Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

Category: Games

A crossword without the letter 'e'? It wasn't easy

The April 23 crossword puzzle in Calendar carried a note: "Can you spot the unusual feature in today's clues and answers?"

The answer was not in what the puzzle contained, but what it didn't. As crossword editor Rich Norris explained on the TribNation blog, the entire puzzle was created without the letter "e."

Norris wrote:

If you were to ask crossword writers (called "constructors") what letters they think are the most fun to put into a puzzle grid, most of them would mention the high-scoring Scrabble letters X, Z, J and Q. However, rarely does the opposite happen. That is, we don't often ask ourselves what letters would be the most fun to avoid putting in a crossword puzzle. Yet longtime constructor Michael Wiesenberg of Calgary, Alberta, did just that. A few months ago, he proposed a puzzle devoid of the letter E. Such puzzle grids had been constructed before, but Wiesenberg went one step further: Not only would the answer grid lack E's, so would the clues.

TribNation has the full story.

The puzzle is online here.

--Deirdre Edgar

Confidential to fans of the Jumble puzzle

Re: today's Jumble puzzle, remember what day it is...


Readers may be cross, but puzzle creator's aim is fun

"Cross words about the crossword" -- readers Karen Banse and Jonathan Mandel each wrote with a similar play on words. They are among the readers who have emailed recently to lament changes in The Times' Sunday crossword puzzle.

The complaints have a sad origin. Sylvia Bursztyn, who had been creating Sunday crosswords for The Times since 1980, died Dec. 30. Her last puzzle was published Jan. 9.

Reagle Since then, puzzles by Merl Reagle, which had alternated weeks with Bursztyn's, have run each Sunday.

Bursztyn had a loyal following. She joined Barry Tunick in April 1980 to help create the Sunday crossword and continued on her own after his death in 2007. Though Reagle has his own cadre of fans across the country, his style is quite different from hers.

In recent weeks, readers have complained that Reagle's puzzles are "way-out-of-the-box challenging," "stilted, relying on puns" and "an exercise in irritation."

"Change is a hard thing, and solving is a very personal thing," Reagle said by email.

Reagle’s Oscar-themed puzzle on Feb. 27 used numerals in two of the answers, which raised some hackles. "Stop using numbers in your puzzles," Carolyn Gordon wrote in an email that she asked be forwarded to Reagle. "It isn't cute, and it isn't clever. It's just cheating, plain and simple. If you want to SPELL out the numbers, as in 'five' and 'three,' that's allowed, but using the number depicted as a number isn't fair."

Reagle said the use of numbers -- or multiple letters, or easily drawn shapes -- in an answer square is common in crossword magazines as well as in the New York Times puzzle.

"I wouldn't want to do one every week -- far from it -- but I thought I'd at least do a few with numerals for starters," he said in his email. "Mind you, this is not a casual, willy-nilly thing; the numerals have to be parts of theme answers, not just something thrown in for variety's sake. In the case of my recent Oscar crossword it was necessary because the movies being punned on were '127 Hours' and 'Toy Story 3'  -- and spelling the numbers out would have looked pretty weird."

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Sunday crossword creator Sylvia Bursztyn dies

As Obituaries Editor Claire Noland reported Saturday, Times Sunday crossword puzzle creator Sylvia Bursztyn has died.

Bursztyn began creating crosswords for The Times in April 1980 along with puzzle partner Barry Tunick and continued on her own after Tunick's death in 2007.

Bursztyn's last crossword was published Sunday. Puzzles by Merl Reagle, which had alternated weeks with Bursztyn's, are now scheduled to run every Sunday.

The blog L.A. Crossword Confidential described Bursztyn's puzzles as an "institution for many Angelinos."

Readers were sorry to hear of Bursztyn's death.

Teresa Andrade wrote, "The Sunday Crossword puzzle has been part of my life for the past 20 years.  I was deeply saddened when Barry passed away, barely tolerated Merl, and then happy when I would get at least a Sylvia puzzle every other week.  I am deeply saddened again now that she is gone."

And Irma and Frank Bernard wrote: "We were saddened at the loss of Sylvia Burtszyn.  We always enjoyed her clever crosswords."

--Deirdre Edgar

Times is bringing back Bridge column

Frank.Stewart Good news for Bridge fans: The daily Bridge column is coming back.

Starting Monday, it will be back in its old home, on the first Comics page.

The Times has been bombarded with e-mails, letters and calls from disappointed readers since the column was discontinued Nov. 29.

Many of those were longtime subscribers like Doreen Schlesinger of Santa Ana, who wrote, "For 55 years I have started each morning with the Bridge column and found it a perfect mechanism to activate my brain and prepare it to face the day.  Without warning, the column was removed from the paper, and I have been miserable ever since."

Editors made the decision to remove the column after subscriber surveys showed that only 3% of respondents read it. However, that 3% is a devoted and loyal group.

As of Tuesday, The Times had received nearly 600 e-mails and 400 phone calls regarding Bridge.

"The outcry from our readers compelled us to reconsider our decision," said Sallie Hofmeister, assistant managing editor for arts and entertainment. "While readership surveys showed that Bridge was the least popular of our offerings of puzzles and games, we discovered from this outpouring of response that its fans are engaged readers and some of our most loyal subscribers."

The demise of the column resulted in relatively few subscription cancellations. However, that impressed editors as well: Despite the large outcry, Bridge fans kept the paper even after losing one of their favorite features.

The column is a cornerstone of many readers' days.

George Doane of Rancho Palos Verdes wrote, "I am dismayed at your decision to discontinue the Bridge column.  I went the week without it, and I clearly am showing withdrawal symptoms. I always, ALWAYS do mine at lunchtime and look forward to reading the column all morning.  I plead for you to bring it back."

Several readers noted that the column was often discussed at their regular bridge games.

Charlene Carnachan of Glendale wrote that the Bridge column "has been a standby for me and my friends and the basis for discussion for many years.  'Have you seen the latest Bridge column in the L.A. Times?' would be a frequent conversation topic."

Many readers said Bridge was one of the things they liked most about the print edition.

Barbara Glabman of Newport Beach wrote from her iPad, "We have subscribed to the Los Angeles Times for over 40 years. In an era when we can get our news streaming live on computer, it is the extras like the Bridge column that keep us subscribing."

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Bridge column writer Frank Stewart. Credit: Tribune Media Services


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