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!

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