Friday, March 20, 2015

1959 Puzzles Done (35 Years!), American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the Pre-Shortz Era, Nancy A. Corbett, and Three-peat Winner Barbara Hindenach

Project Update

Great news:  I just sent the proofread 1959 puzzles to Jim Horne at XWord Info, which means we've now finished 35 years of proofreading!  There are only 17 left, and starting in late 1950, all the remaining years will be Sunday puzzles only, so those should go even more quickly!

We made terrific progress again this week, starting off on Saturday morning with 30 puzzles from Mark Diehl.  Sunday night Dave Phillips sent 31 puzzles with 76 mistakes, which were followed by 31 more from Mark five minutes later.  Monday evening Mark sent another 28, and then Tuesday morning Todd sent 10 with 9 mistakes.  That night Mark sent 31 more, which were followed by another 30 from Denny Baker.  Wednesday afternoon Todd sent 10 more with 172 mistakes (yes, 172—probably the all-time high!)!  Just over an hour later Mark sent another 31, then later on 30 more.  Thursday afternoon Mark sent another 14 and then later that night 19 more.  Finally, late Friday afternoon he sent another 11.  Awesome job, everyone—thanks so much again!

I'll be attending the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) next week, so the next blog post will be in two weeks—hope to see many of you in Stamford!

Barbara Hindenach Three-peat Blast! Winner

Congratulations again to Barbara Hindenach, who on Wednesday sent in the first correct answer to last week's Blast! challenge, making her a three-peat winner!  The clue, which was from the May 28, 1955, puzzle, was "One of the new wonders of the world."  The entry:  ELECTRONIC BRAIN.  I think this referred to robots back then, but nowadays there might be some technological brain implant that would make this clue and entry just as current!

The next Blast! challenge is in the sidebar, and I'll announce the first correct solver (if there is one!) in two weeks!

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the Pre-Shortz Era

New York Times March 6, 1978, story on first ACPT.

This year marks a major change in the ACPT, which for the first time since 2007 will be held in its original venue in Stamford, Connecticut!  As the above photo shows, the very first ACPT took place in 1978 and had 161 "enthusiasts."  The $20 entry fee included "luncheon, plus a cut-rate room," Will Shortz was 25, contestants ranged in age from 15 (Michael Miller) to 69 (Ruth Emini), and the winner was Nancy Schuster!

In honor of the ACPT's return to Stamford, I've posted two articles from the pre-Shortz era about the tournament and its competitors on Scribd.  Both were written by the amazing Helene Hovanec, and the first—"The Nation's Top Solvers:  Carol Barboni, Jon Delfin, Doug Hoylman, and Ellen Ripstein"—originally appeared in the May/June 1991 issue of CROSSW RD Magazine, which you can see here.  The second—"Competitive Aficionados:  Miriam Raphael and Ed Bethea"—was published in CROSSW RD Magazine's March/April 1993 issue and can be seen here.  "Life on the Circuit," Helene's account of what happens at the ACPT and why it's so much fun appears in this issue as well, and you can read it below too:

Copyright 1993, 2015, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSSW-RD Magazine.

Nancy A. Corbett Born in Stamford

Finally, a few days ago I heard from litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross, who had found an obituary of constructor Nancy A. Corbett.  Todd pointed out that not only had Nancy published two puzzles in the Times, one in the pre-Shortz era and the other some six weeks later after Will Shortz became editor, but she was also born in Stamford, Connecticut!  Thanks so much again, Todd—onward, Stamford!

Friday, March 13, 2015

1960 Puzzles Up, Will Shortz in CROSSW RD Magazine, and Barbara Hindenach Solves Blast! Challenge—Again!

Project Update

It's been another busy week on the proofreading front, starting off with 5 puzzles from Mark Diehl on Friday night, which he followed up with 31 more Saturday morning, then another 31 that afternoon, and finally 30 more later on.  Tuesday night he sent another 31 puzzles, which were followed by 19 more.  Then early Wednesday morning Todd Gross sent 8 puzzles with 14 mistakes.  Soon thereafter Mark sent 7 more, and after that 31 came in from Denny Baker.  Thursday night Mark sent 26 more, which were followed by 31 more Friday afternoon.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're continuing to make great progress!

Speaking of progress, I sent the 1960 proofread puzzles to Jim Horne at XWord Info Monday evening—to see them, click here.  Thanks again, Jim!  I'm hoping to have the 1959 puzzles ready within the next week or so.

Barbara Hindenach Solves Blast! Challenge—Again!

Congratulations to Barbara Hindenach, who was the first to solve last week's Blast! challenge—again!  Barbara sent in her answer Wednesday morning and was also the first to solve the February 20 challenge!  Last week's clue, from the July 28, 1956, puzzle, was "Item on the Congressional agenda."  The entry:  FORTY-NINTH STATE.  How times have changed!

New York Times, October 14, 1956.

This week's Blast! challenge is up in the sidebar and is a real doozy!

Will Shortz in CROSSW RD Magazine

I'm continuing to make my way through the old issues of CROSSW RD Magazine, and this week I'm delighted to post Helene Hovanec's fascinating profile of puzzlemaster Will Shortz!  "Renaissance Man:  Will Shortz" originally appeared in the May/June 1992 issue and can be seen on Scribd by clicking here.  A comprehensive overview of Will's legendary life in puzzles, this article is only missing one thing that might appear in a similar piece today:  an allusion to his other great passion, table tennis!

Photo copyright 1992, 2015, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted
by permission of Stan Chess and CROSSW-RD Magazine.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, titled "Triple Play," was constructed by Charles Baron; published April 8, 1956; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Barry Haldiman; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  This innovative puzzle could well be the first Sunday-sized crossword with a triple-stack of grid-spanning entries!  And although I haven't yet looked through the last few years of daily crosswords, I wouldn't be surprised if this were the first Times crossword to contain a triple-stack of grid-spanning entries.  What makes this puzzle even more remarkable is that the constructor didn't just settle for an ordinary stack of 21-letter entries—he chose three that are somewhat related in that they could all fit under the umbrella of Americana:  THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR, SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFIT, and UNITED STATES TERRITORY!  Other sparkly entries in the puzzle's 136-word grid include SARCASM, RAW FOOD, MARTYRS, LABRADOR, and LOVABLE.  I find it amazing that, despite the triple stack and wide-open corners, the constructor was able to squeeze in so much zip!  Not surprisingly, the stack and open corners necessitated a handful of major obscurities, such as AMANIA (Afghanistan gold unit.), CRIBRAL (Of sieve-like structure.), MATSURI (Japanese religious festival.), PAEGELS (Danish liquid measures.), and SISTANI (Natives of SW Afghanistan.).  That said, the majority of the entries crossing the tri-stack are perfectly fine.  Thus, from a technical perspective, I think the constructor did an admirable job!  The clues are mostly standard, though there are a couple that caught my eye:  "Scene of Russian visitation." for ENGLAND and "Descriptive of our age." for JET.  While looking through packets, I've made a point of noting every potential Cold War or Space Age reference I come across.  I'm hoping that all these contemporary clues, when read together, will provide a unique perspective on 20th-century history!  My dream would be to discover patterns in the pre-Shortzian crosswords that would detail a World War II or Cold War plot, sort of like what John Nash was seeking in magazines and newspapers in A Beautiful Mind, though I highly doubt that such patterns were present in the early puzzles.  So for now, I'll just stick to my goal of coming up with a new perspective!  Philosophy and speculation aside, here's the solution to the featured puzzle:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Merl Reagle in CROSSW RD Magazine and Todd Gross on Con Pederson

Project Update

Our proofreaders have been very busy again this week, starting off on Friday night with 3 puzzles from Mark Diehl!  He sent 31 more Saturday morning, another 30 that afternoon, and 31 more that night.  Early Sunday morning Todd Gross sent 6 with 10 mistakes, which were followed by four more shipments that day from Mark:  31, 16, 30, and 6 (whew!).  Monday afternoon Todd sent 14 more puzzles with 30 mistakes, and then Denny Baker sent in 25 more.  That night Mark sent another 30, then 31 more Tuesday night, another 29 Wednesday night, and 9 more Thursday afternoon.  That night, Denny sent another 30.  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

I'm just finishing going over the 1960 proofread puzzles, which are taking a bit longer than I expected, and working my way through packets from the mid-1950s before sending them out for proofreading.  Sometimes the litzed puzzles are incomplete, have incorrect dates, or contain other obvious problems, which I try to resolve before they get proofread.  It's a long, slow process, but we'll get there!  Thanks again, everyone!

Blast! Challenge Unsolved

Last week's Blast! challenge was unsolved—I guess it was a real stumper!  The clue, which was a mouthful and from the May 19, 1957, puzzle, was "Resurgent type of feminine pulchritude."  The entry:  PLATINUM BLOND.  Here's a photo of Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most famous platinum blond—and example of feminine pulchritude!

Photo courtesy of

There's a new Blast! challenge up in the sidebar—hopefully this one will prove easier!

New Nancy Schuster Photo

After last week's post appeared, Nancy Schuster e-mailed me and sent along a great photo from her Dell days—thanks so much, Nancy!

Nancy Schuster (center) at Dell with (left to right) Leslie Billig, Kelly Gary, Linda
Colonna, and Joel Hess.

Merl Reagle in CROSSW RD Magazine

This week I've posted Helene Hovanec's wonderful two-part profile of legendary constructor Merl Reagle on Scribd.  Titled "West Coast Contemporary:  Merl Reagle," this piece originally appeared in the September/October and November/December 1991 issues of CROSSW RD Magazine and can be seen by clicking here.  Merl began constructing puzzles as a child and has led an amazing life—if things had worked out differently, he might well have become a screenwriter or even a rock star!  Luckily for us, he became one of the greatest and most amusing constructors ever.

Photo copyright 1991, 2015, Megalo Media,
Inc. Reprinted by permission of Stan Chess and
CROSSW-RD Magazine.

Todd Gross on Con Pederson

Litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross was doing some research on pre-Shortzian constructors recently and wrote me about Con Pederson, who appeared to have published at least three puzzles in the pre-Shortz era.  That turned out to be incorrect, as Todd explains below, and I have since sent the corrections to Jim Horne at XWord Info.

Photo by William Moritz and courtesy of Animation
World Magazine.

You may know a constructor named Con Pederson who, according to XWordInfo, has had 8 puzzles in the Shortz Era (all Sundays!) and three pre-Shortzian puzzles.  I looked him up, he's quite an interesting fellow.  His main claim to fame isn't actually crosswords, it's his work on Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.  His IMDB page says he was "special photographic effects supervisor" for the movie.  His role was significant enough he appeared in the TV documentary 2001: The Making of a Myth.  There's a great interview with him about his work on that movie and other things. . . .  [L]et me quote the part most relevant to us:

WM: So what did you do after  2001?

CP: Well, I worked on a novel that I am still working on after 30 years, but I don't take it seriously. The trouble with writing is that I always sort of enjoyed treating it as a kind of cartoon. I like the fact that I started out as a cartoonist more or less, advertising art and commercials not withstanding, so I guess what writing I've done has been sort of verbal cartoons, sort of tongue-in-cheek maybe. I felt that if I wrote really serious stuff, which I have a drawer full of, when I'd look at it later, my mind set was so different that I thought, "This is crap." So I guess I didn't have to be a writer for any particular reasons. My verbal skills were sufficient so that now I entertain myself by constructing crosswords. I started high class crosswords last year. I have had several in the Wall Street Journal, a couple in the Washington Post. Crossword construction has been the hobby that has replaced stamp collecting. It's an unappreciated craft, because it's exceptionally difficult and there are only a few people who are really good at constructing crosswords, by that I mean the Sunday puzzles, the good ones that are always entertaining because of the theme. That's kind of replaced any thoughts of making a movie someday. 
This interview was in 1999.  That might seem odd to you, since Con doesn't mention the New York Times, although XWordInfo shows those 3 pre-Shortzian puzzles.  Actually, there's a good reason for that.  XWordInfo is wrong, those three pre-Shortzian puzzles ascribed to him were actually by someone else. 
How do I know that?  Because I e-mailed Con recently.  I remembered seeing that name in CRU-L in my early days there, so I went back in my archives and found an old e-mail address, and tried e-mailing him there.  It worked.  He told me about the puzzles he did for the NYT, only mentioning the 8 Shortzian ones.  He did once try a 15x15 puzzle on Will, but Will said no.  He liked Sunday puzzles because to him the smaller size puzzles were unthemed.  So that's how far back he goes...but I reckon he was too busy in the film industry and animation to try his hand at constructing until 1998 or so.

Pretty neat, eh?  Con is 80 years old now, and says the yard work and his 6 cats (!) keep him busy.  I'm not sure where he's living now, the L.A. area would be my best guess.

I'm guessing the 3 Pre-Shortzian puzzles ascribed to him were actually by Marjorie Pedersen...though that's far from clear given we only have her doing 2 Sunday puzzles, the last in 1980.

Thanks so much again for all this research, Todd!  It's particularly valuable when corrections to the database can be made, especially with regard to authorship, so if anyone else comes across errors of any sort, please contact me!