Litzer of the Month

[Since the litzing of all available puzzles is now complete, in November 2014 the Litzer of the Month feature was replaced by Blast! from the Past.  Scroll down to read the Litzer of the Month interviews from July 2012 through October 2014.]


Interview with Ed Sessa, October 2014 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

My solving experience goes back to the Margaret Farrar days, and I remember spending many a Sunday struggling with the New York Times crossword puzzle, a dictionary by my side.  Also I’ve read quite a lot about the history of crossword puzzles, so I thought I’d see what those pre-Shortzian puzzles were like from my current perspective.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I think the value of the database of puzzles is more historical than practical for me because of the huge quantity of obscure and period entries that would need to be filtered out.  In the same way, if people are still doing puzzles 50 years from now, many of today’s entries might seem just as out of place to them (ROCAFELLA??).

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Not having litzed many puzzles I would have to pick one I didn’t get the chance to litz—Charles Erlenkotter’s Sunday Times puzzle, the very first of the NYT Sunday puzzles in 1942.  The symmetrical design is a thing of beauty.  It must have taken much time and hard work to fill, even with all the obscure words.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Many entries I couldn’t fathom using today.
   
Youre also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

I graphed out quite a few puzzles since the 60s, mostly for local newspapers and organizations.  I sent two Sunday puzzles to Eugene Maleska, pretty bad ones at that, and only wish I had saved his responses and sig for laughs.  I’ve had better success constructing decent puzzles the past few years, and a lot of credit goes to Nancy Salomon for her valued early help.  I most enjoy the challenge of clueing themeless puzzles, piecing together more complicated themed works, and learning/using new words and expressions.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Retired recently from pediatric practice, I’m blessed to be able to live in a wonderful place devoted to conservation and wildlife.  I enjoy fishing and golf, have been carving birds for about 25 years (visit the Jungle Drums Gallery on Captiva!—a plug), and devote time to volunteering at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge here on Sanibel.  The door to my home is always open to welcome fellow constructors who might be enjoying a visit to the island.


Interview with Tracy Bennett, September 2014 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

My constructing mentor, Vic Fleming, has done some heavy litzing for the project, and I first became aware of the volunteer end of things by hearing about his involvement.  When you put out the call for proofreaders, it seemed like a perfect fit.  I’m a copy editor by trade, and I love finding errors in keyboarding.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I like the way these data will add depth to and interact with the resources at XWord Info and the Ginsberg database in searchable ways.  I like the idea that if I want to, I can see the way a word has been clued since the beginning.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

The most memorable was the Sunday puzzle of July 16, 1978.  The litzer couldn’t reproduce a number of the theme clues, because they consisted of visual puns created nondigitally.  A TILT was clued with a tilted letter A.  CAR GOING UP was clued with the letters A-U-T-O going upward at a diagonal.  CANCELED CHECKS was clued with two check marks with a line drawn through them.  A typesetter must have had to manipulate the paper to make some of the clues, and a few of the elements looked hand-drawn; Crossword Compiler had no way of dealing with this.  It amuses me that for all the advances digitization has made possible, this is the kind of gimick we’d have a hard time reproducing now for the various solving apps.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Clue:  Kind of manship.    Entry:  ONE UP.   That is just awful, but it’s funny.

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

I’ve loved solving puzzles since I was a toddler, starting with the jigsaw type.  In my tweens I gravitated toward word games, and when I was 16 I discovered the New York Times Sunday puzzles.  They were the toughest puzzles I’d ever tried, and I was hitting the dictionary constantly at first.  I delighted in uncovering those clever themes, which took days sometimes.  In my twenties, having evolved into a competent solver, I began to notice synchronicities happening between puzzles I was solving and life I was living:  a word I was entering into a grid simultaneously being spoken by someone on TV, stuff like that.  Fast forward to 2010.  Our local paper, the Ann Arbor News, hosted a puzzle solving contest, and I whimsically decided to see how I’d do . . . and won.  I got pretty confident.  I rented Wordplay and felt encouraged to attend the ACPT [American Crossword Puzzle Tournament] in 2011.  I was sure I’d be one of the folks making the C-division finals, but . . . wow.  I did finally make it into the D division in my third year competing, though!

I remember trying to make a crossword puzzle when I was 13, and at some other points along the way.  But things got serious when I saw Wordplay and then met constructors at the ACPT.  Like some other constructors have reported, I was intrigued watching Merl Reagle create a puzzle by hand, thinking “I really want to do that!”  That first year at the ACPT I asked Will Shortz how I should begin, and he recommended Patrick Berry’s phenomenal book, then finding a mentor.  I worked with Patrick’s book that year, using grid paper and pencil (and eraser), and got a lot of grids half filled.  I was still getting locked into dead ends and dead middles I couldn’t back out of when, after the 2012 ACPT, I found myself with two hours to spare before my flight out of LaGuardia, within the same airport waiting area as the accomplished puzzle maker, musician, and conversationalist Vic Fleming.  Within a half hour he had me describing my construction difficulties, and he offered to be my mentor.  His rigorous teaching style and my learning style were a very good match, and I’m grateful for not just the nuts-and-bolts work of theme development and grid mechanics that he taught me so well but the philosophy he modeled and coached:  Stay focused on the joy of puzzle making, do the work, don't get caught up in comparisons and competitiveness, roll with and learn from criticism—good lessons like that.

I began making puzzles for BUST magazine, a bimonthly feminist publication, this year.  Deb Amlen was instrumental in encouraging me to try for that gig.  I enjoy making puzzles without having to keep things conservative—I’m almost heady with the creative freedom I have there—and it’s a very different learning experience constructing for a regular byline than submitting and hoping.  Being mostly my own editor and working with test solvers who are not experienced puzzlers, I’ve learned to become less self-indulgent in my clue writing and keener to avoid tough crossings that frustrate novices.  This evolution in my practice has informed all of my work—I think I’m submitting more balanced, thoughtful constructions to the papers as well.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I’m a breathy and timid second soprano but an enthusiastic “A” (for ally) in a local LGBTQA chorus.  I like to cook for my family.  I try desperately to find an hour here and there in which I can finish watching the first season of Orange Is the New Black.


Interview with Peter Broda, August 2014 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I honestly cant remember how I heard about the project, but I do my best to follow the goings-on in the crossworld and I tend to not miss many announcements.  I remember being pretty gung-ho about helping out at first because I really believed in the project (and still do), although my litzing certainly slowed down after a while as I tend to do.  Great to see that others have stepped to pick up the slack and then some, though; the progress on this has been remarkable.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

Mostly stealing the entries for my personal wordlist, since I know that there will be a number of great ones in there that I dont already have, although Im not so excited about filtering out all of the rubbish.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Its hard to pick a worst.  Plus, I tend not to focus on individual entries but rather on the overall composition of the grids.  For instance, really difficult or unfair corners and crossings jump out at me more than individual bad entries.  After litzing a number of puzzles, too, I started to see some of the same bad entries pop up a few more times, and I started to wonder if some of our current roster of commonly-used-so-it-doesnt-seem-so-bad-but-cmon-its-pretty-dreadful fill will look just as bad to future crossword archivists.  Things like ONER, for instance.

Youre also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

My dad has been a solver for as long as I can remember, and my mother enjoys many types of logic and variety puzzles, so we always had old issues of Dell puzzle magazines lying around.  It wasnt until I was a young adult working in the mountains of BC as a cook/woodcutter/handyman that I started doing the NYT, though.  It was an isolated location, but we got the Saturday Calgary Herald every week with the grocery delivery, and I enjoyed trying my hand at the syndicated Saturday puzzle with the help and guidance of a couple of the older staff members.  I was an off-and-on solver until a few years later when Wordplay came out, and I was exposed to the weird and wonderful world of cruciverbalists and serious solvers.  Being the consummate dabbling hobbyist that I am, I naturally had to try my hand at constructing.

While I am amused by wordplay and clever clues, filling the grid is what keeps me coming back to constructing.  I hardly ever write themed puzzles any more, in fact, and I really have to be in the right mood for cluing, but I still work on my wordlist every day and am perpetually on the lookout for great seed or marquee entries.  I also really enjoy the algorithmic aspects of puzzle making, like data-mining my wordlist for wordplay patterns, building stacks algorithmically, and so forth.  While a number of high-profile constructors eschew the use of computers entirely, I dont think that I would still be constructing if I couldnt use them.  I understand the arguments on the other side of the fence, but as it happens I enjoy writing computer programs as much as I like writing puzzles.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Like many other crossword constructors and enthusiasts, Im also a musician and a computer nerd.  I play the bass guitar with a number of different groups and musicians in Regina—we have a small but vibrant and talented scene here—and I do Web application support and software development for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, which is endlessly challenging and fulfilling.  Im also a big fan of video games of the 8- and 16-bit era; I currently hold the worlds 40th highest score in NES Tetris, and Ive recently gotten into speedrunning Super Metroid and Super Mario World on the SNES.


Interview with Stephen Edward Anderson, July 2014 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

COVERT CUBIC DORM mixup.  [Ed.:  See end of interview for explanation.]

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The clue database is the New American Crossword Dictionary (NACD) on a historical basis, the puzzler’s OED.  Delightful.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I don’t remember any one in particular:  to lift a phrase, pre-Shortzian puzzles frankly don't excite me quite enough.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I forget.  But there were many.

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

Through the old NYT Crossword Puzzle Forum I met Nancy Salomon, who offered to be my mentor.  My small but sure success in publishing a few puzzles a year since 2008 is due wholly & absolutely to Nancy Salomon, teacher nonpareil. 

For me, cluing is the most fun phase of puzzle construction.  More freely creative than, say, placing the blanks or filling the grid, clue writing is where you aim to entertain your solvers.  Cluing theme entries tops all.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Since 1999 I’ve been living in Asolo, Veneto.  Inhabiting a restored Venetian palazzo in an ancient city situated in the foothills of the Dolomites & forever learning a new language is in itself a perfectly pleasant activity for a contemplative septuagenarian such as I.  When not reading I translate prose from Italian to English & compose crossword puzzles for the editors & personal friends.  In July my favorite activity is eating fresh gelato on the terrace of the Caffè Centrale.

[Ed.:  The answer to the first question anagrams to CRUCIVERB DOT COM.]


Interview with Brian Kulman, June 2014 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

Well, back in 2011 I met a young man, David Steinberg, who convinced his parents to drive him several hundred miles so he could compete in a crossword tournament where he ended up finishing 42nd out of 52 entrants (though 1st in the Under 18 Division).  I thought that was pretty courageous, and I respected how you came back each year, getting better and better each time.  As you grew older and took on new challenges, I sensed great energy and felt compelled to lend a hand!

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

This view of history and popular culture through the lens of daily puzzles is quite fascinating and worth preserving in digital form.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

For kicks, I tried solving the 12/17/61 Sunday puzzle before litzing it as part of my first packet.  The theme was simple—phrases that included articles of clothing like ON A SHOESTRING and COAT OF ARMS.

However, I could not believe how many impenetrable crossings there were in that one puzzle!  EBANO/SORA, CASHAS/RAMEAU, RET/SIEPI, JALAP/LILAS, and SIRAT/SAPOTE, to name a few.  Were solvers that much smarter in 1961?

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Hmm, since I'm rusty on my Mexican flora, it's hard to choose between the JALAP ("Mexican plant") and the EBANO ("Mexican timber tree"), both from that Sunday puzzle.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

Back in high school some 30-odd years ago, a teacher told me that solving crossword puzzles was a great way to increase my Verbal section score on the SAT.  Sure enough, my score increased by 150 points after one year, and I've been hooked ever since.

I have tried constructing a few puzzles here and there, but nothing has come of it.  I can now better appreciate the difficulty in creating a publishable puzzle, and this is definitely a goal for my bucket list.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I love rock climbing, especially indoor bouldering without harnesses or ropes.  The appeal to me is not unlike that of crosswords.

In bouldering, a specific course is created and marked by a "setter" on a rock wall.  While successfully climbing that course involves physical ability, there is also a problem-solving mental aspect to it.  The climber needs to think through the correct sequence of moves before executing them bodily.  Just as weekly puzzles increase in difficulty, different courses can be rated from simple ("V0") to near impossible ("V10" or above).  The satisfaction in reaching the top of a course can be similar to the thrill of filling in that last square on a Saturday crossword.

Also, my family and I enjoy traveling together.  And I'm endlessly trying to perfect my music collection with the coolest songs I can find.


Interview with John Farmer, May 2014 Litzer of the Month

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?
I think it’s a great thing that the old puzzles are being preserved and made accessible to everyone through technology no one would have imagined way back when.  Like a lot of people, I’m curious about where crosswords have come from, as well as where they’re going, so creating a database with all the Times puzzles is a wonderful effort.  I am grateful for the work that you’ve done, along with many others, and glad to be a very small part of the project.
Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I’m not sure what the practical applications of the database will be.  A lot of the fill, clues, and themes are not what you want to use for puzzles today.  They’re just not appealing by our standards.  On the other hand, if you have an idea for an EGG rebus puzzle and you see that Frances Hansen did one in the 1970s, you may want to think twice.  Not that anyone is going to remember a 40-year-old puzzle, but as the database extends further back, with thousands of more puzzles available than before, it sets a wider baseline of what’s already been done and a need for puzzle-makers today to be more creative than ever.  That’s always been one value of puzzle databases—to say:  This has been done, now find something else.

On another level, the database gives us a chance to get in touch with the old puzzle-makers, the people who were at the top of the biz in their day, making the New York Times crossword the gold standard it’s been for decades.  We get to see what they were doing, what they were thinking, how they were amusing themselves.  At first glance, we notice all the differences between then and today, but there’s a great deal of continuity as well.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I don’t remember a favorite per se.  When you’re litzing a week or two of old crosswords, you get a sense of what was standard fare for the time.  But every so often you come across a puzzle that is head and shoulders above everything else you’ve seen, and you realize that here was a constructor who really knew how to make a puzzle.  Some of the standouts, in my litzing experience:  William Lutwiniak, Jack Luzzatto, Frances Hansen, and Dorothea Shipp.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

It’s hard to pick one.  Virtually every old puzzle has something we wouldn’t see in any crossword today.  After typing in a grid, I’d proofread my work and typically see some words where I had thought I’d made typos.  DRAA?  ADOWA?  OEOE?  Those random sets of letters can’t really be words, can they?  Unfortunately, they can, and the problem was not my typing after all.

The “bad fill” (by our measure) gets most of the attention:  e.g., the ever-popular ERS, clued “Bitter vetch” (which I tend to read as “Bitter kvetch”), and the hard-to-defend CSK, clued “Cask: Abbr.”).  But I think the differences in clues and themes are worth noting.  Clues, for the most part, were simple definitions, dry and short.  No attempt at misdirection, no wordplay.  The only humor was inadvertent.  Margaret Farrar practically enlisted the New York Times crossword in the Allied war effort during World War II.   Some examples:  “One of the gangster nations.” (JAPAN); “Marine junk yard for Nazi subs.” (ATLANTIC); “Capital city without a Quisling” (VALETTA [sic]); and “Hitler's alibi in Russia.” (RAIN).  Till the later years, it seems themes were just a loose collection of related words.  The later themes were mostly undeveloped or inconsistent or sometimes just odd, but at the time likely a step above what came before.  Here’s a quotation puzzle from the ‘80s (not one I litzed) with the theme:  THE / MAPLE PUTS / HER CORALS / ON IN / MAY.  Yep, that is it.  In case you were planning to use that sometime, it’s been done.  (The constructor’s name is Farmer, but for the record, 'twasn’t I.)

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

My mom was a puzzle person, though I didn’t get into crosswords till my 40s, about 2000–2001.  A friend had bought me a gift subscription to the daily Times, and eventually I made a habit of doing the puzzles.  I’d visit the old New York Times crossword forum and join in the conversations.  Making puzzles seemed like something I could do, so I gave it a try.  For what it’s worth, I used pencil and paper to start and computer software after I sold a few.  I appreciate what the old-timers had to do, and I really appreciate what technology lets us do today.

Putting together a puzzle can be very satisfying, and it’s a kick to get your name in the paper.  I also like that I can work on puzzles when I want to, yet step away for months at a time.  It’s a hobby for me.  I have a family and other interests to keep me busy.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Everything changed for me a few months ago.  I left my corporate job after 30 years when my company offered an early retirement package.  It’s the first time I’ve done anything early in my life.  Anyway, it really doesn’t feel like retirement, since I’m busy with many things I hadn’t had time for before.  Much of it lately is work around the house.  I’m replacing all our carpeting with new floors, and I have much painting ahead.  I’m working on getting in better shape, running 100+ miles per month; I ran the L.A. Marathon in March (my second L.A. and fourth marathon overall).  I’m a film buff, and my dormant movie blog needs some attention.  I expect to launch an investment Web site sometime soon.  And I have a book project that will be taking up a lot of my time in the months and years ahead.  Other than that, I enjoy coaching the baseball team of my son, Donovan, and enjoy time with my wife, Sylvie.  How I used to have time for a full-time job I’ll never know.


Interview with Tom Pepper, April 2014 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

As I recall, David, you were replying to one of my (many) congratulatory e-mails, and you mentioned the project in passing.  It appealed to me as a way to give a little something back to the crossword community that had added so much fun to my life.  Plus, I thought the word litzing was cool.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I imagine great-grandkids of pre-Shortzian constructors someday Googling Gran or Gramps and discovering the puzzles they made.

The historical value of having all NYT puzzles in one database is what I like about this project.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

The July 5, 1969, puzzle had an intriguing grid design, and I stared at it a long time trying to figure out if it depicted its Independence Day theme (a day late) in some way.  The puzzle had nine randomly placed states as answers—some abbreviated, some not—all clued as the ordinal number of its admission to the union (e.g., The 17th).  And it had a slew of odd fill-in-the-blank clues:  New ___. [YORKER]; “___ it.” [AS I SEE]; and these three consecutive clues/answers that I could envision some bloggers today going ballistic on:  ___ bagatelle. [A MERE]; “One ___ . . .” [NATION]; and, ___ of well-being [A SENSE].  The whole puzzle just felt a little off, especially by today’s standards, but it was memorable for that reason.  I still can’t tell if the grid shape has significance to the theme—can you?  BTW, alert your proofers that I missed the left quotes mark on 40A in that puzzle—oops!  Sorry!

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Those three in a row were pretty bad.

Youre also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

I remember watching my grandmother do crosswords when I was young.  My mom, dad, brother and sister all do crosswords too, so I made a few (pretty bad) family-themed crosswords over the years as birthday/Christmas presents.  I didn’t get serious about constructing until after I saw Wordplay back in 2010 and, on a lark, bought myself Crossword Compiler as a birthday present.  Even then, I wasn’t thinking about making publishable puzzles; I just wanted to make more puzzles for family and friends.  I got addicted to constructing pretty fast (I manage my addiction better now), and you can’t help but improve when you spend so much time on it.  My favorite part of the process is working on the fill, because the search never ends—there’s always hope I can find something better, which, I guess, feeds the addiction.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I like long drives (both on the road and on the golf course), playing Joplin rags on the piano, riding my bicycle, and listening to anything written by composers born in 1685 (Bach, Handel and especially Scarlatti).  And if anyone is willing, I can play Boggle for hours at a time.


Interview with Lynn Feigenbaum, March 2014 Litzer of the Month

Lynn and Will Shortz at the ACPT
What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

How can we not want to go back in time to experience what kept America faithful to this wonderful pastime, and how it’s evolved over a century?  Litzing makes me feel a bit like Benjamin Button, getting younger with each puzzle.  I’m in early 1953 now, just 10 years old—the age of Red Buttons and Danny Kaye, Imogene Coca and José Ferrer (Miguel’s papá), Herman Wouk and Pearl Buck, and a mess of diplomats and congressmen whose names aren’t even in my memory bank.  A time when a TV accessory (45D, 5/2/53) was . . . an antenna!

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I like knowing these puzzles will become part of the record-keeping process.  And serve as a reminder that crosswords are veritable time capsules, mini-samplings of history.  I trust that when David is through litzing the Times puzzles he will take on the New York World puzzles too.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

There’s a bit of the best and worst in each puzzle.  Take April 30, 1953—a Thursday:  Unlike other ’50s puzzles that I’ve litzed, the cluing was often quite un-encyclopedic and relaxed, like “Things that are not what they seem” (FAKES) and “Vehicles on the wane in N. Y.” (STREETCARS) and “An unfunny Marx” (LENIN) . . .

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

. . . Yet that same 4/30/53 puzzle had such pedantry as “Relating to a period of eight years” (OCTAETERIC), “Residue” (REMANENCE) and “Ordinary cursive Arabic script” (NESKI).

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—what do you enjoy most about constructing and solving?

I am a solver—by ACPT standards, a very slow solver—but NOT a constructor.  Not since Will the First rejected my one and only creation in 1976 and Eugene T. rejected an improved version 15 years later.  (It took me a while to redo it.)

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

After retiring six years ago from newspapers (remember them?), I went back to Cornell to finish my bachelor’s degree and then got a master’s last year at a local college.  I actually wrote my thesis on the crossword puzzle!  Home is Virginia Beach, not a hotbed of puzzling.  Nor do any of my five grandchildren show signs of becoming puzzlers.


Interview with Alex Vratsanos, February 2014 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

It wasn't what, but who . . . and you did, David!  I remember your announcement of it to the Cruciverb-L forum (which is free to join) in late June 2012, and it immediately made me curious; my interest in the project became permanent after I litzed my first week of puzzles, around which time I set a goal for myself to litz 163 pre-Shortzian puzzles, or 1% of the total.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

Well, this is going to be a very large database, almost as large as the Cruciverb database by number of puzzles.  More importantly, it will represent 50 years of thought, effort, and work by the constructors of that era, and so I am excited about capturing that effort and allowing all to see it and be inspired by it.  One specific aspect of the database that I as a constructor am particularly excited about is that it could potentially make our wordlists more complete, by filling in gaps in them that today's constructors have yet to fill.

Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Two daily puzzles stand out to me:  Friday, November 14, 1975, by Evelyn B. Rosenthal, and Wednesday, May 26, 1976, by Leonard Goldberg.  You've already described the former, as you featured and analyzed it on the blog in February 2013; the latter had a total of five 15-letter entries.  They were all the names of famous authors—Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham, and Charlotte Brontë, and all were clued in relation to one of the characters they created.  There are several examples of this theme among the pre-Shortzian puzzles already on XWord Info, but none of them that I've seen has double stacks of them, like this one.

What is the worst entry you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I don't really have a definitive answer, as we already know what's in the pre-Shortzian garbage can, but among the ones in puzzles I've litzed that aren't here, I'd pick ROA, clued as "Brown kiwi" at 82-Across in Tom Sheehan's "Stacked deck" Sunday, November 23, 1975.

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

I got started by accident, in a way—I'd always loved words, letters, and numbers, whether they were on my local newspaper's puzzle page, in the classroom, or laid down on the board in Scrabble, but I still struggled with solving crosswords.  Being introduced to sudoku in summer 2005 helped set up my career in crosswords, though I didn't realize it at the time, as it made me want to write sudoku and other puzzles for my middle school's newspaper.  I never actually tried until August 2006, but when I did, completing a crossword for the first time made me go crossword crazy!  Over the next two and a half years, I learned the language of crosswords and then submitted one for the first time in February 2009.  Over the next two and a half years, unfazed by rejections, I refined my craft, and with a little luck broke through in June 2011, getting my first acceptance on the 1st, my first publication on the 13th (my high school graduation day), and my second acceptance on the 26th (that second puzzle being meant for and published on 11/11/11!).

It's been two and a half years since then, and as you might suspect, I've had another milestone in my cruciverbal career.  That milestone came in the form of an interview with Will Shortz.  My interview, plus related materials, can be found here.  Puzzazz also has a link to the text of the interview on its 100th Anniversary of the Crossword page.  This interview illustrates why I love Crossworld so much—it's such a brilliant world with so many friendly people in it.  I can't even begin to describe how thankful I am for crosswords and the people who create them, including you, David . . . maybe it will break through at the ACPT.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

My main non-cruciverbal activity is my job as a cashier at my local Wal-Mart, which I enjoy very much.  Besides that, I enjoy music, collecting coins, trivia, reading the Bible, a variety of sports, and spending time with my family, including my pets.


Interview with Doug Peterson, January 2014 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I love history and I love crosswords, so the project is right up my alley.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

When I was a kid, I was into collecting things.  Coins, stamps, comic books, records, bottle caps.  (Yeah, my mom was a big fan of my constantly picking up bottle caps off the ground.)  And there was nothing better than getting a complete set of something.  So having a complete set of the New York Times crossword puzzles in one place is very appealing to me.

As for the entries themselves, I haven’t added many of the exclusively pre-Shortzian entries to my construction databases.  If an entry hasn’t shown up at all in the last twenty years, there’s probably a good reason.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

No particular puzzle comes to mind, but I have been impressed by some of the grids I’ve seen.  It’s amazing what constructors were able to accomplish in days before construction software and the Internet.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I can remember one entry that made me laugh out loud:  ISASNAKE, clued as ["There ___ in the bush": Yarronton].  I had no luck Googling the quote, and I couldn’t even figure out who this Yarronton person might be.  Another favorite was EPPAS, clued as [Hall-of-Fame pitcher Rixey et al.]  Were there a bunch of babies named after Eppa Rixey in the 1920s?  I certainly hope so.

The worst clue is one I ran across recently in a puzzle from 1942.  I’m a WWII buff, so David sent me a packet of puzzles from the early '40s. Many of the clues deal with the war, of course. Most are simply factual, referencing places, names, etc., but this one knocked me for a loop:  [Recent gifts to Japan.] – BOMBS.

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

I started solving crosswords by helping my father and grandmother with their puzzles, whether they wanted my help or not.  I cut my teeth on the old Dell magazines and then really fell in love with crosswords during the heyday of Games magazine.  About ten years ago, I decided to try my hand at construction, hoping to get a puzzle or two published.  Little did I know that crossword construction was going to become an obsession.  No more collecting bottle caps for me!  I’m not an artist or a writer or a musician, so the puzzles give me a way to express myself, and I get to share them with thousands of other like-minded folks.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I enjoy reading, watching old Batman cartoons, listening to symphonic heavy metal music, and avoiding any sort of real work.


Interview with Ralph Bunker, December 2013 Litzer of the Month

Ralph litzing a puzzle.

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I have a background in databases, and this seems like a very cool database to be involved with.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The steady progress, a keystroke at a time.  When I got out of college, I rode my bicycle from Rhode Island to California, a pedal revolution at a time, and this brings back memories of that.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Herbert Ettenson's "More Figures of Speech" puzzle of May 29, 1960.  The clues were examples of the figures of speech in the grid.  For example, {"An apothecary should never be out of spirits."} PARONOMASIA.  Google reveals that paronomasia is a fancy word for "pun" and that the usual meaning of "out of spirits" is "discouraged."

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

The entry that brought me screeching to a halt was {Harding's P. M. G.} HUBERT WORK in the puzzle of September 1, 1957.  I figured out that P. M. G. meant Postmaster General, but that did not help with the answer.  A modern-day version of this clue/answer would be {One of Carter's P. M. G.s} BENJAMINBAILAR or WILLIAMBOLGER.

It turns out that Hubert Work was also Secretary of the Interior under Harding and Coolidge.  American citizenship was formally granted to Native Americans during his tenure there.  Maybe that made him crossword-worthy.

You've been able to automate part of the litzing process so that it goes significantly more quickly.  Approximately how long does it take you to litz a week of puzzles (six dailies and one Sunday), and can you describe the process in detail?

The process was described in this blog a couple of weeks ago.  Assuming no badly reproduced puzzles, I can do a month's worth of puzzles in about 6 hours.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I am an inveterate solver who would like to construct a publishable puzzle someday.  Constructing seems like a wonderfully creative undertaking.

For example, recently a friend named Stan died unexpectedly, and I had idea for a crossword puzzle as a memorial to him.  The puzzle theme was words with STAN omitted (e.g., {City in Turkey} IBUL).  The revealer was {What is missing from this puzzle.} STAN, and the puzzle was entitled "Out of sight but not out of mind."  I found about 30 words that contained STAN and commissioned BEQ [Brendan Emmett Quigley] to put as many of them (with STAN removed) as possible in a puzzle.  He managed to get 12 of them into a 15 x 15 puzzle.  I solved the puzzle with a group of Stan's friends, and it was great fun seeing how much they enjoyed the theme entries.

Even though this type of theme is #2 on BEQ's Bullshit Theme list, Stan's widow absolutely loved the puzzle, and it is now framed in her living room.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I have used a bicycle as my main form of transportation for close to 45 years now.  I enjoy discussing books in a book club and have recently taken up square dancing.  I sometimes volunteer to write smartphone apps for people.

I also enjoy my work.  I am currently working on an NEH grant to computerize a 2,500-year-old Sanskrit grammar.  I don't know Sanskrit, and the Sanskrit professor I am working with doesn't know how to program, so we communicate using regular expressions.

And I have recently taken up Googling obscure pre-Shortzian crossword answers.


Interview with C. G. Rishikesh, November 2013 Litzer of the Month

Rishi scanning the birthday cake at a party hosted by friends in 
Chennai when he turned 70 in January 2013.  [His full name is 
inscribed on the cake in the fourth row from the bottom.]

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

Well, I surf the Internet widely and visit many forums on crosswords.  Though basically I am a lover of UK-type cryptic puzzles, as well as of the US "puns and anagrams" crosswords, I am interested in all kinds of word puzzles, including US synonymic puzzles.  I have been a member of Cruciverb-l for the past several years.  Before that, I was a member of the New York Times Forum on the Web, where I was an active participant in the Cryptic Clue Workshop that was hosted by Hex.  I have blogged on UK crosswords Fifteensquared and also on Big Dave's Crossword Blog.  The wide-ranging analysis of solutions of crossword puzzles that is now possible with technological development is amazing.  When I came to know of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, with its objective of bringing old puzzles into the fold, I wished to do my bit.

It might surprise you to learn that when I contributed a crossword to the Cryptic Clue Workshop on the New York Times’s web forum, I did not even have a computer at home, and litzing a puzzle was unknown to me; it was a fellow member in the US who helped me in that.  Later, with progress in my wired life, I began litzing.  That skill must be put to use too, and thus it is that I am taking part in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

To be able to go to old puzzles and see those old references.  To marvel at some things that are still fresh.  To mourn over things that have died a silent death.  To recall a half-forgotten quote, to be reminded of a movie that you saw years ago with a cousin who is no longer alive, to find an echo from a distant song. . . .  The possibilities are endless.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

To be frank, I don't have any favorite.  Every puzzle that I litzed, I did with equal interest and as much care as possible.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Well, I am not so keen a follower of US synonymic puzzles to be able to say this was the best or this was the worst.  In fact, I might not even want to dismiss a clue in any cavalier manner.  After all, each puzzle, set by someone, has been edited by someone else.  So who am I to degrade a clue?  But sometimes I have not liked a grid entry; sometimes I have not liked a clue.  When I came across the solution RAINFALLS for the clue "Precipitation," my eyebrows went up.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I am a regular solver of UK cryptic puzzles since the late '60s.  I am a published setter.  My first ever was a US synonymic in The American Reporter, a newspaper that was published in India by the USIS.  Since 2001, I have been contributing six cryptic puzzles a month to a national newspaper in India.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I read books, translate stories from Tamil to English, attend Carnatic music concerts and plays, listen to old Tamil film songs.  I watch TV news debates in the evenings.  I also do some occasional voluntary work at the local temple.


Interview with Mike Buckley, October 2013 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

You did.  You were looking for old New York Times puzzle books, so I went scrabbling through some boxes in the basement and found some among the spiders.  It turned out you already had copies of those puzzles, so I asked you to send me a batch to litz.  I was hooked, and by the end of October I intend to litz enough puzzles to win the XWord Info 1-year subscription reward in your highly esteemed Third Litzing Contest.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

Nearly every litzed puzzle has at least one word that isn't in my database.  It's all grist for the mill.  Somewhere in those yet unlitzed puzzles are the words I need to ensparkle a boring or crud-laden corner of an otherwise brilliant crossword.  I'm always looking for more grist.

Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Anne Fox's Sunday puzzle of February 4, 1968, was memorable.  She had six grid-spanning song titles, each 23 letters long, four of them intersecting the other two.  I thought some of the songs were too obscure, probably because of the 39-year difference in our ages, but the interlock was elegant.  I was inspired to construct a less ambitious version of my own with six 15-letter song titles, three across and three down.  It was rejected with the words "elegant interlock, but some of the songs are too obscure."  I must find an editor closer to my age.

What is the most curious entry you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

The most curious word is one that appeared frequently in the pre-Shortzian era and still turns up now and then.  Its characteristics may be unique.  It's not used in everyday speech.  You can't find it in any online dictionary except as an acronym, while in crosswords it's never clued as an acronym.  I suspected that the word was the illegitimate spawn of an unholy alliance between a frustrated constructor and his long-suffering editor in order to finish off an excellent puzzle that couldn't otherwise be completed.  It then spread like a meme with no validity in reality, the ultimate crosswordese!  I don't wish to add to the word's legitimacy by revealing it here, so I'll leave it as a puzzle to the reader.  I had to dig out my big old OED—the one with the magnifying glass—to discover the truth.  The word was used in 1895 to describe a "mildewed hay-stack," and it means "hanging over on one side."

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—how did you get started, and what do you enjoy most about constructing?

My parents were both avid crossword solvers.  My father was driving me home in a rainstorm one evening when he referred to the “vindscreen viper” as a "snake-in-the-glass."  At that moment, I believed I had come into possession of the World's Greatest Pun, and when I later realized that WINDSHIELD VIPER and SNAKE IN THE GLASS each contained 15 letters, I felt it was a gift from the gods.  I would use these words in a crossword, become a constructor, and fame and fortune would inevitably follow.  I was wrong in so many ways.  I submitted a puzzle that included both entries.  It was rejected.  The gods must be laughing.

Eventually a couple of my cryptic puzzles appeared in a local magazine.  The editor was kind enough to accept them, maybe under some pressure from the publisher, which was me.  Then I was lucky enough to persuade Nancy Salomon to mentor me, and soon I had sold my first puzzle to The New York Times.  I really enjoy the feedback from bloggers and solvers.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I like music:  I used to play 5-string banjo in folk groups; more recently I've been playing bass guitar in concert bands and jazz bands.  I like hiking:  I maintain a web site for a local Volkssport club in which I was active.  These days I mostly enjoy getting together with friends and family.  I'm lucky that my closest relatives live nearby.  They too enjoy music and walks, puzzles and games (Chinese Checkers and Rummikub at the moment).  Some of them even do crosswords.


Interview with Andrew Laurence, September 2013 Litzer of the Month

Andrew with Storm, one of his two cats

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I wanted old puzzles to be available in electronic form.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The ability to look further back to see what clues/fill were popular and when.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Not really.  It's kind of a blur.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

There were so many dreadful ones that it's hard to pick one out.  Overall, the quality of the puzzles was not nearly as good as it is now, and the Maleska era was particularly obscurantist.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I am a rabid crossword solver and do the Times daily, as well as American Values, Fireball, Fireball news-oriented, and any others I can get my hands on.  I also particularly enjoy Rows Gardens.  I also do the cryptic in The Nation, as I rarely finish one.  I have attended the ACPT every year since 2008 and once finished in the top 10%, but usually I'm struggling to stay in B division.  I have created only a handful of crosswords and have never had one published but hope to have one (preferably in the Times) sometime before I die.  I also run a charity crossword tournament, BAC Fill (formerly Bay Area Crossword Puzzle Tournament), in Oakland, California, on the second Saturday of September (September 14 in 2013).  This is our sixth year, and all proceeds benefit Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I love movies, reading (mainly fiction), board games, programming, trivia, and discovering new foods.  I am trying to love going to the gym, but I'm not there yet.  Mainly I enjoy spending time with my beautiful and wonderful wife of 12 years, Amy, and my adorable cats, Storm and Minnie.


Interview with Joe Cabrera, August 2013 Litzer of the Month

 

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

My good friend Todd McClary (and last month's Litzer of the Month) mentioned the project to me, and I thought it was a great idea.  Back 10+ years ago when The New York Times still had dedicated reader forums, we had one for just us crosswords fans, and many of us were litzing even then.  I maintained a website for the "Cru" (that's what we called ourselves), which included a directory for which Cru members were litzers so you'd know who to turn to to get a puzzle digitized or for some tips on doing it yourself.  It's much easier to do today because we have online resources like free (and accurate) OCR scanning available to speed things up.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I'm a nut when it comes to completeness and tying up loose ends, and this satisfies that itch quite nicely.  The very idea that someday we could potentially have every New York Times crossword easily available in a digital format is something I never imagined I'd see.  Plus, it's a kick to solve a random older puzzle every now and then to stretch some different solving muscles; you really need to brush up your Shakespeare, as well as your Dickens and Latin.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it. 

The January 21, 1982, puzzle had STAN in all the theme entries, as well as in a number of clues in capital letters.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out why until I found out that Stan Musial (also in the puzzle randomly as just one of many theme entries) had been inducted into the Hall of Fame 13 years earlier.  Nowadays we would make that fact more obvious and highlight the STANTHEMAN entry and/or balance it out with a symmetrically placed and related theme entry.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle? 

It wasn't poorly written, but a 1973 puzzle I litzed had "___-Nazi" as a clue.  Yikes!

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate. 

I've never written a regular crossword, but I did submit a few cryptic crosswords back in the New York Times puzzle forum days.  We had regular submissions from the Cru, and the other members offered valuable critiquing.

As a solver I do a number of crosswords each week and compete yearly at ACPT and Lollapuzzoola.

And behind the scenes at The New York Times, I created the software package they use with the puzzles to input, typeset, and digitize them.  (Yes, that includes litzing.)  The whole process runs a lot more smoothly than it used to! 

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords? 

I've always really been into comic books, comic strips, and cartoons, and my collections threaten to bust the walls of my home.  I also enjoy drawing and noodling around with Apple gadgetry.


Interview with Todd McClary, July 2013 Litzer of the Month




What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I love words, data management, and being part of a volunteer community, so the project is a good fit for me.  When I learned about the project, what really impressed me was the rate of progress being made toward its goal.  Numerous large-scale, puzzle-related archive and database projects have been discussed over the years, but few have been implemented with the organization and momentum of the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The database will be a valuable resource for statistical research.  It might be helpful to crossword construction but only with careful judgment.  I remember telling David, when I started working on the project, that the eventual data could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Will Weng constructed a Sunday puzzle close to Thanksgiving that included theme entries such as INSTANT POTATOES, FREEZE-DRIED COFFEE, and PLASTIC TABLECLOTH.  I found it an amusing take on the artificiality of the modern home-cooked meal.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Litzing has reminded me of the crossword standards of The New York Times in the decades before Will Shortz took over as editor.  The unabridged dictionary vocabulary, obscure foreign words, and contrived phrases are so prevalent that I'm hard-pressed to think of a "worst" entry.  I think I'm more disappointed by the prosaic clues than bad entries.  It's a shame to see opportunities for originality and cleverness wasted for the sake of brevity.

You're also a constructor and solver of crosswords—can you please elaborate?

I've been a puzzle constructor for 25 years.  Most solvers probably know me from the "Unthemely" puzzles that I post on my Autofill Project blog.  As a solver I'm pretty casual; when I've participated in tournaments, I've finished in the "B-minus" range.  I mostly solve puzzles from indie constructors.  I find the clues and entries more interesting in puzzles that are not bound by mainstream guidelines.

Has the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project helped with your Autofill Project?  If so, how?

I've referred to litzed puzzles in a couple of blog entries.  Litzing may have had minor influences on my scoring of entries, but that's about it.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I do quite a bit of cycling.  I also enjoy cooking, though I need to expand my repertoire of healthier, low-calorie recipes.


Interview with Martin Herbach, June 2013 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I was a big fan of Barry Haldiman's early "Litzmas" offerings.  He started in 1999, I think, and distributed old New York Times crosswords to the denizens of the original Times crossword online forum.  I first started doing crosswords seriously in the mid-'90s and really enjoyed the look back at how they'd changed.  I've litzed a few puzzles over the years, so when I discovered the project, it was a natural thing to volunteer to help with.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The puzzles.  Of course, I like to be able to query OREO and discover when it went from being the Greek mountain prefix to a (horror!) brand name, but I really like doing these old puzzles.  The obscurities can be maddening, but it's like a visit to a museum or maybe a quick spin on the Holodeck.  The cultural references can bring me back to my college days during the '60s.  What can be better than those flashbacks?  I'm looking forward to reliving my time in the womb as well.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I think the one from 1970 that was celebrating the first Earth Day, which had been a few months earlier.  It was deeply evocative, and I clearly remembered the events of the day in New York.  I remembered, for the first time in years, the Earth Day pin my girlfriend made me from a chip of wood.  Of course, it's not because the puzzle was brilliant but because of that time-machine, Holodeck effect that crosswords can have.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

There are so many, it's hard to choose.  You get inured to some of the early editors' favorite obscurities, like UNAU (two-toed sloth) and AGAL (Arab headcovering).  They're pretty bad the first time, especially if they're part of a bad crossing (which seemed to be a badge of honor in those days), but after the twentieth occurrence, they're hard to hate as much.  I check every entry I don't know when litzing and have tracked down some pretty obscure ones.  One of my favorites is WUN, clued as "Burmese governor, var."  It's normally WOON.  I also like how the editors went out of their way to clue obscurely.  One of my favorites is "Short-eared dog in heraldry," which clued ALAN.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

Just a litzer and solver.  It's also common knowledge that I test-solve the Times puzzles.  That also harkens back to the old forum, when Will decided he'd rather have me snipe at clues before they were published.  I must say that it's pretty rare for me to find a problem today.  That's because of the great team Will has built who fact-check to a fare-thee-well, whatever that means.  Frank Longo is especially selfish in eating all the mistakes before I can see them.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

People are sick of hearing about it, but I'm certified at the Professor level by the Ikenobo school of ikebana.  Ikenobo invented Japanese flower arranging more than 550 years ago.  They've occupied the same location in Kyoto for the entire time.  My wife and I go there about every five years to study.  Talk about a Holodeck experience!  I'm a pretty fanatical cook, which people are sick of hearing about too.  I'm a retired software guy but still code whenever I can.  I help run a volunteer water company that serves about 100 homes in the mountains above Silicon Valley.  We have a homebrew computer control system for our five pumping stations that is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  I now also maintain a script that undoes many common errors in optical character recognition (OCR) of crossword clues in blurry old newspaper images.  I'm inherently lazy and hate retyping misread clues, even if it means spending many hours developing software to avoid it.


Interview with Vic Fleming, May 2013 Litzer of the Month


Vic is shown here explaining quadruple stacks to Anna Clary,
his first grandchild, about six weeks after her February 9 birth.


[Editor’s note:  Vic took some poetic license with the questions in this interview, resulting in a particularly interesting and entertaining read!]

So, Judge Vic, it was nice to finally meet you in person at this year’s ACPT!

The pleasure was all mine.  Great job on the Oreo party!  And on your fascinating presentation about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project!

Thanks!  What got you interested in the project?

You did.  Your energy, enthusiasm, and zeal.  That anyone, let alone a teenage constructor, would take on so ambitious a project, was inspirational—at least to the point where I wanted to do what I could to ensure the project’s success.  That Barry Haldiman was involved didn’t hurt, either.

You knew Barry before, then?

Yes.  Barry and I ran in a cyber circle known as the Litz Bros a few years back.  Others I remember from this group were Dr. John “Popeye” Minarcik, Joe Bowers, Lloyd Maser, and Courtney Crocker.  There may have been one or two others (memory fades).  Barry was instrumental in my getting started on the fast track, so to speak, in the constructing world, by allowing me access to his treasure trove of puzzles, which I studied and mined.

Have you met Barry in person?

Yes.  In fact, he and a friend came to Little Rock and stayed with me one weekend in 2005 or 2006.  As I recall, he had a list of, like, a zillion microbreweries that he wanted to visit before reaching middle age—or something like that—and a couple of those places were in Central Arkansas.  So, I insisted that they stay with us.  A fun time.

So, Barry’s involvement gave me a degree of legitimacy I might not otherwise have had?

Hey, don’t sell yourself short.  I researched you, too.  I read the articles and saw the media coverage about your first crossword.  Very interesting!  Most impressive!  I wish I’d started at about your age and stuck with it.

Thanks!  Which aspect of the pre-Shortzian database are you most excited about?

Knowing that question was coming, I still can’t answer it.  Mainly, I just think it’s fun to know that every Times puzzle will be available in Across Lite and, thus, will be importable to Crossword Compiler.  [Ed.:  Current plans are for the puzzles to be available on XWord Info, not as Across Lite files.]  The cruciverbal world will have easy access to the clues and answers contained in these ancient puzzles.  What will we choose to do with them?  Who knows?

You’ve litzed 173 puzzles---

And I’m gonna litz 173 more!

Glad to hear it!  But of the ones you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?

Not really a favorite.  Things jump out at me here and there.  I have a laugh or two and then move on.  But I do recall an item from a batch of puzzles in the Farrar era.  Let me glance through those to refresh my memory. [Pause]

In the Tuesday, September 15, 1953, puzzle attributed to S. A. Kay, 61-Across is VIC SEIXAS, clued as “Star of the amateur tennis world.”  If this guy and I didn’t share the same first name, I’d probably not have been interested, but I had never heard of him, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d done, especially as an amateur, to merit the kind of notoriety needed to get into a Times crossword.

So, what did you find out about him?

Well, I won’t bore you with all that I found, but Elias Victor “Vic” Seixas, Jr., was born in Philadelphia in 1923, served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during W.W. II, then entered the University of North Carolina and became a renowned tennis player, winning a conference title and getting to the NCAA finals one year.  He went on to win Wimbledon in 1953 and the U.S. Open in 1954.  He was captain of three Davis Cup squads and is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  He became a pro—evidently right after he was in the puzzle.  His Wikipedia article refers to him as “the oldest living male Grand Slam singles champion.”  He’ll turn 90 on August 30.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Well, I don’t characterize anything as bad, worse, or worst in crosswords, but a few that educated me in the realm of the Unusual include these from 1953:

Bowls for babies PORRINGERS
Of the back: Zool. TERGAL
Monkshood ATIS

And these from 1992:

Saddletree strap LATIGO
Rotten: Comb. Form SAPRO

You’re a constructor as well as a solver?

That’s right.

Elaborate on that if you would.

Well, I’d been solving regularly for 10 years or more when, while I was in law school, I tried my hand at constructing.  Made a couple of puzzles with legalistic themes, realized that it was too time-consuming for me at that stage of life.  I put it aside and decided I’d come back to it someday.  Twenty-five years later I came back to it.  In 2003 I sent Will Shortz a dozen or so puzzles over a period of three months.  He politely rejected each one and finally suggested I get a mentor.

I then had a couple of mentors over the course of the next year or two.  Peter Abide, a lawyer in Mississippi, was my first mentor; he was making puzzles by hand, which is what I was doing at the time.  He had had a handful of puzzles in the Times, and I learned a great deal from him.  But Peter couldn’t help with computerization issues, such as Crossword Compiler.

Nelson Hardy of Rhode Island, who for 14 years had made a living constructing crosswords for Dell, stepped up and mentored me on all aspects of computerization.  We had a couple of joint-byline puzzles published—a Tuesday Times puzzle and a Sunday Washington Post.  While I’ve stayed in touch with both Peter and Nelson, by mid-2005, both had pretty much cut me loose.

I’ve been very fortunate in the field. I went to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2005, before any of my puzzles had been published.  I knew there was to be a talent show, and I’d written a song about crosswords, done a garage-band recording of it, and shared it with the Litz Bros, who unanimously thought that I should sing it as part of my bit at the tournament.

The song, “If You Don’t Come Across, I’m Gonna Be Down,” turned out to be a hit with the crowd.  It also caught the attention of the producer and director of Wordplay, which was being filmed that year.  In addition to leaving the song in the film, with Stella Zawistowski, Ben Tausig, and me singing it, director Patrick Creadon and producer Christine O’Malley actually licensed the song for use in the closing credits, where it’s performed by Sean O’Malley (Christine’s brother).

As a direct and indirect result of the whole Wordplay experience, I was able to create some markets for my crosswords that did not exist before, with the result that I continue to spend 10 or more hours a week making crosswords that find their way into publication.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Well, I’m learning how to be a grandfather.  Beyond that, though, there’s golf, guitar, writing (real prose, not just crosswords), poetry (especially haiku), teaching (for 11 years, I’ve taught a two-hour seminar on Law & Literature at the Wm. H. Bowen School of Law)—and, oh yes, I also enjoy my full-time job as a judge.


Interview with Todd Gross, April 2013 Litzer of the Month


In western wear for a dance during
the 2008 San Diego Rodeo

What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I'm interested in both the history of crossword puzzles and in making information available electronically (as with the 1940 Census), so this was a natural fit for me.  Reading printed puzzles is usually easier than deciphering handwriting, as I did with the Census.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

Being able to look at old puzzles and see how themes developed over the decades.  Also seeing the skill of some constructors before the advent of software.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

My favorite was one titled "Bidding with the Bard," which ran on November 24, 1985 (by Caroline G. Fitzgerald, whom I hadn't heard of before).  She was able to find quotes from Shakespeare that worked as a series of bridge bids, from start to finish, in order, with the theme entry lengths matching up perfectly.  Simply amazing.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I think ETWEE would get my vote:  It's an alternate spelling of ETUI, which is already pretty serious crosswordese.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I'm a constructor:  about a dozen published so far in about half a dozen different venues.  I'm not much of a solver, actually—I mostly just look at the solved puzzles and get pleasure from that.  Heck, I've paid for puzzles sometimes and not even downloaded the puzzle (did it mainly to support the constructors or their causes).

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Well, if I'm feeling stressed (which happens often), I mostly enjoy staying in bed and avoiding the world.  When I'm feeling better, I like to travel (within my limited budget), see new places, learn new things.  One activity I used to enjoy, but haven't done in a while, is country-western dancing (so was particularly happy with the last MMMM puzzle, as I've danced to that song many times).


Interview with Howard Barkin, March 2013 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I had viewed the project site from puzzle blog links but only had time to read about it without participating.  Eventually, once there was a little time, I wanted to contribute.  The idea of giving a little something back to the puzzle community is very appealing, especially since I learned to solve from classical-style puzzles such as these.

Also the fame, fortune, and potential multimillion-dollar contracts that come with it.

[Howard's answers to the following two questions were featured in my February 8, 2013, post.]

You've litzed an amazing number of puzzles in a very short period of time using a combination of OCR and manual entry.  With this process, litzing a week of puzzles was taking you about 90 minutes when you started.  Has the process become even faster since then?  [Click here for Howard's response.]

You've mentioned using OCR to scan the PDF clue columns and Word macros to copy and paste individual clue text into Crossword Compiler.  Can you describe this process in detail in case other litzers want to give it a try?  [Click here for Howard's response.]

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

So far, there have been many protean theme inspirations that were later developed into fuller concepts, but I have seen two 1973–74 grids that simply explored using uncommon letters, one with several Js, and another with several Xs.  For the time and limitations involved, these were quite interesting and must have been difficult to fill.  These are the kinds of grids that now can be designed more easily using computers, but this is much more difficult when your tools are graph paper, pencils, erasers, and reference books.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Understanding that clues and entries don't conform to the same rules, seeing EVIL clued as "80% of devil" was still pretty abysmal.

Also, the usage of any word in any foreign language, when a constructor is caught in a bind, really surprised me.  Honestly, there are more Scottish terms in these puzzles than I'd expect to see in Scotland!

I have also seen the word EMAIL clued a few times as "greenish-blue color," but as its meaning has kind of been overtaken, I can't actually find any reference of this obscure word's usage online!  Kind of an interesting reversal of the use of the Internet for information.  I still have no idea where this reference is from (heraldry, poetry?).  Anyone?

Which aspect of the eventual pre-Shortzian puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I think that the idea of finding hidden theme gems, unused words and phrases, and forgotten puzzles from known constructors is appealing.

Also the fame, fortune, and constant harassment by paparazzi.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I've been solving regularly since about 2005 now, and I've become a puzzle tournament regular.  Nowadays I enjoy the community as much as the crosswords, since I don't have as much solving time as I once did.  And that's fine.

As far as constructing, I've dabbled a bit in the past and had a few puzzles in the Simon & Schuster Mega series (simple themes and themelesses for a slow solve over a cup of coffee).  Syndicated, there may be a couple in the pipeline, as of this writing.  You'll know as soon as I do when and if they appear. . . .

But saying that I am a constructor at this point is sort of like claiming that, having been on a commercial airline flight, I am now an astronaut.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Well, family time is now is a main interest and priority :).  Beyond that, I play league floor hockey for a couple of local teams.  Same rules as ice, played with a ball, running instead of skating.  Instead of missing teeth and getting large cuts from the puck, you just get some nice, colorful bruises.

I'm starting to relearn to play the piano, a skill from long ago that has eroded.  Was definitely on my to-do list in life.

I also test-solve puzzles on request.  Another way of paying it forward.


Interview with Denny Baker, February 2013 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

Seeing the word "litzing" caught my attention—hadn't thought of it for 10 years or more.  But enjoyed doing it.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I find it interesting to see what kind of real junk (IMHO) passed for legitimate clues/answers in those days.  In the process of litzing I've collected a list of over 125 really awful entries that typify what used to be wrong with crossword puzzles.  Haven't decided yet what to do with the list—I'm trying to figure out some way to make it available—maybe via Cruciverb-l.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it. 

The Sunday puzzle from 12/10/78 is most impressive.  Has (I think—I've lost my litzed copy) 16 theme entries 10 or 11 letters long, all on the order of BALAAM'S ASS, ADAM'S APPLE, CAESAR'S WIFE, etc.  Author is Jordan S. Lasher.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

See above.  I have 125 worst entries.  Here are a couple of samples:  SYCE (Indian attendant); OCOTE (Mexican pine); AZANS (Muezzin's prayer calls); GUE (Former Shetland viol); ATAP (Nipa palm).  I could go on and on, but I hope this is enough to give you the idea.

You've litzed a lot of puzzles recently!  Do you have a particular routine or schedule for litzing?  Any litzing tips?

No routine for litzing.  I generally do it when I have nothing else to do.  My only tip is that I print 'em out, cut out the answer grid, and staple it to the corner of the puzzle.  Wastes a lot of ink and paper, but that's what I do.

You've had 16 puzzles published in The New York Times over the past 15 years.  Have things changed for you as a constructor during that time, and if so, how?

The main change, I think, over the last 15 years of making puzzles, is the size of the word lists available.  But there's also a greater demand for using words that aren't in those lists.  So you win some and lose some.

Are you also a solver of crosswords?  If so, please elaborate.

I do the New York Times every day.  I solve it or do it; I most certainly don't "play" it.  I also regularly do the puzzles by Brendan Quigley, Matt Gaffney, and Ben Tausig.  I like the Rows Garden puzzles by Aries and, of course, Patrick Berry.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

My wife and I are both birders.  I'm also a rail-fan and a fan of the Red Sox.  I read a lot and listen to music a lot.  We enjoy our three grandchildren but unfortunately don't get to see them as much as we'd like—they live in Olympia, Washington, and we live in Greenfield, Massachusetts.


Interview with Robert Warren Jones, January 2013 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I believe that I first read about it in a post on Amy Reynaldo's blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend.  I was always excited to come across a pre-Shortzian New York Times puzzle.  A couple of years ago I'd done the first ever New York Times puzzle from 1942.  It was at once fascinating and annoyingly unsolvable.  (It included more than one clue about New York watershed areas, as I recall.)

But I'm hopelessly curious about what was, at the time, the standard for quality crosswords.  So, when I read about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, I took a few cracks at solving the 1993 puzzles that had already been posted and pretty quickly came to the realization that I'd have a lot more fun satisfying my curiosity about them by litzing rather than by solving.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

All of it!  Once it's completed, I could probably spend hours comparing Shortzian clues to pre-Shortzian clues.  OREO alone would be a hoot to leave on the screen when company comes over.  (A list of hundreds of different, creative clues from the Shortz era displayed right beside the lone pre-Shortzian clue, "Mountain: Comb. form.")

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

Yes.  The most memorable is a puzzle that ran on April Fool's Day, 1986.  It's a Tuesday puzzle by Kenneth Haxton.  **SPOILER ALERT**  The down answers are filled in normally, but the across answers are all entered right to left.  The four theme answers (across entries, of course) have the same clue, "Puzzle direction, horizontally."  The answers were EROFEBTRAPDNIH, SNIHSREHTIW, TNORFOTKCAB, and DNUORAYAWGNORW.  Not only was this a gimmick that seemed to be decades ahead of its time, I learned a new word, "withershins."  (Much more fun to say than even "bass-ackwards.")

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

Ooh, that's a poser.  Given that Eugene Maleska's idea of making a puzzle more difficult was not to increase the trickiness of the clues but to increase the obscurity of the entries and/or clues, there are many candidates for that distinction.

Specifically, I recall the word TONE.  Simple word, right?  Plenty of ways to clue it, and even to clue it cleverly.  Maleska instead invoked some obscure, second-century Roman general (whose name, I'll presume, is pronounced "Toh-nay").  I've come across several instances of entire 5x4 corners, filled with common words, clued in such a way that no one could solve them.

But I think the clue/entry combo that takes the entire bakery is from the May 27, 1986, puzzle.  The clue is "Illegal border crosser" and the answer is WETBACK.  It's a colorful term, to be sure.  But with it being a derogatory term, and with a specific ethnicity implied, it's practically a parody of inappropriate fill.  I'm surprised that it ever ran, nevermind in 1986.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I'm an avid solver and some-time amateur constructor.  I post puzzles at blatherreview.mu.nu under my blogging name, Tuning Spork.  At first, it was just to see if I could construct a quality puzzle and to document my (hopefully) increasing competence.  (Well, that, and to have fun.)  I haven't posted much lately, but I may get back into the swing of it in the new year.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Oh, playing the guitar and songwriting, painting, cooking, playing darts, pool and word games of any kind.  Oh, and torturing my palate with spicy foods.  (Indian for the win!)


Interview with Jeffrey Krasnick, December 2012 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

The history of crosswords has always fascinated me.  When Jim Horne’s XWord Info site came, I wondered about earlier puzzles.  I like complete sets!

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The fact that the complete run of New York Times crosswords will be available in perpetuity to everyone.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

In general, there was a ton of creativity and original ideas in these puzzles.  Lots of overlooked treasures.

What is the worst entry you’ve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

There were a lot of odd partials.  A recent example is “Nine ___ big fat hen” — TEN A.  It seems like any three- or four-letter string could be an answer.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

A huge solver, doing several thousand a year.  I was 29th at the most recent American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

I have just started constructing, with my first “public” puzzle being part of the Will Shortz birthday celebration [on Amy Reynaldo's Diary of a Crossword Fiend blog].

I have submitted a puzzle co-constructed with Doug Peterson to The New York Times and await a decision on it.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I am a big Disney fan, especially the parks.  We go to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World around once a year.


Interview with Nancy Kavanaugh, November 2012 Litzer of the Month



What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

I was curious about the older puzzles and figured I could learn some stuff while I was at it.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

Giving today's solvers a chance to experience what puzzles were like 20 or more years ago.

Of all the puzzles youve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I wish I could remember the good puzzles more clearly, but really only the bad stuff sticks in my head.

What is the worst entry youve come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

The clue "Skyy sightt" for STARR.  That one really bothered me for some reason.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I enjoy doing both.  I have been constructing crosswords since the late 1990s, but I'm not very prolific.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I love animals:  I live with four dogs, three cats, and two fish, plus my full-time job is dog grooming.  I enjoy studying alternative medicine, especially Ayurveda.  I also really enjoy cooking and gardening.  But my favorite pastime is watching movies and TV shows.


Interview with Angela Halsted, October 2012 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

To be honest, I'm always game for an activity where I can show off how fast I type. (Spoiler:  Very fast.)

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I just like the idea that a complete record will exist.

Of all the puzzles you’ve litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I really don't.  I don't actually read the puzzles as I type them.  I mean, I'll notice a clue here or an answer there, but mostly I'm just typing as fast as I can.  (Which is pretty fast.)  I have to admit the clue "___ Zeppelin (rock group)" made me chuckle.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

My first published puzzle was a collaboration with Michael Sharp that ran in the Los Angeles Times.  I've had a few collaborations with Doug Peterson run in the Los Angeles Times and one in The New York Times.  I have two puzzles that Will has accepted for publication—one a collaboration with Jeff Chen and the other my first solo!

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

I'm an avid reader, and I tend to get a little excited about the University of Iowa during wrestling season.


Interview with Mark Diehl, September 2012 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

Having spent time in decades past blearily winding through reels of microfiche at our local library trying to locate puzzles of mine from the Maleska era of The New York Times, it was a no-brainer for me to join this project.  When completed, it will be an invaluable resource to illuminate the history of one of my favorite pastimes!

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

The chance to digitally view and study New York Times puzzles prior to Will Shortz's reign as editor.  While litzing, I've found it fascinating to catch glimpses of changing trends, fashions, mores, and even punctuation standards over time.

Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

The earliest notable puzzle I've litzed was from Saturday, May 29, 1954, created by Herbert Ettenson.  It featured 9 theme entries all clued "Nonsense" and comprising 71 of 191 available squares, or 37% of the puzzle.  And it had a very clean fill to boot—a real standout for its time!

What is the worst entry you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

The clue from 1989 was:  "___! Yarrh! Grr! Arrh!": Kipling.  And the answer was URRH—exactly what I would have exclaimed, even if I could have gotten it from the crossings!  I was so moved by this clue/entry that I decided to Google it and was finally able to locate a copy of the original text from Kipling's Complete Children's Short Stories:

Commissariat Camels
     . . .
     Somebody's load has tipped off in the road
     Cheer for a halt and a row!
     Urr!  Yarrh!  Grr!  Arrh!
     Somebody's catching it now!

Perhaps the editor's or constructor's edition had the added H, but still, somebody should have caught it back then for that one.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

Both.  I began solving crosswords in grade school in the early 60's.  I cut my teeth on Dell magazines, took up Games soon after its inception, and added the Los Angeles Times and occasional New York Times in college.  I submitted my first puzzle to The New York Times in 1982 after reading and following the guidelines in the Crossword Puzzle Compendium by Jordan Lasher.  It appeared Sunday, November 11, 1984.  I have sporadically constructed ever since.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Dentistry, sculpting, reading fiction, watching movies, and spending time with my wife, kids, and grandkids.


Interview with Andrew Feist, August 2012 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

This seemed like a good opportunity to get a chance to look at some historical puzzles and to get a sense of the evolution of how we've gotten to where we are.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

TBH I don't do a lot of constructing, so I probably won't use the end result that much!

Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

The most memorable right now is probably the most wordplay-like one I've seen, which was the three blind mice/no u-turns puzzle.  The execution was rather eh (IMO), but the fact that it was there at all surprised me.

What is the worst entry you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I think my "winner" so far is AIE, which was clued something like "cry of disgust" or "cry of surprise."

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I solve crosswords—I don't necessarily do daily puzzles very much, but I do MGWCC and I subscribe to Fireball (although they typically sit for a little while, and then I'll do maybe a month's worth in one sitting).  My constructing tends to be of the "creative puzzle" type—I did a Valentine's Day–themed puzzle contest on my blog this winter, and I've contributed puzzles to Montgomery Blair High School's Puzzlepalooza that they run for their students.  I generally somehow make it into the top 10% at ACPT, although it's been close the last few years.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

Other than puzzles, I play mahjong (4 players, thank you, none of this solitaire nonsense), whatever card games I can find, and trivia every now and again.


Interview with Barry Haldiman, July 2012 Litzer of the Month


What got you interested in the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project?

When the World Wide Web got rolling, I noticed very little or no information about the history of crosswords, even the NYT.   So my first step was to index all the NYT Sunday puzzles, which led to the Maleska daily puzzle index and then to converting all the older Shortz puzzles.  Time passed, and here we are.

Which aspect of the eventual puzzle/entry database are you most excited about?

I always like coming across great words that aren't used much anymore.  I live in Kansas City, and when they were remodeling the baseball stadium, a KC Star article said, " . . . and the construction of expanded vomitories to field-level concourse."  I'd love to see things like VOMITORIUM in an old crossword, even if it doesn't specifically pass the breakfast test.

Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable?  If so, please describe it.

I've always enjoyed finding older puzzles that pushed the envelope whenever the staid Maleska was supposedly so much against that.  That happened with the conversion of the first Litzmas puzzles and "Planted Antonyms" by Ernst Theimer from March 30, 1986.  I hear it generated lots of mail demanding to know what was going on; I think solvers nowadays are more savvy to misdirection, and they have crossword blogs to explain it to them.  The puzzle is available here, but the solving secret is yours to find out.

What is the worst entry you've come across in a pre-Shortzian puzzle?

I don't particularly care to be a nitpicker, but being a computer programmer, I was a bit taken aback by the clue "Computer programming code" for ASCII.  I had to check if that was in a NYT puzzle, and indeed it was . . . once.

Are you also a constructor and/or solver of crosswords?  Please elaborate.

I tried my hand at construction in the early 2000s but mainly did a few coproductions, one of which was an L.A. Times Sunday with Nancy Salomon.  I've done several for family, friends, and coworkers, as they are less demanding.  As for solving, I've attempted the NYT crossword since my college days in the late '80s.  That resulted in lots of frustration for many years during the Maleska era, but I stuck it out and now revel in the Shortz and Internet eras.

What are some other activities you enjoy in addition to crosswords?

My wife and I like to bicycle, bird-watch, and root for the KC Royals.  We are avid readers and volunteer with the local Friends of the Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment