Yes, it's time for another "mini-biography of people I don't know anything about." There are several in my queue and I've been sitting on this one for awhile, waiting for just the right moment, which may have come and gone without me noticing. Gotta learn to pay more attention. If you're new to this blog the rules here are simple. I try to remember what little I know about the unsuspecting subject and from there, I just make stuff up. Never believe anything you read on the Internet.
Will Shortz was born at a very early age. While still a toddler he showed many puzzling proclivities, memorizing the English, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets forwards, backwards, and upside down before speaking his first word — OREO. His befuddled parents finally sought professional help when young William spent the entire summer before first grade refusing to speak except in complete palindromes. "Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron" might have been hard for you or me to fit into casual conversation as a toddler, but then neither of us were budding puzzlemasters.
Teenage Will traveled extensively. Ere he saw Elba he had already calculated all possible anagrams of every country, city, river, and mountain he visited. Though not exactly a nerd, his friends found it difficult to converse with someone who answered every question with a clue. While fun for a while, this eventually becomes maddening even when you're told the letter count.
As is frequently recounted, Mr. Shortz holds a degree in Enigmatology from Indiana University. This is so clearly bogus it amazes this author he's not taken to task for this wasteful and pointless exercise more often. I mean really. The only possible job that line of study would qualify you for would be Crossword Editor of the New York Times, a situation so incredibly unlikely as to be absurdly obscene. I think the rather ludicrous and nearly irrelevant fact that he did somehow manage to attain that post weakens my argument only in the slightest degree. What were the odds? Totally nuts.
Unbeknownst to his Times employers, Will moonlights for a competing news organization. Disguising his normal voice in order to sound cool, sophisticated, and even sympathetic, he lobs word puzzles at listeners who call in to his NPR radio segment. Not wanting to waste even a moment's time, he can completely revise a Monday or Tuesday puzzle submission while waiting for the answers.
Does the fame and power go to his head? Sadly, yes. Mr. Shortz rules Crosswordland with an iron fist. Not a single grid, not a single clue gets published without being personally vetted by him. Who the hell does he think he is?
The Thursday puzzle by Stephen Edward Anderson (answers) brings together four portmanteau locations. The phrase "portmanteau word" was coined by one of my other heroes, Lewis Carroll. It means words like his own inventions slithy and brillig that have "two meanings packed into one word." I loved that "Run (out of)" wasn't anything to do with what happens when the milk carton gets empty. It's a different sense. The answer is DRUM, as in drum out of town. Nice.