Friday, January 30, 2015
In honor of Bernice Gordon, my friend and collaborator who died yesterday at the age of 101, there will be no regular post today; the blog will resume next Friday.
I first contacted Bernice in March of 2013 about doing an interview for this site. Shortly thereafter, we decided to collaborate on a puzzle about age differences; that puzzle was published on June 26, 2013, in The New York Times. At the time, Bernice was 99 and the oldest living Times constructor and, at 16, I was the youngest; our age difference was 83 years. In September that year we met in person in Philadelphia—a meeting I wrote about here. I was on the East Coast briefly again this summer and one morning drove down from New Haven to Philadelphia to meet Bernice for lunch. We had a lovely meal, talked about crosswords, and played Bookworm on her computer until I had to leave late that afternoon for New York. All told, we collaborated on three puzzles; our second one appeared in the Times on August 11, 2014, and our most recent effort was, fittingly, accepted by her dear friend John Samson on November 11 and will appear in Simon & Schuster's Mega 15.
Over time we became fast friends, exchanging more than 700 e-mails, all of which I saved; in the relatively short time we knew each other, she also became the grandmother I never really had. Lately we had both been writing every day or so, because Bernice knew she was dying. Even though my e-mails were short and usually of little import, I knew she loved getting them, and I hoped they would keep her alive longer. Bernice very much wanted to know where I would end up going to college, but in December, just a few days before I was to hear from my early action school, her e-mails to me abruptly stopped. I kept writing, and when I learned that I had been accepted, wrote to her right away, not knowing whether she would ever receive the news. Two days later, though, she wrote back—she was thrilled for me, and I was so glad she was alive. Even though she still didn't know for certain where I would end up, she knew it would be somewhere wonderful and told me she could now die in peace. We exchanged quite a few more e-mails between then and January 11—her 101st birthday and the day I received her last e-mail. I kept writing, hoping her e-mails would resume again, but they never did. On Wednesday, the night before she died, I sent her what would be my final e-mail.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Project UpdateLast week the 1965 puzzles went up on XWord Info, and I'm almost finished preparing the 1964 puzzles! This week Todd Gross has been especially busy: Early Tuesday morning he sent in 18 puzzles with 28 mistakes. Then early Thursday morning he sent 10 more with 16 mistakes, which were followed by 10 more with 20 mistakes Friday morning and another 10 with 18 mistakes Friday afternoon! Thanks so much again, Todd! For those of you currently proofreading puzzles from 1963, I'm hoping to have all of those back within the next couple of weeks. It won't be long now before we're done with the 1960s!
Blast! Goes UnsolvedNo one solved last week's Blast! challenge correctly, though there were some incorrect guesses early in the week. The clue, from the July 23, 1958, puzzle, was, "One hazard of space travel." The answer: MICROMETEORITE. The most common incorrect answer was WEIGHTLESSNESS, which, amazingly enough, is another 14-letter single word that fits the clue.
It occurred to me that people may want to know whether or not the Blast! challenge has already been solved by someone. So from now on, I'll indicate that in the sidebar. If no one has sent in the correct answer, you'll see STILL UNSOLVED! in green; if someone has, you'll see ALREADY SOLVED! in red. Good luck with this week's challenge!
Funny Litzing MistakeAs I was looking through packets of litzed puzzles from early 1958, I discovered a rather amusing grid mistake that may have been influenced by the litzing contests. In the January 5, 1958, crossword, instead of keying in BARKIS IS WILLIN ("Message the carrier sent to Peggotty."), the litzer entered BARKIN IS WILLIN (as in litzer extraordinaire Howard Barkin!)!
CROSSW RD MagazineToday I'm delighted to roll out the first of what will be a series of constructor profiles and other articles originally published in CROSSW RD Magazine. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a big box of this amazing publication a couple of months ago—they're truly a treasure trove from the pre-Shortzian and early Shortz eras (1991–1996)! I've been immersing myself in them as time permits, and when Jim Horne recently mentioned his interest in learning more about legendary constructor William Lutwiniak—who published at least 297 puzzles in The New York Times during the pre-Shortz era—I remembered having read Helene Hovanec's wonderful profile of him in CROSSW RD. I contacted the owner of CROSSW RD, Stan Chess, who has generously granted me permission to post material from the magazine online. Today I've uploaded two pieces to Scribd: "And the Wynner Is . . . William Lutwiniak," by Helene Hovanec, which appeared in the January/February 1992 issue and can be seen by clicking here; and a short letter from William Lutwiniak that was published a few months later in the May/June 1992 issue, together with brief notice of William Lutwiniak's subsequent death, written by J. Baxter Newgate, which you can read by clicking here.
William Lutwiniak. Photo copyright 1992,
2015, Megalo Media, Inc. Reprinted by
permission of Stan Chess and CROSSW-RD
Featured PuzzleToday's featured puzzle is another gem by Jack Luzzatto, one of the few constructors who published almost as many crosswords in the Times as Lutwiniak. The puzzle was published April 17, 1959; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Mark Diehl. In this tour-de-force construction, Luzzatto not only filled a wide-open 66-word grid but also included a theme consisting of three 15-letter entries! The theme is signs, which evokes fond memories of playing a bingo-like sign game during long road trips when I was little.
|Photo courtesy of unclesgames.com|
I probably still have that game, along with my Etch A Sketch and Wooly Willy, somewhere in a bin of childhood memorabilia I'll have to sort through before going to college! In any case, I was pleased with the signs Luzzatto chose—DANGEROUS CURVES and SLIPPERY WHEN WET are both in-the-language signs and fun entries in and of themselves! CROSS AT THE GREEN (clued as "Admonition to Gotham pedestrians.") seemed a bit stretchy to me, though—I've never seen such a sign anywhere, which made me wonder whether CROSS AT THE GREEN signs have simply become less common over time. To test this hypothesis, I typed CROSS AT THE GREEN into Google Ngram, which shows linguistic trends. Sure enough, the term seems to have spiked in popularity circa 1970. To my surprise, the sign doesn't seem to have existed before 1954, which means that Luzzatto must have acted quickly upon learning of this then-fresh entry. Speaking of Luzzatto's observational skills and talent as a constructor, the nonthematic fill is remarkably clean given the constraints posed by the theme and wide-open grid pattern. I especially like the entries CHARADE, DECOMPOSE, PINHOLE, AIR TIME, FLAGELLUM, and TRIBUTARY—that's a whole lot of goodness for a 66-worder, let alone a thematic, hand-filled one! On the minus side, the grid contains an odd pair of un- entries (UNHEROIC and UNLURED—the latter feels especially weak), the plural ISOLDES, RASSE (hardcore pre-Shortzian crosswordese clued as "Tree-climbing civet."), the uncommon abbreviation RMC ("Sandhurst military institution: Abbr."), and INTR ("Not transitive: Abbr."). As is typical with Luzzatto puzzles, though, the list of "meh" entries is inconsequential compared to the "wow!"s. I was a little disappointed not to see any standout clues in this puzzle, though I appreciate Luzzatto's effort to sway a bit from straight definitions through clues like "Hours in the sky." for AIR TIME. I did notice that SEATO was clued as "NATO's Oriental counterpart," which is interesting in that such a clue would no longer be politically correct. In sum, this is yet another wonderfully ambitious Luzzatto puzzle! As usual, the answer grid (with highlighted theme entries) can be seen below:
Wacky Words from 1957 PuzzlesNow that first semester is finally over, I've had some time to look through earlier packets of pre-Shortzian puzzles, albeit at a much slower rate than our indefatigable proofreaders! Here are some of the most bizarre entries I've encountered in the selection of 1957 puzzles I've had a chance to examine, along with their original clues and, where known, constructors.
- 7/9/57 (constructed by Madeline Corse, litzed by Ralph Bunker)
- Entry: FALANGIST
- Clue: Member of a certain political party.
- 7/21/57 (constructed by Herbert Ettenson, litzed by Ralph Bunker)
- Entry: BUNDESRAT
- Clue: Federal Council of Switzerland.
- Entry: FLANNELMOUTH
- Clue: Catfish of the Great Lakes.
- 9/25/57 (constructed by Helen Fasulo, litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
- Entry: JALOUSIES
- Clue: Tropical window shades.
- 9/29/57 (constructed by Eugene T. Maleska, litzed by Jeffrey Krasnick)
- Entry: TELEDUS
- Clue: Animals of Java, Borneo, etc.
- 10/5/57 (litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
- Entry: BANYAI
- Clue: Bantu tribe.
- 10/7/57 (litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
- Entry: PHALAROPE
- Clue: Bird in Alan Paton title.
- 10/13/57 (constructed by Hume R. Craft, litzed by C. G. Rishikesh)
- Entry: ALOIDAE
- Clue: Mythical giants of Ossa-Pelion tale: Var.
- 10/14/57 (constructed by Mel Taub, litzed by Todd McClary)
- Entry: PELTATE
- Clue: Shield-shaped, as nasturtium leaves.
- 10/24/57 (litzed by Brian Kulman)
- Entry: CAPONIERE
- Clue: In fortification, part of a ravelin.
|Image courtesy of The Honey Badger.|
Friday, January 16, 2015
1965 Puzzles, Weird Grid, and Olio of Interesting Clues—Plus, Howard Barkin First to Solve Blast! Challenge
Project UpdateWe've made great progress this week! On Saturday afternoon an anonymous proofreader sent in 6 puzzles with 10 mistakes, then early Sunday morning Todd Gross sent 11 more with 21 mistakes, and a few hours later, Denny Baker sent another 31 puzzles—thanks so much, everyone! To top it all off, the proofread 1965 puzzles were sent to Jim Horne at XWord Info earlier today and should be posted soon—thanks again, Jim! As I've mentioned, the 1965 puzzles had numerous issues in September and October because of the New York newspaper strike; all told, 13 puzzles are missing from that year. I hope to find them eventually in another paper that wasn't affected by the strike.
Howard Barkin First to Solve Blast! ChallengeOn Tuesday at 7:03 p.m. Howard Barkin was the first to send in the correct solution to last week's Blast! challenge—congratulations, Howard! The clue from this July 23, 1958, puzzle was, "Subject for a contemporary scientist." The answer: THERMODYNAMICS. I remember studying thermodynamics in my physics class last year, but that unit definitely wasn't in the "modern physics" portion of the course. I always love seeing clues that reflect how much the times have changed!
There's a new challenge up in the sidebar—as always, every day one new letter will be added to the solution, hangman style, until the answer is posted. Good luck!
Weird GridWhile proofreading a batch of 1964 puzzles, Todd Gross discovered that New York Times typesetters had misprinted one of the solutions such that several entries appeared in white type within black boxes! In addition, several black squares appeared as blank white squares for some reason. The puzzle itself, which has a subtle -CH theme, is quite nice—CATCH AS CATCH CAN crossing two theme entries is especially elegant. Perhaps the constructor included CATCH AS CATCH CAN to taunt any proofreaders who failed to notice the errors in the solution! Below is a screenshot of this anomaly—thanks again, Todd!
Featured PuzzleToday's featured puzzle was constructed by Jack Luzzatto; published February 1, 1958; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh. This stellar 68-worder is the cleanest pre-Shortzian puzzle I've come across so far—I was amazed to discover that the grid is free of both major obscurities and pieces of pre-Shortzian crosswordese. There isn't even a multiple-word partial phrase to detract from this puzzle's beauty! One could quibble with KOP (which was clued as "Hill, in So. Africa.") or LUPE ("Actress Velez."), but both these entries have more modern cluing options, such as "Keystone lawman" for KOP and "Rapper Fiasco" for LUPE. In fact, there are so many fun entries in this grid that splitting hairs over entries whose clues aren't as well-known these days or over some of the less in-the-language -er concoctions (such as PANTER and BUSTLER) seems unnecessary. After all, who doesn't like seeing CATHODE, REARGUARD, DENATURED, RASHERS, KINDRED, and PEPPER POT in a themeless puzzle? I also appreciated learning a new term: TRIP LINE ("Rope used as a releasing device."). Webster's primary definition for trip line is "a line or light rope used to operate a trip (as to free a dog hook in logging)." In my continuous journey through New York Times crossword history, I've found that certain bylines are particularly thrilling to see—Jack Luzzatto's is definitely among my favorites! I love how Luzzatto experimented with wide-open grid patterns rather than sticking to standard 72- and 74-word designs that showed up time after time in the pre-Shortzian era; every once in a while, he would even go so far as to include a minitheme in one of his ambitious grids. And his filling skills give even computer programs a run for their money! Luzzatto also seems to have had quite the sense of humor—in many of his constructions, I've come across clues that are exceptionally clever for their time. I didn't see any such clues in this puzzle but did notice the juxtaposed clue pair "Operatic star." and "Operatic aria." for DIVA and SOLO, respectively. I look forward to featuring more Luzzatto masterpieces in upcoming blog posts! For now, here's the answer grid for this one:
Olio of Interesting CluesBelow is a list of clues from early 1958 crosswords that interested or surprised me for one reason or another—when considered as a whole, they are truly a mishmash! The answers to these clues are included in parentheses, and the constructors' names (if known) appear after the dates. All these puzzles were litzed by Nancy Kavanaugh and edited by Margaret Farrar.
- 1/7 (A. H. Drummond, Jr.): Weapon of the future. (ICBM)
- 1/8: Current Broadway play. (LOOK BACK IN ANGER)
- 1/8: Space pioneer. (LAIKA)
- 1/8: Modern material. (ORLON)
- 1/10 (W. E. Jones): Army missile headquarters. (REDSTONE ARSENAL)
- 1/10: German rocket expert, at 17 Across. [REDSTONE ARSENAL] (WERNHER VON BRAUN)
- 1/11: Recent Eisenhower appointee. (KILLIAN)
- 1/11: Inhabitant of a satellite. (MOON MAN)
- 1/13 (Helen Delpar): Recent James Thurber opus (with "The"). (WONDERFUL O)
- 1/13: Teenagers' idol. (PAT BOONE)
- 1/20 (Madeline Corse): Force of a rocket. (PROPULSION)
- 1/20: A kind of space. (OUTER)
- 1/24 (Marcia Gladstone): Famous octogenarian musician. (CASALS)
- 1/24: Follower of Schickelgruber. (NAZI)
- 1/24: Salutation by 47-Across. [NAZI] (HEIL)
- 1/26 (Eugene T. Maleska): Frisco fans in '58. (GIANT ROOTERS)
- 1/26: Fifty cents? (DOLLAR)
- 1/26: Sunday TV fare. (WIDE WIDE WORLD)
- 2/7 (A. H. Drummond, Jr.): Florida scene of scientific feats. (CAPE CANAVERAL)
- 2/7: Sidewinder or Bomarc. (GUIDED MISSILE)
- 2/8: One way to address a Boston celebrity. (SEN JOHN F KENNEDY)
- 2/8: Historic hurricane. (EDNA)
- 2/12 (Evelyn E. Smith): Zealous dieter. (STARVER)
- 2/14: Recent royal visitor to the U.S. (MOHAMMED V)
The most bizarre clue I've seen from early 1958, however, came from the April 8 puzzle by Herb L. Risteen, which was litzed by Ralph Bunker. The clue: Supposedly extinct bird, recently found in Bermuda. The answer: CAHOW. This reference is so specific and obscure that it made me laugh out loud—clue/entry pairs like this one make running the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project so much fun! I can't think of a better way to close off this post than with a picture of a cahow:
|Image courtesy of Bermuda Conservation.|
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Today is crossword legend Bernice Gordon's birthday—she is 101! Bernice has had an amazing life and career and has published even more puzzles in major markets since last year's post on her 100th birthday appeared. She is also a wonderful person and friend. Happy Birthday, Bernice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Friday, January 9, 2015
Project UpdateWe've been making good progress this week! Sunday evening Denny Baker sent in 26 puzzles, Tuesday afternoon Todd Gross sent 10 more with 13 mistakes, and Wednesday afternoon Dave Phillips sent 29 puzzles with 40 mistakes. Thanks so much, everyone—at this point, all the existing puzzles from 1965 have come in, and less than a month of 1964 remains to be done! The year 1965 is the first with major gaps and inconsistencies; as soon as I've taken another look at those, I'll be sending the proofread puzzles off to Jim Horne at XWord Info.
There were no correct answers to last week's Blast! from the Past challenge, which was from the September 2, 1964, puzzle. The entry was WAITING UP, and the clue was "Parents' indoor sport." Indeed! Next week's challenge can be found in the sidebar—good luck!
Todd Gross's Research on Janet R. BenderSome time ago I received an e-mail from Todd Gross about pre-Shortzian and Shortz-era constructor Janet R. Bender. According to my (still incomplete) records, Janet published two puzzles in the pre-Shortz era. Todd had seen the November 3, 2014, puzzle by Janet and that Will Shortz had "not only called her one of the old guard, but mentioned she's from Somerset, PA." Todd decided to research her on Ancestry.com and Google and discovered she was born in 1947, though he wasn't sure where. Here's some of what else he found:
My sense is Bender is her maiden name, but I can't prove it. I haven't found any articles about her crossword work. But I found other interesting stuff.
It looks like she's an accountant. . . .More interestingly, it looks like she's interested in genealogy, having worked on an article titled "John Ringler and his Descendents" for the Casselman Chronicles (1996, Vol 2). I found it referenced in a few places, including this one:
Other places mention she's done a fair amount of work for the Casselman Chronicles, she was a secretary, I think. So interested in history and genealogy, there are a lot of Benders in the area, and I think this is Amish country.
Finally, one more interesting tidbit. A letter to the editor she sent to the Los Angeles Times (why the LA Times I don't know):
1986-12-27/local/me-858_1_ polygraph-scandal-cabinet- members
Thanks so much again, Todd, for all this insightful research!
The Most Shocking Pre-Shortzian Puzzle So FarWhen Todd sent in his proofread puzzles on Tuesday, he also noted:
I was rather surprised to see Ms. Farrar have MURDERED as an entry given her avoidance of unpleasant subjects. In this case, it was clued as [Marred, as by giving a bad performance.] Hmmm. That's not how I would use the word. Note, too, its grid opposite is VENGEFUL, which fits a bit too well with the usual definition of murdered.I wrote back that I'd seen a puzzle from 1958 that he'd probably be stunned was ever published—one that made MURDERED and VENGEFUL look tame by comparison! That said, this week's featured puzzle, whose constructor is unknown, was published May 21, 1958; edited by Margaret Farrar; and litzed by Ralph Bunker. This puzzle is the new earliest example of grid art I've seen in a New York Times crossword: As suggested by SWASTIKAS at 6-Across, the central block arrangement resembles a swastika! The constructor/editor clearly tried to offset the strong negative connotations of this symbol by cluing SWASTIKAS as "Ancient symbols of good luck."; nevertheless, I'm amazed that this puzzle was published. World War II had ended just 13 years prior to the puzzle's publication, so I doubt whether any solvers appreciated a reference to Hitler's regime. I also doubt this puzzle would be salable today, even though many more years have passed and both SWASTIKA and SWASTIKAS have appeared in Shortz-era New York Times crosswords.
The nonthematic fill is much more pleasing than the disturbing minitheme—I especially like the entries PALEOLITH, MONTEZUMA, CANAVERAL (complete with the Space Age clue, "Focal point in the news."), ABORIGINE, ALABASTER, BELFAST, and CROSTIC! I'm not thrilled with LAMBARENE ("Dr. Schweitzer's locale."), a city in Gabon whose population as of 2009 was just 25,257, though I suppose it may have been more of a household geographic name at the time of this puzzle's publication. And I did enjoy reading about Albert Schweitzer, who led a truly fascinating life and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. In any case, the short fill is remarkably clean, with TRS ("Fund officials: Abbr.") and TAA ("Chinese pagoda.") being the only real blemishes. Overall, this puzzle has an unfortunate minitheme, though the fill is quite nice, and I appreciate that the constructor experimented with the then-uncommon practice of including art in grids. The answer grid (with the highlighted theme entry) can be seen below:
Friday, January 2, 2015
Happy New Year Treat: Interview with I. Judah Koolyk—Plus, Barry Haldiman First to Solve Blast! Challenge
Happy New Year Treat: Interview with I. Judah KoolykHappy New Year, everyone! To start off 2015, I'm delighted to present an interview with the prolific pre-Shortzian constructor I. Judah Koolyk, who had a total of 40 crosswords published in the Maleska era! Judah first contacted me early last month. He introduced himself and mentioned that he'd discovered this site; he also included a long list of the publication dates of all his Times crosswords (and even his variety puzzles!). I was very excited to hear from him and sent along some additional dates of puzzles listed as being his. When I asked whether he'd be interested in being interviewed for this site, he said he would, though he wondered (needlessly) whether anyone would be interested and worried that his answers might be "too boring"! (He also mentioned that his 15-year-old daughter would be thrilled to see that her dad was so famous!) To read Judah's eloquent and informative interview, click here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.
Project UpdateDespite the holiday season, it's been very busy on the proofreading front over these past two weeks! On Sunday the 20th, Todd Gross sent in 10 puzzles with 17 mistakes, then 8 more with 15 mistakes on Monday night and 10 with 14 mistakes Tuesday night. Christmas Day Denny Baker sent in 35 puzzles. On Saturday afternoon Mark Diehl sent in 31 puzzles and then 29 more that night. Sunday afternoon he sent 28 more, then a few hours later another 25, then 30 more that evening, then 31 more later on—whew! Monday he took a brief break from proofreading so we could meet for lunch since he was in the area—we had a great time eating pizza in Echo Park, followed by a sojourn to a fascinating place nearby called the Time Travel Mart (a fitting destination, given our time travels through pre-Shortzian puzzles!). Tuesday afternoon Mark sent another 31 puzzles, and then Wednesday morning Todd sent in 12 with 19 mistakes, which were followed by 30 more from Mark. Thursday morning Mark sent 28 more, and then another 28 that afternoon, followed by 33 more, and then 30 more that night—whew again! Finally, Friday afternoon Todd sent 10 more puzzles with 25 mistakes. What an amazing two weeks of proofreading—thanks so much again, everyone!
|Mark Diehl and me taking a break from the project.|
|Wacky glasses at the Time Travel Mart.|