Friday, January 15, 2016

Interview and Visit with Guido Scarato—and Maleska's Letters

Happy New Year, everyone!  Over winter break I was delighted to receive an email from Will Shortz telling me about another pre-Shortzian constructor who'd resurfaced:  Guido Scarato.

Guido published many puzzles in The New York Times under Margaret Farrar, Will Weng, and Eugene T. Maleska, but almost all of them appeared without bylines, and many have been misplaced over the years, especially during a move from New York to California.  Guido now lives on the Monterey Peninsula in Pacific Grove, where his family has been since he was 13.  The area, which I've visited many times with my parents over the years, is a short detour from one of the routes we take between Los Angeles and Palo Alto, so it occurred to me that I might actually be able to meet Guido in person on my way back up to Stanford after the break!

I wrote to Guido and introduced myself, and before long we'd set up a time to meet.  I sent him some interview questions in advance, and you can read his responses by clicking here or on the Pre-Shortzian Constructor Interviews tab above.  But the real treat began when we pulled up in front of his house just a few steps away from Monterey Bay.

Guido, who is also a painter and singer, had a long career as an art director for boutique advertising agencies in New York, producing campaigns for clients including Citibank, Pan Am, Nabisco, and many others; his creativity and talent are evident even from the outside of his house, whose colors are unusually vibrant for the area.  You can see a little of that in this photo of us together by his front door:

And here's a painting he did of his house and yard:

When I came inside, I was immediately greeted by his two friendly dachshunds, whom he also painted in this self-portrait:

And taking up almost the entire wall facing the entrance is this triptych of wood panels painted by Rex Clawson in 1985:

Here's an explanation of it:

And below is a closer picture of one of the chairs:

After chatting a bit with Guido and a couple of his friends who'd brought over some delicious cookies, we went into another room filled with art (as was the rest of the house—not to mention the backyard, whose fence he turned into another masterpiece and where he celebrated his 80th birthday with more than 100 friends).  There, Guido showed me his crossword puzzle dictionary, much used and very worn over the years:


First page

Sample pages
We then began discussing Crossword Compiler and other construction software, which Guido had never tried but was fascinated by.  I'd brought along my laptop, so I was able to show him how it worked (and also give him a tour of XWord Info, which amazed him!).  We got so into it that we actually began constructing a puzzle together that we may eventually finish and submit somewhere!

During the course of my several hours there, Guido told me more about his constructing and also showed me some of the letters he still had from Maleska, including the latter's missive to all constructors informing them of a moratorium on puzzle submissions.  I've posted them on Scribd here—highlights include the August 82 [sic], 1988, letter, in which Maleska says Guido owes him 25 cents; the September 23, 1989, letter, at the end of which Maleska asks Guido whether he'd solved a recently published Times puzzle that reminded Maleska of Guido's current submission; and his January 19, 1990, puzzle, in which he chides Guido for "careless defining."

Guido also still has a few of his old puzzles, and one of them—June 19, 1972—was a puzzle previously identified in my database as being by "Unknown."  It was great to be able to put a name to yet another anonymous puzzle.

Before our meeting came to a close, Guido offered to play a CD of his singing in South Pacific.  Guido has an amazing voice and has appeared in numerous musical productions, including The Sound of Music, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma! and many others.

After I left, I was struck by how diverse Guido's interests and accomplishments were.  The pre-Shortzian constructors were (and are) remarkable for the variety and depth of their talents, and I suspect that the same holds true for some of today's constructors as well, though many of us are often too busy to do or talk about much other than crosswords.  There's a wealth and richness to the lives of these early constructors—and a willingness to share their experiences and thoughts—that seems elusive in our increasingly hurried and fragmented existences.

Thanks so much again for our wonderful afternoon, Guido!


  1. Fascinating read David. Looking forward to your joint venture with Guido!

  2. Easy for this Shortzian solver. Liked it.

    Try it yourself:

  3. Great blog David! Guido is a polymath to be sure! Great find! - MJP