Friday, May 29, 2015

1955 Puzzles Done, Denny Baker on C. E. Noel, Todd Gross on Charles Erlenkotter, and Howard Barkin Three-peat Blast! Winner

Project Update

Great news:  The proofread 1955 puzzles are now done and, thanks to Jim Horne, should be up on XWord Info soon!  And I just sent off the second-to-last batch of proofreading yesterday—only one more packet remains!  As for puzzles, this week Denny Baker started us off Saturday morning with 13, then another 13 Sunday night.  Monday afternoon Mark Diehl sent 13, then 13 more that night.  Late Wednesday afternoon, while waiting for a flight at JFK, Mark sent 13 more (reminding me of the days when he'd litz on the go—see the August 10, 2012, post!).  Then early Thursday morning Todd Gross sent 13 more puzzles, in which he found 37 mistakes.  Thanks so much again, everyone—we're almost there!

I'll be graduating from high school next Thursday and then staying up all night for Grad Nite at some secret location in Southern California, so the next blog post will be in two weeks—right before I leave for ideacity in Toronto!

Howard Barkin Three-peat Blast! Winner

Congratulations to Howard Barkin, who not only was the first to solve last week's very tricky Blast! challenge but is also a three-peat winner!  Howard sent in the correct answer (and managed to break Mark Diehl's amazing winning streak!) on Sunday after just two letters had been revealed.  The clue, from the March 14, 1952, puzzle, was "Status of the children of the old woman who lived in a shoe."  The answer:  UNDERFOOT (as in the illustration below!).

Image courtesy of

As usual, there's a new Blast! challenge up in the sidebar—the name of the first person to solve it correctly will be announced in two weeks!

Denny Baker on C. E. Noel

Following up on last week's post about C. E. Noel—which may have been a pseudonym for Charles Erlenkotter—I received an e-mail from Denny Baker, who said he'd guessed that the "C. E." stood for Christmas Eve (since the puzzle appeared on December 24).  This is a very interesting possibility too, especially since quite a bit of time had elapsed between the publication of this puzzle and Charles Erlenkotter's preceding puzzles in the Times.

Todd Gross on Charles Erlenkotter

In addition, some time ago litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross wrote to me about some research he'd been conducting on Charles Erlenkotter.  Here's what he dug up:

I finally bagged the big one.  The one who started it all at the NY Times: Charles Erlenkotter.

I'd tried in the past, and didn't find much even though I had a "secret" advantage: I had an address for him.  In Montreal.

Courtesy of The New York Herald Tribune, October
26, 1929.

That's from the 26 Oct 1929 New York Herald-Tribune (the latest puzzle I have by him from the H-T).  I tried, but didn't find much of anything.  But I tried again recently, and this time I tried Google.  And I found out a bit more about him:

I found a couple of articles in the Montreal Gazette that mentioned he was the manager of the Montreal office of the Hamburg-American Line.  I'm enclosing one from 1933.

Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette,
September 12, 1933.

The Hamburg-American Line is actually pretty interesting in its own right.  The company managed to survive two world wars (much of their fleet was taken as war reparations in both wars) to merge into Hapag-Lloyd in 1970 (they're the Hapag part).

But back to Charles: I'd assumed he was Canadian given the address and the lack of info on Ancestry (my membership only covers U.S. records, I can see the existence of foreign records but I can't look at them).  But this time was more helpful.  I'll get to that in a bit.  First I should probably mention an interesting blurb I found in a NY paper Daily Argus in 1937.  It says that Louise Erlenkotter of White Plains had passed away and left $3,500 to her son "Charles Erlenkotter of Montreal, Can."  So that ties Charles to upstate NY, which connected him to records I got from

Courtesy of The Daily Argus, January 25, 1937.

As the Ancestry bio shows, Charles Erlenkotter was born in Hoboken, NJ on 9 Jun 1881 and passed away 26 Sep 1948 in White Plains, NY.  I don't know when he returned to the US, and alas I haven't found an obituary...or any other document that verifies that date, but Ancestry seems rather sure about it.

Courtesy of

Fascinating finds, Todd—thanks so much again for all your great research!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Denny Baker's C. E. Noel Discovery, Margaret Farrar in CROSSW RD Magazine, More on Robert Guilbert, Mark Diehl Five-Time Blast! Winner, and Pondering Two-Letter Entries

Project Update

This week was jump-started last Friday afternoon by Todd Gross, who sent in 9 puzzles with 58 mistakes.  Then less than an hour later Denny Baker sent in 14 more.  On Sunday afternoon Mark Diehl sent 13, which were followed by another 14 from Denny that night.  And Wednesday night Denny sent 13 more.  Great job, everyone, and thanks again!  I'm now sending out puzzles from 1943—the end is definitely in sight, and by early next week I should have the 1955 puzzles ready to send to XWord Info!

Denny Baker's C. E. Noel Discovery

As Denny was proofreading this past week, he made a great discovery:  The December 24, 1944, puzzle was by C. E. Noel, which he pointed out was an obvious pseudonym.  I hadn't noticed that before, and when Denny wondered who it could have been, my guess was Charles Erlenkotter.  Charles published five puzzles in the Times in 1942, including the first one ever on February 15, 1942; three in 1943; and one—if this was indeed his—in 1944.  According to my records, this puzzle was his last for the Times, and lists a Charles Erlenkotter who passed away in 1948 in White Plains, New York.  Thanks so much again, Denny, for noticing this pseudonym!

Mark Diehl Five-Time Blast! Winner

Litzer, proofreader, and now Blast! solver extraordinaire Mark Diehl is on a winning streak!  On Monday at 10:30 a.m., after three letters had been revealed, he was the first to solve last week's super-hard Blast! challenge and is now the first five-time Blast! winner—congratulations again, Mark!  The clue, which was from the June 16, 1952, puzzle, was "Legal status for oleo in New York, July 1, 1952."  The answer:  PRECOLORED.  Sounds appetizing . . . not!

Image courtesy of

This week's Blast! challenge is up in the sidebar, as usual—good luck!

Margaret Farrar in CROSS WORD Magazine

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

I've been continuing to make my way through the old issues of CROSSW RD Magazine, and this week I've posted Helene Hovanec's wonderful portrait of Margaret Farrar on Scribd.  "A Crossword Hall-of-Famer:  Margaret Farrar" was originally published in the November/December 1992 issue of CROSSW RD Magazine; to read it, click here.  The article was introduced by Helene's short piece "Robert Guilbert's Crossword Academy," which you can read here.  Guilbert spent the final years of his life trying to establish a crossword academy; I wrote about him and his American Crossword Puzzle Academy and Hall of Fame in posts on November 21, 2014December 5, 2014; and December 19, 2014.  Although Guilbert's vision was never realized, Helene pointed out that "the raison d'etre behind his Academy—honoring the people who have contributed most to the profession—will continue in another format—through CROSSW RD magazine's establishment of a Crossword Hall of Fame."  Margaret Farrar was the first inductee.

Featured Puzzle:  Pondering Two-Letter Entries 

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published Friday, May 2, 1952; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Barry Haldiman; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  According to my records, this is the penultimate New York Times puzzle whose grid included two-letter entries for nonthematic purposes; the last, which was published August 1 of that year, is also an interesting construction and will likely be featured in a future blog post.  In any case, I find this 72-word themeless fascinating, even though it technically violates a basic rule of crossword construction.  By breaking the rules, the constructor was able to create double-stacks of twelve- and fourteen-letter entries, a feat that is much more difficult under modern grid restrictions.  The twelve- and fourteen-letter entries are all very nice, my favorite being the timely/anticommunist FREE NATIONS.  Both the two-letter entries the constructor used, OF and NT, seem stronger to me than numerous other short entries in the puzzle, such as TORP (clued as "Small farm, in Sweden.") and NEI ("Moslem flute: Var.").  I find it slightly annoying that OF crosses NORTH OF IRELAND, but I've seen many more major duplicates, even in modern-day constructions.  I wonder, are two-letter entries really that bad?  They've been banned in crosswords for many years, but how many more impressive constructions could be produced if they were allowed again?  Could, for example, the lowest block count (17) be pushed even lower?  And would the inclusion of two-letter entries reduce the number of stale three- and four-letter entries that solvers always complain about, such as EKE and ALAI?  The natural argument against two-letter entries is that there are a limited number of them, which would make for an overly predictable solving experience.  Then again, there are 676 possible two-letter combinations, and would an occasional two-letter word be that detrimental to the solving experience?  I doubt these questions will ever be answered, especially since there's no Theoretical Crosswords major at any college (darn!).  But returning to the puzzle, I also appreciated the mid-length and longish fill in its grid, especially BOTTICELLI, RACCOONS, and HOUDINI.  BARBUSSE ("Henri ___, author of 'Under Fire,' 1916."), SAKHALIN ("Large island off coast of Siberia."), KRUTCH ("Joseph Wood ___, author of 'The Desert Year.'"), and NOROTON ("Town on L. I. sound above Stamford, Conn.") were all new to me, though the Stamford reference in the last of these clues made me smile!  Perhaps NOROTON would be a better place for a Scrabble tournament, given that its name consists of seven friendly letters (although NOROTON itself would be an illegal play).  In all, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking pre-Shortzian puzzle, despite its major shortcoming, and I'm looking forward to looking through more puzzles that make me ponder crossword conventions!  As usual, the solution to this week's featured puzzle can be seen below:

Friday, May 15, 2015

1956 Puzzles Up, Todd Gross on Jean J. Davison, and Mark Diehl First Four-Time Blast! Winner

Project Update

We've been making great progress on the proofreading, and the 1956 puzzles are now up on XWord Info, thanks to Jim Horne!  This week's puzzles started coming in on Friday night, when Denny Baker sent 15, which were followed by 13 from Mark Diehl.  Late Saturday night Mark sent another 13, then Sunday morning Denny sent 8, followed a few hours later by 1 more.  That evening Mark sent 13, which were followed a short while later by 9 from Denny and another 13 from Mark.  Monday afternoon Mark sent 13 more, and Tuesday afternoon Denny sent 12 and then another 8 Wednesday afternoon.  That night Mark sent 16 more, then another 15 Thursday morning, which were followed by 12 from new proofreader Patsy Stewart (who found 83 mistakes).  Thanks so much again, everyone!  The next puzzles that go out for proofreading will be from 1944, so we have less than three years left!

Mark Diehl First Four-Time Blast! Winner

I'm delighted to announce that Mark Diehl is the first four-time Blast! from the Past winner—congratulations, Mark!  Sunday morning at 9:34 a.m., after just two letters had been revealed, he sent in the correct answer to the May 18, 1952, clue "It threatens to crack."  The answer:  SOLID SOUTH.  Mark noted that the South "did 'crack' a bit during Eisenhower's election to the presidency."

1952 House Election Map. Image courtesy of uselec- 

This week's Blast! challenge is now up in the sidebar—good luck, everyone!

Todd Gross on Jean J. Davison

Photo credit:  John A. Davison

Some time ago litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross sent me an e-mail about pre-Shortzian constructor Jean J. Davison.  According to my records, Jean published at least 62 puzzles in The New York Times from 1972 to 1993.  Todd wrote:

This time, I looked up Jean J Davison.  With a good bit of effort, and some piecing together, I can definitely say I found her.  However, it's not as simple as that.  Here's the problem: there are three people named Jean Davison in roughly the same part of the world whose biographies overlap.  Two, in fact, have lived in Burlington, VT, which really confused me for a while.  There are other Jean Davisons who also confused me at times.

The one I'm sure about developed TV Crosswords for what is now Universal U-Click and has authored a few books, including one about Lee Harvey Oswald.  I am enclosing a detailed bio of her, which mentions the crossword puzzles.

Though I'm not 100% sure, I have good reason to believe she is still alive, and living in Burlington, VT.

Here's the biography Todd found:

Fascinating research, Todd—thanks so much again!  It's amazing that two of the three Jean Davisons with overlapping biographies lived in Burlington, Vermont!  Looking for a photo of Jean, I did a little more research; as Todd mentions, she did indeed write a book on Lee Harvey Oswald, and I discovered that she has an author page on  Her book, Oswald's Game, was published in 1983 by W. W. Norton and included an introduction by Norman Mailer.  A search of her name on the Web site didn't produce any photos of her but did show that Jean was still active on the site earlier this year.  And, following up on a link to a review of her book, I finally found a photo of her, which I've posted above. 

Image courtesy of oswalds-game.

Friday, May 8, 2015

1957 Puzzles Up, Blast! Winners List, Jim Horne's Baseball Cards, Eric Albert in CROSSW RD Magazine, and Mark Diehl Three-peat Blast! Winner

Project Update

Great news—the 1957 puzzles are now up on XWord Info, and I'm making my way through the ones from 1956, which have all been proofread!  Thanks again to Jim Horne for hosting them!

It's been another busy week, starting off on Saturday afternoon with 31 proofread puzzles from Mark Diehl!  Sunday evening Denny Baker sent 13 more, and then Monday morning Todd Gross sent in 9 (in which he found 45 mistakes).  Late Tuesday afternoon Denny sent 11 more, which were followed by 31 from Mark that night and another 30 from Mark later on.  Wednesday afternoon Mark sent 31 more, then another 20 at the end of the afternoon and 14 more Thursday morning.  And then Friday afternoon Todd Gross finished off the week with another 13 puzzles (which contained 95 mistakes)!  Great job, everyone—thanks so much!  We're now zipping through the 1940s, when there were no daily puzzles, so at this rate we should be done with all the proofreading in the not-too-distant future!

Mark Diehl Three-peat Blast! Winner

Congratulations to Mark Diehl, who, on Monday at 9:46 a.m., after three letters had been revealed, was the first to send in the correct answer to last week's Blast! challenge.  Mark is also another three-peat winner—congrats, congrats, congrats, Mark!  The clue, from the September 7, 1952, puzzle, was "It's all the rage in drugstores."  The answer:  CHLOROPHYLL.  I wasn't around back then, so it's hard for me to imagine throngs of shoppers lining up to buy chlorophyll!  And Mark noted, "I don't remember it being 'the rage' as a deodorizer, but apparently it was—though it was scientifically debunked in the form being sold."

Image courtesy of

Blast! Winners Now on Contest Totals Page

There's a new Blast! feature now on the Contest Totals page, where you'll find a list of all the Blast! challenge winners so far, in alphabetical order by last name and with the dates their wins were announced, by number of Blast! challenges won.  Keeping track of everyone's wins was becoming increasingly "challenge-ing," so this should help!  Maybe this week's Blast! (see the sidebar) will even give us our first four-time winner!

Jim Horne's Baseball Cards Feature

Jim Horne has a terrific baseball card feature up on XWord Info!  This is a fun and easy way to keep track of pre-Shortzian constructors' "stats."  For example, as Jim pointed out, there are now 72 puzzles by Helen Fasulo up on the site.  Since Helen Fasulo never published a Sunday crossword in the Times, her name would have been lost to history if we hadn't gone through the process of matching the bylines from the Farrar daily puzzle collections to my spreadsheet.  Now if only we could find her photo!

Eric Albert in CROSSW RD Magazine

As some of you may remember, back in November 2013 I posted a link to Eric Albert's fascinating 1992 article "Crosswords by Computer—or 1,000 Nine-Letter Words a Day for Fun and Profit."  As I was looking through more old issues of CROSSW RD Magazine this week, I was delighted to discover a profile of this crossword software pioneer by Helene Hovanec.  The article, "A Man, a Plan, a Computer," appeared in the September/October 1992 issue and is now on Scribd.  Here's a particularly interesting quote:

. . . there's a reason I sell everything I do and there's a reason I got so popular so quickly.  Unlike the majority of others I construct to make money.  I didn't grow up thinking someday I wanted to be a crossword constructor.  Most people in this business really enjoy sitting down and making crossword puzzles.  The reason I got into this was to make a living; so I spend all my energies on two things—trying to make the editors happy and trying to make the solvers happy.  I almost never construct a puzzle to make me happy.

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

Featured Puzzle

I thought I'd hit the pre-Shortzian crossword jackpot when I discovered last week's featured 68-worder, though much to my surprise, I discovered an exceptional 66-worder just a few days later!  This crossword, whose constructor is also unknown, was published May 24, 1952; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by Denny Baker; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  The puzzle had so much strong fill that I never would have guessed the word count was so low!  My favorite entries are CAPTIVE AUDIENCE, RHODESIAN, MOONLIGHT, BARREL OF MONKEYS, GAS TANK, RIN TIN TIN, and PIPELINE.  I was also pleased to learn a few new longer terms, such as ARCHCHIEF (clued as "Supreme tribal ruler."), OREGON OAK ("Valuable hard wood grown on the Pacific Coast."), and STORM KING ("Peak on the Hudson near West Point.").  Most of these strong and/or interesting entries are concentrated in the center section of the puzzle, which I'm amazed required so little glue to hold together!  That said, the gluey entries that were needed strike me as especially unfortunate.  PECAS ("Freckles: Spanish") is a tough foreign word; REBET ("Wager again.") isn't in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary; and AGEN ("Again: Dial."), BAGA ("Rutabaga, for short."), and SLAN ("Sine loco, anno, nomine [without place, year, or name]: Abbr.") are so iffy that they pretty much have to be clued such that they become giveaways.  Overall, though, the good stuff definitely outweighed the bad, and I really appreciate how the constructor pushed the envelope in terms of grid design during a period of New York Times crossword history in which some grids still contained two-letter words!  I realize that tough-to-fill grids almost always lead to numerous compromises in the fill.  Thus, in my opinion, the quality of the smaller/easier-to-fill sections says the most about a constructor's skill.  Check out how smooth the middle right and middle left sections of this puzzle are—not a single unfamiliar word, name, or abbreviation!  That's how I know the constructor must have been truly desperate to resort to an entry like SLAN—that is, he or she almost certainly looked for many alternatives before settling on such a major obscurity.  If I had to make a guess as to who constructed this puzzle, I'd go with Jack Luzzatto, one of the all-time greats who frequently experimented with wide-open grids!  Regardless, this is a very nice pre-Shortzian puzzle, and I hope to see more like it as I finish off reviewing the last couple of years of daily crosswords.  For now, here's the solution grid:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Todd Gross on Natalie Hankemeyer, Blast! Challenge Changes, and Featured Puzzle

Project Update

Despite my trip, it's been an amazingly busy two weeks on the proofreading front!  The afternoon of Saturday the 18th, Denny Baker kicked things off with 31 proofread puzzles.  He sent 11 more Monday morning and another 17 that afternoon.  Monday night Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles, which were followed by 31 more late that night and another 30 Tuesday night.  Wednesday morning Denny sent 30 more, and that night Mark sent another 31.  Then Thursday afternoon Mark sent 31 more, which were followed by 30 from Denny Friday morning and another 30 from Mark a few hours later.  Saturday morning Mark sent 31 more, then another 30 that afternoon, then 30 more that night.  Sunday morning Mark sent in 24 more, which were followed by 31 from Denny a few hours later, then another 21 from Mark and 25 from Dave Phillips that night.  Early Monday morning Todd Gross sent 8, then late that afternoon Mark sent 30 more.  Tuesday afternoon Mark sent another 31, which were followed by 30 from Denny that evening.  Late Wednesday morning Mark sent 30 more, then another 31 that evening.  Thursday morning Mark sent 30 more, which were followed by 5 from Todd that afternoon, 31 more from Mark, and another 7 from Mark.  Finally, Friday morning Denny sent 10 more, which were followed four minutes later by another 28 from Mark.  Whew—this is amazing!  Great job and thanks so much again, everyone—we're making terrific progress!

I actually have all the proofread puzzles from 1952 through 1957 at this point and am just doing final checks on them all—a process that takes quite a while, since it involves quickly reading through each entry, resolving litzer and proofreader comments and queries, and checking all the dates.  I'm hoping to finish off 1957 within the next few days—unfortunately, travel, school, and exams have kept me way too busy lately!  But the good news is that summer is almost here, and I'm now sending out puzzles from 1950—the year the daily puzzles began!  Monday, September 11, 1950, was the first, so from February 15, 1942, through September 10, 1950—just eight years—we'll only be dealing with Sunday puzzles!  The end is near!

Blast! Challenge Solution—and Changes

The most recent Blast! challenge remained unsolved!  The clue, from a 1953 puzzle, was "What moviemakers are scurrying to achieve."  The answer:  THREE DIMENSIONS.  I'm guessing those moviemakers would be amazed by things like today's Avengers:  Age of Ultron, which I can't wait to see in IMAX 3D, even at $19.49 per ticket!

I've noticed that a few Blast! challenges have gone unsolved even when—and perhaps because—the revealed letters make the answer pretty obvious.  So starting with this week's Blast!, I'm going to stop automatically revealing a new letter every day.  The number of revealed letters will vary each week depending on the length and complexity of the answer.  I'll announce beneath the Blast! when no more letters will be forthcoming.  Good luck with this week's challenge, which you'll find in the sidebar as usual!

Todd Gross on Natalie Hankemeyer

Some time ago litzer, proofreader, and historian Todd Gross contacted me about Natalie Hankemeyer, a New York Times constructor who published at least seven puzzles in the pre-Shortzian era.  Here's what he wrote:

I'm not 100% sure I found the constructor, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty solid, and quite interesting.  The person I found was born in 1898 in Oklahoma somewhere and passed away in 1980 near Boston.  But in between, she worked largely as a reporter, editor, and secretary, in some rather interesting roles.  She was an editor for Response, a publication of the United Methodist church that still exists, also an executive secretary for the American Friends of Spanish Democracy (AFSD) in the 30's and at a variety of positions in China (!) after WW II, including with United China Relief as a director of press publicity and with the World Church Religious News Service.  She also submitted . . . [this] . . . as a correspondent with China Tribune.  I haven't found an obituary for her, but it looks like someone could have written a very interesting one.

Indeed—I searched too but couldn't find one.  Thanks so much again for this great research, Todd!

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published September 12, 1952; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh.  When I first laid eyes on this themeless's grid, my jaw dropped—in fact, I immediately pulled up my Puzzles to Feature Word document and typed HOME-RUN THEMELESS next to this puzzle's date!  I'd observed a number of impressive themelesses with interlocking triple-stacked nines published at the tail end of 1952, but never one with just 68 words.  A closer look revealed that, unlike the other interlocking triple-nine-stack puzzles I'd seen, this one had smooth and even lively nine-letter entries, not to mention clean surrounding fill.  And check out those wide-open middle sections, which even contain a couple of ten-letter-entries!  Unfortunately, the constructor is unknown, though I have a feeling the culprit was Thomas Meekin.  Meekin constructed all the other interlocking triple-nine-stack puzzles I've seen thus far, along with a number of other silky smooth 74-word themelesses.  In any case, my favorite entries are SEEPAGE, WOMANKIND, IMPUDENCE, PENITENCE, AVALANCHE, MANCHESTER, and RETICENCE.  That's a lot of zip for a 68-word stunt puzzle!  On the minus side, there are three somewhat contrived -ER/-OR entries (LEVITATOR, INTONER, and PRETENDER), and SLATELESS (clued as "Lacking a list of candidates."), ENCOOP ("Cage, as fowl."), and UNSHARP aren't really in the language.  But I'm just picking nits at this point—this puzzle is truly a masterpiece, especially considering that it was built without computer software!  The clues are mostly definition-based, though one did stand out to me:  "Farouk's $16,800,000 collection." for STAMPS.

Farouk at around age 16. Image courtesy

Who was this Farouk figure, and how did he have so much money to devote to philately?  Apparently Farouk became king of Egypt in 1936, when he was just 16 years old.  I could build crosswords at age 16, but I can't imagine ruling a country at such a young age!  If I did have such an opportunity, I'd probably spend the money on crossword paraphernalia rather than on stamps, but that's beside the point.  Farouk was deposed in 1952 during the Egyptian Revolution, and many of his royal possessions were confiscated, including collections of coins, cars, and even pornography!  That's a fun bit of history, though it didn't impress me quite as much as this week's featured puzzle, which can be seen below: