PHILADELPHIA – What’s a nine-letter word for a significant event? Try MILESTONE.
Longtime crossword constructor Bernice Gordon is marking two big ones: She turned 100 on Saturday, and the New York Times will publish another one of her puzzles on Wednesday – making her the first centenarian to have a grid printed in the newspaper.
“They make my life,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t live without them.”
Gordon has created crosswords for decades for the Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and others, including puzzle syndicates and brain-teaser books from Dell and Simon & Schuster. She still constructs a new grid every day.
Gordon is nearly as old as the crossword puzzle itself. The first “word-cross” appeared in the New York Sunday World on Dec. 21, 1913; it was diamond-shaped and didn’t even separate clues into “Across” and “Down.”
The grids have evolved a lot since then, thanks in part to Gordon. She’s credited with pioneering the “rebus” puzzle, which requires solvers to occasionally fill in symbols instead of letters.
Gordon was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 11, 1914. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she raised three children before working as an artist and traveling around the world. She began creating puzzles in her 30s because she liked the challenge and it offered some extra pocket money.
Records are a bit sketchy – the Times didn’t give constructors bylines until the 1990s – but it seems her first crossword was published in the early 1950s.
Since then, the paper has printed more than 140 of her clever grids. The most recent appeared last summer when she teamed up with teenage constructor David Steinberg, a regular contributor to the Times. The central answer in the puzzle was AGE DIFFERENCE.