Monday, June 29, 2015

Third Anniversary, All Puzzles Proofread, Missing Puzzles Update, ideacity News, Davidson Young Scholars Summit, and Mark Diehl Seven-Time Blast! Winner

Third Anniversary—All Puzzles Proofread

I'm delighted to announce that today is the third anniversary of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and all the proofread puzzles are now in!  Three years ago I started this blog and opened up the litzing, which I'd begun during my freshman year, to volunteers.  I had a great head start, thanks to the digitizing Barry Haldiman, Denny Baker, and others had already done of their favorite puzzles back in the day, and was able to systematize and massively expand the effort so that, one puzzle at a time, each of the available 16,225 puzzles would be tracked, litzed, and proofread.  And with the help of Jim Horne, creator of the incomparable XWord Info, these puzzles have gradually appeared online, year by year as we worked our way backwards through time, for everyone to enjoy.  Thanks so much again to everyone who's helped with this journey into crossword history!  Without each and every one of you, there's no way we would have come so far so quickly.  Though I still have to look through the remaining years of proofread puzzles before sending them off to XWord Info and do quite a bit of "cleanup" work with constructor names and previously posted puzzles, this is another huge milestone in the project!

Project Update

The final two batches of proofread puzzles came in over the past two weeks—the first on Thursday the 18th from Todd Gross, who sent 13 puzzles in which he'd found 89 mistakes.  (Todd also has a puzzle in today's New York Times, by the way, which he co-constructed with Andrea Carla Michaels and with which he's hit for the cycle—meaning he's now had a puzzle published on every day of the week!  Congratulations, Todd!)  And then on Friday the 26th Patsy Stewart sent in 12 more puzzles, marking the end of the proofreading—at least until the missing puzzles are found!  Thanks so much again, Todd and Patsy!

Missing Puzzles Update

Following up on my recent post about librarian Alan DerKazarian's missing puzzles research, I received two more e-mails from him with additional news.  In the first, he reported that he'd contacted the American Library in Paris and National Library of France about the 1953 New York Times strike papers and received this reply from the former:

Thank you for writing. We do have microfilm of the New York Times from those dates, but the run is quite unusual and prefaced with the following notice on the reel:

Notice: A strike affecting the major New York newspapers made it impossible to publish any editions of the New York Times during the first eight days of December, 1953. 

THE NEW YORK TIMES Book Review dated December 6, which was prepared and printed before the strikewas distributed with the Sunday, December 13th issue. 

At the beginning of this reel, you will find ten two-page papers dated November 29 through December 8. These were prepared day by day during the strike, but published after the strike and distributed as a special section of the Sunday, December 13, edition.

Since the microfilm reader at the American Library in Paris was unable to print and copy, the person who wrote back offered to photograph whatever Alan might want on the reel; Alan asked her if she could look through the two-page papers and send photos of any crosswords.  She found two and sent photos, but unfortunately, they were puzzles we already had.  Below are photos of the newspaper's notices:

Photos courtesy of the American Library in Paris.

Alan had not yet heard back from the National Library of France, and apparently the British libraries, although technically public, require an annual fee in order to use them or ask questions.  He did end up hearing from the National Library of France, though, and in a second e-mail wrote to me that the situation there was the same as at the American Library in Paris.

National Library of France response.

Courtesy of the National Library of France.

So, unfortunately, this is likely a dead end, at least with these nine days of missing puzzles.

I'm planning to be update the complete list of missing puzzles before I head off for Stanford (where, as a student, I may actually be able to access the British libraries), and when I do, I'll post it on this site.  Although we've struck out so far with this select group of missing puzzles, there are many others, some of which are missing not because of strikes but because of ProQuest's errors.  So I'm still hopeful that eventually some, if not all, of the puzzles will be found.  I'll also be putting out another call for those missing old crossword books—again, as soon as I've had a chance to update the list—which I think may be our best bet for locating the missing puzzles, even if we're never able to match up the dates definitively.  In the meantime, thanks so much again, Alan, for these valiant efforts!

Mark Diehl Seven-Time Blast! Winner!

Once more, the amazing Mark Diehl was the first to send in the correct answer to the Blast! challenge—making him a seven-time winner!  Congratulations, Mark!  Shortly after the second letter was revealed—at 8:43 a.m. on Sunday, June 14, to be exact!—Mark sent in the solution to this February 9, 1952, clue:  "Sales of this reached new high in 1951."  The answer:  POPCORN.  I'm not sure why popcorn sales exploded that year, but according to Wikipedia, "[d]uring World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, and Americans compensated by eating three times as much popcorn as they had before."  So maybe they ramped up that habit even more after the war was over—or maybe the increase came with more people snacking while they watched TV in the 1950s!  Here's an ad from 1952 that links the two activities:

Image courtesy of

Now that I'll be posting on a more occasional basis, I've decided to retire the Blast! feature, so the official champion is Mark Diehl—congratulations again, Mark!

ideacity News

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently gave an ideacity talk in Toronto about crosswords, and part of it was about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.  People really seemed to enjoy the speech—I probably had a couple of hundred people come up to me over the course of my amazing three days there asking me more about crosswords and the project, which was very gratifying!  While there I was also interviewed by a reporter from a Russian publication, and another reporter plans to interview me when I'm in Vancouver at the upcoming National Puzzlers' League convention, so I'm hoping to spread the word even further.  (Maybe I should just move to Canada!)  In any case, to see a video of the talk, click here.

Davidson Young Scholars Summit

Just a few days after returning from Toronto, I headed up to Reno, where I'd been invited to be a panelist at the Davidson Young Scholars Summit.  Since the Davidson award I received in 2013 was for the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, that's what I was asked to discuss, and I spent quite a bit of time describing the initial stages of the project, how things had developed, challenges I'd encountered, the project's current status, and what the puzzles might show us in the future.  Having a chance to talk to so many interested students and parents was really gratifying, and I think they appreciated hearing about something as fun as crosswords!

Talking about the project.

Friday, June 12, 2015

40 Years of Puzzles Up, Alan DerKazarian's Missing Puzzles Research, Spreading the Word at ideacity, Upcoming Changes, and Mark Diehl Six-Time Blast! Winner

Project Update

This week we hit another milestone when I sent the proofread 1954 puzzles to XWord Infothere are now 40 years of puzzles up for everyone to enjoy!  Thanks again to Jim Horne for hosting them and making sure they're displayed as well as they can be!

The proofread puzzles have been coming in at a more relaxed pace over the past two weeks, in part because there's not much proofreading left!  The evening of Saturday, May 30, Denny Baker sent in 13 puzzles, after which I e-mailed him the very last batch for proofreading—all the way back to February 15, 1942!  Sunday morning he sent in those 11 puzzles, and then Monday afternoon Dave Phillips sent 6 more.  Tuesday afternoon, May 2, Mark Diehl sent in 13 puzzles from a ship on his way to Tallinn, and then about an hour later another 9.  There are only a few more puzzles out there, and I'm hoping to have those back within the next two weeks.  After that, there won't be any more litzing or proofreading until we're able to track down some of those missing puzzles!  Great job, everyone—thanks so much again!

Alan DerKazarian's Missing Puzzles Research

A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from Alan DerKazarian, a librarian at the Cambridge [Massachusetts] Public Library.  Since there's a New England edition of The New York Times, Alan wondered whether the Boston Public Library might have microfilms of the missing puzzles and volunteered to check.  Unfortunately, he wasn't able to find anything there; he did discover, though, that in 1948 the Times introduced an international edition, which was produced in New York and airmailed to Paris for publication a day later.  "Starting in 1960," Alan reported, "it was set by teletype for same-day publication."  Apparently in 1967 the Times discontinued its international edition and joined with the owners of the defunct Herald Tribune and The Washington Post to publish The International Herald Tribune in Paris.

Image courtesy of

"So the international edition of the Times was never produced in Europe," he concluded, "meaning the paper strikes likely affected production of these issues as well."  Alan recommended contacting either the New York Public Library or the Times (which, I told him, someone else had already tried).  Alan had originally suggested I try traveling to Europe—a suggestion I liked a lot, by the way!  But since it will be a while before I'm able to do that, if any readers in Great Britain or France would like to look into this some more, I'd be most grateful!

Despite Alan's discouraging findings, I still do have hope that we'll locate at least some of the puzzles.  Margaret Farrar wrote the following in her introduction to Crosswords from the Daily Times–Series 9:

The crosswords that appear daily on the book page of The New York Times have been published concurrently in Paris and in Los Angeles since the inauguration of the International and the Western editions, in 1960 and 1962, respectively.  When newspaper publication in New York was suspended, in December 1962, the crosswords kept on going, flying east and west, until the twain met again in New York on April 1, 1963.

Those 100 puzzles appeared in this book and have already been litzed, but there are still many more missing puzzles from other strikes and because of ProQuest mistakes.  Hopefully we'll eventually find them; in the meantime, thanks so much again, Alan, for your great research!

Mark Diehl Six-Time Blast! Winner

On Monday, June 1 at 2:28 p.m.—just three days after I posted the May 29 Blast! challenge, with only three letters revealed, and while traveling between Copenhagen and Tallinn—Mark Diehl sent in the correct answer and became the first six-time winner!  Congratulations again, Mark!   The clue from the March 20, 1952, puzzle was "Reluctant new taxpayer."  The answer:  BOOKMAKER.  I'll bet there were plenty of objections to that change!

Image courtesy of

The new Blast! challenge is up in the sidebar, and it's a doozy—good luck!

Spreading the Word at ideacity

On Monday I'm heading off to Toronto, where I'll be giving an ideacity talk about crosswords.  Part of my speech will focus on The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project—I'm looking forward to spreading the word about our amazing progress in such a (relatively!) short period of time!

Upcoming Changes

Right after I get back from Canada, I'll be leaving to be part of a panel discussion in Nevada, so the next blog post will appear after I return, on Monday, June 29, instead of Friday the 26th.  And then I'll be heading up to Vancouver for the National Puzzlers' League convention—and a couple of weeks later, to Northern California.  With all this traveling, my schedule will be pretty busy and irregular, so instead of posting each week on Friday, I'll be writing as time permits when there's news or a feature to present.  Now that the proofreading is almost done, there won't be weekly updates to report, but I'll still be posting when the puzzles go off to XWord Info and when (not if!) there's new information about the missing puzzles.

Featured Puzzle

Today's featured puzzle was constructed by Roberta Morse; published September 6, 1954; edited by Margaret Farrar; litzed by yours truly; and proofread by Mark Diehl.  The puzzle has been uploaded to XWord Info, so you can solve it before reading the write-up.  This crossword's theme is centered around a nifty little number rebus.  I especially like that the 1, 2, 3, and 4 squares appear in order in the grid, even though they're not placed symmetrically.  I also appreciate that 1-Down is literally 1 DOWN—and, by extension, that the 1 is in square one.  I find it slightly off-putting that the FIVE in FIVE STAR ADMIRAL is spelled out, but I appreciate the effort to make the central 15-letter entry thematic.  I personally would have preferred a reveal entry in that position, but given that this is likely the first published rebus crossword, I'm more awestruck by the innovation than annoyed by the minor inconsistency!  By bringing the word count up to 80, the constructor was able to keep the fill smooth and incorporate a handful of lively entries into the nonthematic fill.  My favorites are BARRACUDA, OVERTHROW, TEETOTALER, THUNDERS, BARNYARD, and ENDEARMENT—that's a lot of zip for a themed puzzle, let alone a rebus!  Conversely, the constructor was stuck with the awkward partial LAK A (as in "Mighty Lak a Rose"), CIRO (clued as "Well-known Paris restaurateur."), JURA ("Franco-Swiss mountain range."), and SAROS ("Gulf of the Aegean Sea.").  I also wasn't thrilled to see TEN STONE in the grid, since it contains a number that's not part of the sequence.  This is a remarkably small number of liabilities given all the assets, though!  So even with its drawbacks, this puzzle is definitely one of my favorites from 1954.  I am, however, a bit surprised that Margaret Farrar chose to run it on a Monday—usually she saved puzzles that were extra-tricky for Saturdays.  Then again, the fill was pretty clean, and I remember reading somewhere that Margaret's philosophy about difficulty was that higher word counts led to easier solves.  This raises an interesting point:  Was Margaret right?  My first instinct would be to disagree, since any puzzle can be made easier or more challenging via the clues.  Also, many ambitious stunt puzzles (such as bidirectional rebuses) require grids with higher word counts to pull off.  That said, puzzles with higher word counts also tend to have more shorter entries, and there are only so many 3-, 4-, and 5-letter entries that show up in crosswords.  Often, these common short entries are difficult to disguise, even if their clues are tough.  Take ENERO in my New York Times crossword that was published today.  The clue was "Part of summer in Latinoamerica," which is definitely not as straightforward as "January, to Juan," but I would still instantly fill in ENERO since . . . what else could it be?  Perhaps the difference between average and expert solvers is that experts have a predetermined list of common entries subconsciously at the fronts of their brains—when they see a new clue, they automatically run through this list and frequently land on the correct answer instantaneously.  In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed looking through this Roberta Morse crossword.  The solution grid (with highlighted theme entries) appears below; the puzzle can also be accessed and analyzed on XWord Info here.