PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bernice Gordon, a prolific crossword constructor whose puzzles were published in major newspapers and brain-teaser books, has died at the age of 101.
Gordon died at her Philadelphia home early Thursday, her son Jim Lanard confirmed Friday. A private memorial service was planned, he said.
A Philadelphia native and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Gordon raised three children before working as an artist and traveling around the world. She began creating the puzzles in her 30s because she enjoyed the mental challenge. Her puzzles were published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and others including puzzle books from Dell and Simon & Schuster.
In an interview with The Associated Press on her 100th birthday a year ago this month, she said the puzzles "make my life" and that she constructed a new puzzle grid every day.
Gordon is credited with pioneering the "rebus" puzzle, which requires solvers to occasionally use symbols instead of letters. Her first rebus in the Times used an ampersand to represent the letters AND, so an answer like SANDWICH ISLANDS had to be entered as S&WICH ISL&S. Readers reacted strongly in hundreds of letters, some complaining that it was cheating and other applauding the novel approach, she said.
"It's something new. It was an innovation," Gordon told the AP.
Among the scores of Gordon's grids that the Times has published since her 1952 debut was a 2013 collaboration with teenage constructor David Steinberg, a regular Times contributor. Steinberg said the puzzle that emerged blended Gordon's deep classical knowledge and his penchant for modern language.
"Our styles are a bit different in that way, but we still had a lot of fun collaborating," he said.
Peter Mucha, a former Inquirer reporter who wrote a story about Gordon in 1995 and remained friends with her, said he was impressed that she used computer programs to develop crossword puzzles. And he often marveled at the breadth of her vocabulary.
"She would just pull these obscure words out of a hat," Mucha said Friday.