Whitewater

and Pumpernickel

PlusAmerica'sMostCreativeCrosswords
By the Nation'sTopGonstructors

Blueprintfor Success
A.J. Santora
by HeleneHovanec
master builder starts a project
with a well-conceivedplan,pays
meticulousattentionto details
and takes painstaking efforts with the
finishing touches.A top-notchcrossword constructorusesa similar modus
operandito producea first-rate puzzle.
A.J. Santoradoesboth.
The New England-basedSantora
startedhoninghis home-buildingskills
asa 14-year-oldwhenhe andhisbrother
workedin their father'sbusiness.After
their dad's death the brothersSantora
took over the reins. Times were tough
(it wasduringthe depression),
andthey
"learnedfast" as Santorarecalls."But
we also had the businessduring the
glory yearsafterWorld War II when the
constructionindustrywas booming."
Now semi-retired,the 74-year-old
Santora"works for other builders on a
needs-bebasis.Fifteen yearsago I had
bypasssurgeryand I gaveup my business.If builders need someoneto fill
in, they'll call me. I work on the average about two or three days a week.
This way I have no stress."
Freedom from demanding construction scheduleshas allowed Santora more
time to concentrate on his trademark
crosswords-solidly-built constructions with a minimum amount of
esoterica and a maximum amount of
literary phrasing. His puzzles are popping up everywhere-inThe New York
Times (both weekdays and Sundays),
CROSSW RD magazine, Running
Pressbooks, andGames, to name a few.
Santoradidn't solve puzzles as a child
or adolescent. However, he married a
woman who was passionate about
puzzles. As a newlywed he'd watch his
wife Rose tackle the Sunday crossword.
When she'd occasionally ask him for a
sports definition or a current affairs
term, he'd happily supply the answer.
"Rose
loved puzzles. She'd always do
the Sunday puzzle when she was preparing our dinner. When she put the
puzzle down to go off to do something
in the kitchen, I'd take a peek at it and
1994
November/December

fill in the blanks.Thenshe'dget angry
and we'd have words. So one day I
decided that I'd make up my own
ptzzle." Unawareof the rules, Santora
constructeda puzzle with left to right
symmetry(ratherthanall-aroundsymmetry) and later tealized it was
unsalable.
Shortly thereafterthe Santoraswere
at a relative's houseand came across

the prestigious crossword edited by
MargaretFarrar in that Sunday'sNew
YorkTimes."We'd neverseentheTimes
pluzzlebefore." On the way home they
purchasedtheir own copy of the paper.
"As soon as we got.
to our housewe
startedsolving the puzzle and didn't
finish it until Tuesday."Santorawasso
impressed
with thequalityof thepuzzle
(Continuedon Page7)

THEMESANDCLUESFROMTHESANTORAFILE
From "Fishful Thinking"
1803fishing pact?
Flshy singlngteam?
Flshy proceedlngs
on "the Hlll'?
Illegal catchof
small fry?
Dlning rctlvlty et e
crowdedflshfry?
Fish entree?

From'llrrational Geographic"

Louisianr porches
TheC.aptalnandteneeh

Saleof the 17th
century?
Chauvini$ic place?

Senateherrlngs

Amongstthe
Ama?rns?
IVhat Ginger told
Gltligan?

Baby bessIn nets

In no man'sland
No man ls an lsland

Welltowellcerpeeting
Parr for the coune

From "Socketto Me!"

ttl pray -t
(flshmongcr's
Invocatlon?)

Manhattan Island
The lsle of Man

ToGodmyslewillkeep

From.,Overcrowding',
Ncwsrnan
ln the
sahara?
sudrnRrrher
canalZonefitm
panemeandprKetrte
frvorites?

Scettered, electrlcally? Dlffused
Hypingrelectrlcally? Plugging
Impeding,
electrically?
Shortcircuiting
Energizeg
electrically?
Energeticperson,

Juicesup

electrlcally?

Live wire

Quakefollower,
electrically?
Bright ideq
electrlcally?

Acbrwhocrrvcd
After shock
gurlash?
HungaryCooper
Light bulb
singeronesouth
Amerlcangig?
Persistenl
ArgenrlneTurner
electrically?
Recurrent
Actresswithan
artyaffectatlon? BohemirFerrow
Is a flexible battcr.
electrically?
Switch hits
stngerwitha Larin
bert?
BollvleNewtonJolrn
From'Metal Telepathy"
Washingronv.I.p.in
gore
sanegat
Attribut€s of
Dakar?
."ThecountryGirt"
gourmands?
Cast iron stomachs
Pittsburghbrass?
Steelheads
up norrh?
crmdr Rdren
Midas's pinkie?
Goldfinger
slnger/ectressln
EthiopteZedog
A depositln the
Africa?
{.60Mlnutec'D-Day
reservation?
Indian headnickel
reportcr?
Retucianrflterat
home?

R.ooney
Normendy
Amerlcalong

CROSSWRD

"Bleacheritettwith
the metallic look?

Platinum blonde

ffippie's housc
decor?

Aluminum siding

Page5

Santora(from Page5)
that he decided to construct another
crossword and see if he could get it
publishedthere.
The finished product, a 23 x 23
crosswordcalled "Family Circle," was
basedon kinship terms.Lacking a typewriter, he hand-printed the grid and
clues and mailed it to Farrar. "She examined the puzzle with a fine-tooth
comb and objectedto two entriesin the
grid. t had included 'My Three Sons,'
and she questionedits staying power.
'What kind
of program is this? I don't
think it will last until the puzzle is
published,' she urrote." Santora
chuckles when he relates this. "The
show lastedyearsand yearson the tube
and is probably srill being syndicated
somewhere."
Farrar relented on the TV show but
objected strenuously to Santora's inclusion of the word uterine in the grid.
"She had
three words for that-'No!
No! No!"' Farrar was a stickler for
propriety.Death,disease,taxesand sex

were absolutely verboten."She asked
me to rework the puzzle."
After eliminating the offensive word,
he resubmittedthepuzzle,got a coveted
acceptanceletter, and, when the work
appearedin print, receiveda check for
$35.The yearwas 1948,and it was the
beginning of a new careeras well as a
new name."Farrar edited everything in
that first pazzle,including my name."
She had taken the initials from rhe
mailing envelopeand usedthem on the
byline, muchto Santora'spleasure.He's
always hatedhis given name(which he
won't reveal),and he's beenknown as
A.J. ever since.
He's not a prolific constructor("I do
about 40 puzzles a year"). Just as he
individualizes blueprints when building houses,he puts his uniquestampon
his hand-constructedcrosswords. .,I
never use the samegrid twice. I don't
have a variety of workable grids on
hand. I let my pattern evolve as I
progress with the puzzle, Sometimes
I'm making changesin the grid up to
the very endto accommodatemy needs."

Before he starts constructing he
draws up a list of thematic entries. ,,I
like to use phraseswith verbs in them,
becauseI can matchup the entriesto fit
the symmetry requirements. For example, if I plan to use the term .spare
the rod,' that's 11 letters long. I can
match it with another ll-letter phrase.
But if I needa 12-letterphraseI canuse
sparesthe rod, and if I needa l3-letter
phraseit will becomesparingthe rod."
Santora is self-educated.An avid
reader,he goes through three newspapers from cover to cover every day.
He's also an athlete,though now it's
more the armchair variety. He participated in "all but the water sports. I
played football, basketball and softball." He and Rose have been married
for more than 45 years and have five
grown children and six grandchildren.
Santorasolvesthe crosswordsin the
daily and SundayBoston Globe (the
latter constructedby Henry Hook and
Emily Coxflenry Rathvonon alternate
weeks) and, when he can get it, the
(Continuedon Page9)

usea
Maqazine
rillfind

uctin its

a n op r o v t d e
timi
uni<

rdsrMThe

T
rng

ayer's
c

r buttor

anoso

makes
tlie puzzle ore
andscqring,
mult prayer
crosswor0s
exper e .
1

tfuvare
though ully

-1*8{X}-€
[-800-27
: November/December
1994

cRosswRD

Page 7

Santora(from Page7)
daily Times pazzle. "It's not always
easyto buy the daily Times here." He
always solves the Sunday Times
pazzle,andoccasionallyoneofhis sons
will pass along the syndicatedHerald
Tribune puzzle.
He hasno idea of how many puzzles
he's consFuctedover the years.,'I know
that Bill Lutwiniak used to have a
numberingsystemto track his puzzles,
but I never did that. SometimesI go
into dry spells where I can't think of a
theme.I'm not at it all the time." He
feels that "all the themes have been
used. Now I have to go to stuff I
wouldn't ordinarily look at. For example, I've been watching the
Whitewater hearingsand hearing BarbaraBoxer's name,so I decidedto do a
ptzzle on dogs. Not just apuzzle listing
thedifferent breeds.I did one on people
with dog names.I got enough entries
and managedto squeezeout a 15 x 15
and thought it was well worth the effort."
Santora'swork is hard to categorize
for he's a master of many genres.His

"'West

Undies" pazzle for a Stamford
crosswordcontestwasbasedon a ,,quoteby
Mae West on learning a life jacket was
namedfor her." He packeda L7 x lZ grid
with thesewords-"I've been in Who's
Who and I know what's what but it's the
first time I ever madethe dictionary."
In his classic"Locus-Pocus"puzzlefor
theTimes,hejuxtaposed
phrases
andwords
in an original way. "Below normal,, appearedin thegrid on theline belowtheword
"normal"; "by
thehour" appearedvertically
next to "hour"; "aboveboard" was positioned on top of "board."
In his "Center Stage" crosswordbased
on Shirley Macl-aine, San0orapositioned
three thematic entries in the center of the
gnd:

reading. However, she does help her husband by proofreadinghis puzzles,suggesting appropriatepublicationsfor submissions,
and exercising her veto power when he
"sEays
a bit" with way-outthemesor clues.
Santoraelicits the help of other family
membersfor fact-checking.Oneson-in-law
is an experton sports."If I needthe nameof
a sportsplayer,I'll call him and he'll give
methefacts."He alsocallshis sonsfor some
verifications.But, he doesn't dependon
othersto keephim abreastofcurrent trends.
He subscribesto Sporrs lllustrated and
Rolling Stone ('\ want to be up on all the
new rock stars.The youngereditorslove it
whenI tell themIreadRolling Stone.,,)and
watchesCNN ("507oof my televisiontime
is spentwatchingCNN").
Santora has been able to managetwo
B E T N G T H E R E
caregrs simultaneously,
T W O F O R T H E S E E S A ! , construction
[
achievingsuccess
in both.While thenumber
O U T O N A L I M B
of peopleable to purchasea building conSantora'soffice is his son's bedroom. structed(in part) by A.J. Sanrorais limited,
"We have
onechild still living at home,and thenumberof solversableto derivepleasure
I took over his room." He slockshis refer- from an A.J. Santoracrosswordconsgucence books in ttre bookcaseand usesthe tion knows no boundaries.
D
deskfor the constructingand cluing.
As for Rose,sheno longer solvescross- HELENE HOVAI{EC is a New york Ciwwords, preferring !o spendher sparetime basedrvriter/editor.

ALBERTWIMMER
1918.1994

That'srlghLThemaninthemiddleis notwearinga CROSSW RD
Magazine
T-shirt.He'swearinga shirtsotdby somebody
else.
Don'tbe likethemaninthemiddle.Beriketheguyontheleftorthe

)manontheright.GetyourveryownCROSSWRDMagazine
Tirtandwearit proudly.
CROSSWRD Magazine
T-shirtscomein Medium,Largeand
Extra.Ftg", Eachshirtis $9.9S(Add$3 postageandhandting,
regardless
ofthenumberofshirtsordered).Newyot1<
stateresidenls
pleaseaddappropriate
salestax.

Novembe/December
1994

CROSSWRD

In all walks of life there are unsung
heroes. One ofthose heroes in the crosswordpuzde world was At Wimmer,
AlWimmer died in August at the ageof

76.
AlnevergotabylineinCROSSw
RD
Magazine, but he was as important as any
constructor or editor. Al was primarily a
copy editor and proofreader; he made sure
that each issue went to press with as few
erors as possible.
A gradrate of N.Y.U., Al simply loved
wcds. He excelled at Requisite ad TDil-S,
games invented by his nephew George
Bredehorn Every Tuesday he would match
wits with Gorgg wirh Rd Ptscop, Rich
Silvesti andother plzzle and gamedevotees.
And Al excelled at editing. He read
every Helene Hovanec article and every
Page 2 column, and did every crossword
puzzle before we closed each issue. The
inevitable errors that appearedAl took personally. Nothing short of perfection was
his goal.
To Al, life was a crossword pluzzle.
What that means I don't know, but I like to
think that someplace Al is proofreading
this article and trying to decipher that sentence.
We at CROSSW RD Magazhe are
going to miss him.
-Jbn

Page 9