Creating word puzzles every day
Ms. Gordon has created word puzzles for several decades and her grids have been printed in several newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Times and other publications, including puzzle syndicates from Simon & Schuster and Dell. Despite her advanced age she still creates a new crossword puzzle each day.
Bernice Gordon is just a few weeks younger than the debut of the first crossword puzzle, which appeared on December 21, 1913 in the New York Sunday World. The diamond-shaped puzzle then did not have separate clues for the horizontal and vertical grids.
Evolution of the crossword puzzle
From not having separate across and down clues, the crossword puzzle evolution was largely due to Ms. Gordon who has been credited with creating the “rebus” puzzle. This requires the puzzle solvers to sometimes use symbols rather than letters to solve the puzzle. Her first rebus that appeared at the Times required the use of the ampersand to replace the letters A-N-D. Then Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar received so many letters, some praising the new puzzle and calling it an innovation while others were complaining. She even forwarded some of those letters to Bernice Gordon.
She was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She had three children and raised them before she started work as an artist. She traveled around the world and was very challenged by puzzles that she started creating them in her 30s. It also gave her extra income. According to available records, Gordon’s puzzles started appearing in the Times in the early part of the 1950s.
The Times has published about 140 of her grids since the 1950s and her latest creation appeared in the Times last summer. It was a collaboration with teenage puzzle creator David Steinberg. AGE DIFFERENCE was the central answer to that particular puzzle. Steinberg says that the two of them have different styles, which makes the creation of the puzzle more fun. He has a strong preference for modern language which works very well with Gordon’s deep knowledge of the classics.
Still very active
Gordon’s youngest son Jim Lanard is 73. He says his mother still works in her home office and even prefers to work in the pre-dawn hours. She has two bookcases of directories, almanacs and dictionaries, her sources of words and phrases. She is still word-centric as ever and today uses a computer to construct her grids.
Many of her unpublished puzzles are piled on her office windowsill, according to her son, who led the toast during his mother’s birthday celebration.