Saturday, February 2, 2013

Project Sondheim (Sunday brunch: February 3, 2013)

Well, as promised last week, I'll tell you about my next big solving exercise.  The Stephen Sondheim references in Word Salad, along with the bit I learned about Sondheim mentoring Richard Maltby and the sample Sondheim cryptics from New York magazine that I solved piqued enough interest that I'm going to work my way through the entire Sondheim catalog (at least the New York magazine part of it).

Fortunately, I have access to the University of Pennsylvania library, and they have the early run of New York on microfilm.  So I went over last week, found the reel, and fired up their new microfilm viewer.   Yes, I said "new," not "old."  This one lets you print the film pages to a PDF instead of paper, so it's cheaper and I can print a fresh copy if I foul up the first one.  The copy quality is not great, but it's enough to read and solve the clues.

I'll say it was a trip going back through the pages of a 1968 magazine.  Some big names like Jimmy Breslin were writing for the magazine, politics and culture were of a very different era, and the ads were a hoot.  My mother subscribed to the magazine, and I remember reading it in the 70s.  After the Sondheim cryptic had run its course, they started a competition where readers were asked to make up humorous movie titles or typos on a weekly theme.  It subsequently inspired the Washington Post's Style Invitational, which continues to this day.

And the ads...!  I'll have to wait for another weekend to share a few of my favorites, but suffice it to say it was a less PC (which is to say much less stutifying) world.

So as of now, I've solved the first six puzzles.  Some were easy, some were very hard.  I've tried to solve them as a 1968 reader would have: no Google, no anagram server.  It gives you a lot of respect for the solvers and constructors of that era.  I'll post comments on some of the puzzles as we go along.

And with perfect timing, we have a new addition to the Sunday brunch menu: the cryptics by Zebraboy for The Sondheim Review.  His latest is called "I Never Do Anything Twice." (Lara Bruckmann sings it below).  It was a nice solve.

I Never Do Anything Twice (by Stephen Sondheim, from "The Seven Percent Solution)

Elsewhere in the puzzling world, the Wall Street Journal has a Patrick Berry variety crossword called Mailboxes.  It's a slight variation on some of his previous work, but familiar to Berry's fans.  It's another fully-checked puzzle (a Berry specialty) where a jigsaw puzzle of rectangles is placed with the help of across-words.  I found it pretty hard, but some of the other folks commenting had an easier time.

The New York Times has a diagramless behind the paywall, plus the monthly Fred Piscop bonus puzzle, which I now understand is not another diagramless, though Piscop does many of their diagramless.  This month's is by Paula Gamache (must repeat her headshot).  I'll bet it's themed.  Look for the solution posted to the blog as soon as I get the puzzle and get it done.  [update: solution is posted, and Deb Amlen's post at Wordplay has the starting square if you want a hint.]

Want something a little more straightforward?  Hex have their regular weekly cryptic in the National Post, and Falcon will blog it for you as always, over at  

That's a pretty full menu.  Something for everyone, unless you're Fannee Doolee...

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