Each layer of puzzles unearthed by the archeological “litzers” of The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project is a step back in time. Newly discovered artifacts shed light on the world of puzzles but also the world at large. So far, they’re only back to the early 1990s but the differences are striking. What was considered worthy of inclusion in the most prestigious crossword in the land back then? What did editors consider to be challenging but fair? What were the educated readers of the NYT expected to know?
Times change, history accumulates, and cultural norms swing wildly, and more importantly, Crossword Editors come and go. The Editor from 1977 to 1993 was the erudite and proper Eugene T. Maleska. Well, I assume he was erudite and proper based solely on his puzzles. Before Will Shortz expanded the parameters of puzzles to include nearly anything you’d find elsewhere in the newspaper (nearly -- there are still many exceptions), the range of acceptable topics was more, let’s say, gently academic. That doesn’t mean his puzzles were dull. Not at all. I have fond memories of many of them. Some, in fact, were quite bizarre.
May 31, 1992
This Sunday crossword is one of the strangest. If you want to avoid spoilers, you can try solving from this PDF. Nah, don’t bother.
First of all, this is an extra-large 23x23 Sunday puzzle with a complicated Notepad you can read along with the complete solution here on XWord Info. Besides solving the puzzle, you had to use the “slash” squares to solve this crytogram: TECS EAYTLEZSH JRHT CRZS YOWT LKSR: "LAY BETS WHYE YOS ORKK EJ JRCS, JEB LSYS'T TRZS!"
So far so good. Now let’s look at some of the clues. I’m sure you don’t need any help but just in case you’re not sure of, say, the exact spelling, I’ve included the answers.
Works out by studious effort : ELUCUBRATES
Redness of the skin : ERUBESCENCE
Shiner perch : SEVENELEVEN
Fragrant : OLENT
Type of spring tide : PERIGEAN
Drug addict : NARCOMANIAC
Early post of J. Caesar : EDILE
Old name for Ireland : IERNE
Brought forth a lamb : EANED
Kin of viols : REBECS (only Liz Gorski knows that one)
Musical prelude : VORSPIEL (ditto)
Effulgence : SHINE
Gradual disappearance : EVANESCENCE
Cries at Greek orgies : EVOES
Plants of the bellflower family : LOBELIAS
Red quartz : SARD
Gold lace for upholstery : ORRIS
Yes, these were all in the same grid! Some are familiar and some are guessable to me but, as I’ve never received even a single post from Caesar nor attended even one Greek orgy, I’d be stumped. And what is that “Shiner perch” supposed to mean? Interestingly, there were also a few cutesy clues like
Bee chaser : CEE
Dial backward : LAID.
And then, of course, there’s the almost unbelievably hip
Odd people or animals : SPLACKNUCKS
“Or animals?” Right, that helps. You must mean splacknucks. My spell checker doesn’t know that word.
You’re probably thinking, yes Eugene T. Maleska was the editor, but who was the constructor who cobbled together that string of words? The answer – Eugene T. Maleska. I wish I had met him.
Anyway, you know why I’m writing all this. You have three weeks left to support the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project and get full access to XWord Info for a year. If you currently have an account, you can extend it for a year, and I don’t get a penny. It all goes to the PSPP. That’s a worthy cause. Donate here.