Thursday, January 29, 2015

Puzzography: The Early Years

The first crossword puzzle I ever saw was in a pulp magazine about science that was written for grade school kids.  This was in 1956, so I hope you'll forgive me for not remembering the particulars of the puzzle, though I think---really going out on a limb here--- it had a sciencey-type theme.

Along with the puzzle was an invitation to the readers to send in their own crossword creations.  So I set to work immediately, put one together, and sent it right away to the editor.  Again, the intervening years have left the details of the puzzle in an impenetrable mist.  Too bad I didn't make a copy.

What I do remember clearly (and painfully) is that I never heard a peep from the publication.  Nothing.  Nada.  Silence.  As the weeks, then months, passed without any word [cue crickets chirping] my hopes sank.  My fledgling crossword ambitions crushed, I finally gave up.

So I decided to start my own publication at school, one with a crossword puzzle in it.  I called the paper "The Weekly Blab".  It had some gossip about who was sweet on who, a serial adventure story featuring Donald Duck, a treasure hunt location clue, and much, much, much more.  And it only cost a nickel!

I did save a couple of the early issues.  The master copy was hand-printed with a toxic smelling purple ink and was then laid on top of a flat gel surface that absorbed some of the ink.  After the master was removed, a few copies could be made by placing blank sheets of paper on the gel surface where they would reabsorb some of the ink.   Each copy would be slightly lighter than the previous one, until the ink, rather quickly as I remember, faded completely away.

So that was my first published crossword puzzle,  March 4, 1957, with eleven words and six black squares in a 6X6 grid.  No symmetry.  Here are the clues:

          1. Might; power
          2. Musical drama
          3. Change
          4. Foe
          5. Withered
          6. Lock of hair

          1. Woods
          2. Device for opening [needed some editing here!]
          3. Hold in great respect
          4. Violations of the law
          5. Not difficult

The filled grid looked something like this, where X represents a black square/block:

          F O R C E X
          O P E R A X
          R E V  I  S E
          E N E M Y X
          S E R E X X
          T R E S S X

Yeah, even some crosswordese with SERE at 5-Across, and my very first POC (Plural Of Convenience) with CRIMES at 4-Down.

I did a couple more in the next issues, but none ever reached the soaring heights of that first one.  Readership began to dwindle and then the school year ended.  And with that, so did the brief but unremarkable life and times of "The Weekly Blab".

I didn't forget the bitter disappointment of that first puzzle submission that was never answered yea or nay by the editor.  I think I developed some newbie constructor PTSD.  Thus the lengthy hiatius, 50 years or so, until my second submission attempt, to The Chronicle of Higher Education.  This time I got a timely reply from the editor, Patrick Berry, and with his patient and expert guidance, I got my second publication with a puzzle titled "Think Again" in the Chronicle, September 26, 2008.