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.