Chocolatespoon: Emily’s Musings

The Cruciverbalists

Posted on: December 20, 2006

Mom sent a fantastic article clipped from the September 15, 1977 Roanoke Times & World News, “The Cruciverbalists” by Mag Roff. Here’s a bit from the article:

Cruciverbalist is a 14-letter workd, soon to enter dictionaries, for one who crosses words.

It also defines Eugene Sheffer, creator of the puzzle in the morning edition of the Roanoke Times & World-News, and Thomas Joseph, author of both Word Sleuth and the evening crossword.

As different in background and personality as the slant of their puzzles, Sheffer and Joseph have in common intelligence, wit and stunning vocabularies.

Scholarly yet whimsical, Sheffer, 72, is a retired professor of French at Columbia University. During the winter, he designs puzzles in the study of his apartment on Morningside Drive near the campus, but he spends summers at Amagansett near the tip of Long Islrand, fitting words as he works in his living room overlooking the ocean.

Although his family background is Austrian, Sheffer said, he began studying French at 13 and “never stopped” until he had two degrees from Columbia, a doctorate from the University of Grenoble in the snow-capped French Alps and a teaching career of 43 years.

For 25 of those years, he directed Columbia’s Maison Francaises, welcoming to New York a variety of French artistic, literary and theatrical personalities, as well as “some gray-bearded professors.” he much preferred the former.

Among them was singer Edith Piaf and she and Sheffer became “fast friends.” They met for two hours daily prepring her American debut in 1947, with Sheffer writing English summaries of her songs for the concert program and teaching her some English. Maurice Chevalier was another close friend.
The French government awarded him its Legion of Honor medal in 1960 for promoting Franco-American cultural relations.

Sheffer began constructing puzzles as a junior in college and King Features Syndicated asked him to work professionally when he received his doctorage in 1929. He has produced six puzzles a week since then, but Sheffer said he thinks it may be about time to consider retirement.

With a career as a professor, he acknowledged, puzzles have never been his livelihood, but have been “a very convenient addition to my income.”

[it goes on about how they each create their puzzles, which is very cool]

Sheffer aims at a public he described as “middle society.” Age and sex are irrelevant, he said, and the educational level is at least high school and preferably college. he keeps below the level, though, or the New York Times, which he called the hardest in the nation and full of tricks, anagrams and puns.
Sheffer occasionally tackes the Sunday New York Times crossword, especially if he is visiting his brother’s [that’d be my Grandpa!] home where it becomes a family undertaking. It is usually his only venture as a solver.

Sheffer said he doesn’t think it matters where a solver begins so long as he starts with a word of which he is sure. Then, he said, there are letters to help.
Sheffer also thinks fans should look things up if it gives them the satisfaction of finishing. but he aims at people riding commuter trains to work who don’t have books handy.

Thank you to Mom for sending the clippings and a pile of original puzzles he wrote!


1 Response to "The Cruciverbalists"

I can’t belive I found this website.
Is there a picture of Eugene Sheffer you can email. My friends and I have been working those puzzles for 20 years and we have always been curious about seeing what he looks like. Can you share?

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