly no reason why the diagonals shouldn't run downward and to the right.  Have you any theories on the subject?

Don noted that the posthumous puzzle was copyrighted by Simon & Schuster and wondered whether Simon & Schuster might still have any files on Charles.  He also wondered how puzzles were sold to newspapers:  "It looks like the contributors probably dealt with newspapers individually—there's no indication that puzzles were syndicated like comic strips, or that newspapers copyrighted them."

While researching Charles's puzzles, Don began thinking about how Charles's puzzle was chosen to be the first in the Times and came up with this very interesting theory:

Here's a crossword puzzle "mystery":  why, and how, was a puzzle by Charles Erlenkotter chosen as the first to appear inThe New York Times?  As far as I can determine, there was no advance notice in the paper that puzzles were about to appear.  They just showed up on 2/15/1942 on p. 36 of the NYT Magazine.

The Times seems to have been in something of a state of disarray about this.  It appears that they were revamping the Magazine in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into WWII.  On 2/21/1942, p. 8, they describe its coming features, and below the heading "If We Want to Win This War" they include a list of features "Fashions - Food - Home Decoration - Child Care - Crossword Puzzles" followed by the announcement "Sunday in The New York Times Magazine."

The next day, p. 26, the contents IN TODAY of The New York Times Magazine conclude with "and a brand new Crossword Puzzle Page."  No mention is made of the one the previous week.

Three days later, on 2/25/1942, p. 40, we have:

So, after missing the ball originally, the NYT was trying here to make up the lost ground.

Now, back to the Charles Erlenkotter puzzle.  Certainly the 2/15/1942 puzzle wasn't submitted in response to any call for puzzles in the NYT since there wasn't any before this date.  Surely the key here is Margaret Farrar.  I doubt that she could have used any puzzles she may have already had on hand since there would be a conflict of interest with her other employers for whom she had obtained the puzzles - Simon & Schuster, etc.  Most likely she contacted some of the puzzle constructors she knew and solicited puzzles from them specifically for the NYT.  I would bet that she knew, or knew of, Charles.  They had both been active in producing puzzles since the mid-1920s.  When Charles returned to the U.S. from Canada at the outset of WWII, it's highly plausible that he would have contacted her since she was highly visible through the Simon & Schuster puzzle books, etc.  He then could have sent her this new puzzle, and probably others as well.

Don's theory makes a lot of sense—if only we had more details on exactly what happened back then!  But at least we still have the puzzles and copies (if only digital now!) of the papers, which give us enough to make some very good guesses.

In my most recent e-mail from Don, he reported some new finds:

I've obtained some additional information for Charles from passenger arrivals and border crossings on  Have addresses for him in Irvington, NJ in 1926-1927, and in Montreal from 1928 through 1939.  He was living in the Bronx from 1942 until his death in 1948.  So far nothing on him from 1919 through 1926.

I ran across a 1943 puzzle book in the Library of Congress (not from Simon & Schuster) that lists Charles as a contributor.

Thanks so much again, Don, for all your help with this!  It not only fills in many of the gaps in what we know about Charles Erlenkotter but also brings that whole era back to life.

Betty Jorgensen

Moving on, in early October, Karen Richards of Eugene, Oregon, wrote to me about Betty Jorgensen.  Karen followed up on my October 4 update and contacted Laura Jorgensen, who works at the University of Oregon and might have been a granddaughter of Betty.  Unfortunately, although Laura's grandmother was indeed a Betty Jorgensen, she wasn't a puzzle maker.  Thanks so much anyway, Karen, for following up on this—at least we can cross that lead off our list!

William J. Yskamp

Finally, the morning of November 18 I received an e-mail from Amanda Yskamp, one of William J. Yskamp's daughters.  She had discovered the July 29, 2015, post and confirmed that we had indeed found the right person—William was her father, and he had passed away eight years ago on that very day.  Amanda noted, "He was a wonderful wordsmith, and would have been pleased to know that his legacy lives on."

Then, that evening, an e-mail arrived from Claire Yskamp, William's wife, who wrote:

Yes, that William J. Yskamp was a clever constructor of Sunday puzzles.  He stopped constructing, alas, after one of his puzzles was published erroneously by the Times under someone else's name.

I'm delighted to see that you found him and charmed to see his high school yearbook picture.

Claire also noted that the name of their oldest daughter is Lise (not Lis, as incorrectly listed in a 2003 obituary for Delia Yskamp).  In a subsequent e-mail, she wrote:

Although I met Mr. Maleska only once, at a dinner given him by New England constructors, I have many memories of his editing style.  For example, he labeled Bill's definition of Onan--"he cast his seed on the ground"--as "too seamy" for NYT solvers; and he changed it to "______ even keel."

The Times published a correction the week after the misattribution, but that didn't attach Bill's name to his puzzle. That was his last contribution to the Times.

Although Claire didn't remember when exactly that was, I checked XWord Info and dug through my records again, and the last puzzle William published in the Times was on August 4, 1985; although the puzzle itself was correct, the author and title were incorrectly listed as Bert Rosenfield and "Age 35: Aaugh!"  Bert Rosenfield's puzzle subsequently appeared eight weeks later on September 29.  If only Maleska had correctly printed the author and title of William's puzzle—who knows how many more William J. Yskamp puzzles might have appeared in the Times and been up on XWord Info today?  Thanks so much again, Claire and Amanda, for contacting me about William!

On that note, I'll sign off for now, especially since I smell the beginnings of Thanksgiving dinner!  Although I'll be busy for the next couple of weeks studying for finals, I hope to have another post up sometime in December for the holidays.