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Crossword maker marks 100th birthday with puzzle

January 13, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Longtime crossword puzzle constructor Bernice Gordon is marking two milestones: She turned 100 on Saturday, and The New York Times will publish another of her puzzles on Wednesday — making her the first centenarian to have a grid printed in the newspaper.

Gordon has created crosswords for decades for the Times and others, including brain-teaser books from Dell and Simon & Schuster. She still constructs a new grid every day.

“They make my life,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t live without them.”

Gordon is nearly as old as the crossword puzzle itself. The first “word-cross” appeared in the New York Sunday World on Dec. 21, 1913.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Gordon raised three children before working as an artist and traveling around the world. She began creating puzzles in her 30s because she liked the challenge and it offered some extra money.

Farrar was not impressed with her first few attempts, and neither was Gordon’s mother.

“My child if you spend as much money on cookbooks as you do on dictionaries, your family would be better off,” Gordon recalled her mother saying.

Records are a bit sketchy — the Times didn’t give constructors bylines until the 1990s — but it seems her first crossword was published in the early 1950s.

Since then, the newspaper has printed more than 140 of her clever grids. The most recent appeared last year when she teamed up with teen David Steinberg, a regular contributor to the Times. The central answer in the puzzle was AGE DIFFERENCE.

“Our styles are a bit different in that way, but we still had a lot of fun collaborating,” Steinberg said, calling Gordon “amazing and also prolific.”

Gordon works best in the pre-dawn hours in her home office, surrounded by two bookcases of dictionaries, almanacs and other directories. Ideas come to her constantly, and she uses a computer to build the grids.

“She’ll spend hours and hours looking for the right word or the right phrase,” said her youngest son, Jim Lanard, 73.

Gordon has had many puzzles rejected, too, acknowledging that some of her references are not modern enough.

“I think of her as a classy lady who also can be very down to earth,” said Times crossword editor Will Shortz, who has known her for years.

Shortz was among dozens of well-wishers who attended Gordon’s birthday party.


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