Next month's column
Let me begin with a confession: I do not do crossword puzzles. Oh, if I happen to be on a long train ride and I've read every word in The New York Times that I'm remotely interested in, I'll pass the time with the crossword, but if I fail to finish before I arrive wherever I'm going, I put that puzzle down with no emotion other than mild relief. As far as I'm concerned, the puzzle has served its purpose. That's if it's an "easy" one. The hard ones I generally give up on after a few minutes and stare out the window instead.
A significant subset of Gazette readers, it would appear, feel differently than I do about puzzles, especially when the puzzle in question is the magazine's own "Pennsylmania." They rose up in letter-writing protest at its absence in our December issue. While the numbers pale in comparison to the barrages exchanged in some past controversies over the magazine's contents, this was the largest number of letters on a single subject received since I arrived here, and the writers take a back seat to none in their passion: "Please bring back Pennsylmania! I can't live without it," e-mails Felicia Fogg Gonzalez, CW'56, and "You ought to be ashamed," writes Robert Weinstock, C'40 .
To these and likeminded readers, let me say the following:
It won't happen again.
"Pennsylmania" is back.
But, a word of warning:
While we do have a puzzle in this issue, it isn't by Dr. Nicholas D. Constan, Jr., L'64, who has decided to make "Pennsylmania No. 180," which appeared in the November issue, his final one for the magazine. He certainly deserves a rest: The puzzle had run without interruption for close to a quarter century under his authorship.
The first puzzle to be done by Dr. Constan appeared in the April 1974 Gazette , and it was a quote from Loren Eiseley's The Invisible Pyramid . In that issue, the puzzle's author was listed as Christopher Robbin. It wasn't until the October 1980 issue, with "Pennsylmania No. 52" -- from then-women's track coach Betty Costanza's Women's Track and Field -- that Robbin revealed his true identity: "aka Nicholas D. Constan, Jr."
The cover story in April 1974 was on a beer-tasting contest on campus; the October 1980 issue featured articles on the selection of Penn's new President, Sheldon Hackney, former President of Tulane University. In the years since, the Gazette has switched from black and white to color illustrations and gone through several design makeovers, as well as other changes, but "Pennsylmania No. 1" looks a lot like "Pennsylmania No. 52" and "Pennsylmania No. 180," a reassuring constant for its fans.
Nick Constan never accepted payment for the puzzle, and we thank him heartily for his contributions over the years. He, of course, cannot be replaced -- in recognition of which we will be "retiring" the practice of numbering the puzzles. From now on, it will be just plain "Pennsylmania."
Another reason for this shift is that, for the time being at least, we will be doing a variety of puzzles in that space, created by different ... puzzlists? This month's entry, for example, is a "cryptic crossword." The author, Brit Ray, tells me with a proselytizer's enthusiasm that it uses puns and wordplay in clues, as well as the more direct comparisons on which most American crossword puzzles are based. This makes it harder, she says, as if that is something good.
I hope readers who are crossword puzzle fans will welcome this new challenge and that they -- along with those, like me, on whom the attraction is lost -- will find other things to enjoy in this issue as well. As always, write and let us know.
John Prendergast, C'80
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Last modified 7/2/97