Book Fairs | February 15, 2018

NY Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz to Speak at the Ephemera Fair, March 17-18

Will_Shortz_2014 copy.jpgFew things beat the combination of a leisurely morning spent with a cup of hot coffee and the New York Times crossword puzzle.  Crossword enthusiasts the world over have long enjoyed the challenge of the puzzle considered the crème de la crème of the genre, and consider solving it their biggest accomplishment of the day.  The man behind the puzzles is Will Shortz who, for the past twenty-five years, has selected and edited the Times’ daily puzzles -- puzzles that can stump the average crossword enthusiasts and stretch the imaginations of the experts.

At the upcoming Ephemera Fair on March 17 & 18, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Old Greenwich, CT, Shortz -- who also hosts a popular puzzle show Sunday mornings on National Public Radio -- will share his passion for puzzles in a special guest appearance on Sunday, March 18th, at 9:45am.  Shortz will give a talk that traces the history of crosswords -- from the very first puzzle published in 1913 to the sophisticated art form it is today—using illustrations from his own personal collection of puzzle ephemera. 

The steps Shortz took on the path to becoming the New York Times crosswords editor fit together just like pieces in a puzzle.  Born and raised on an Arabian horse farm in Indiana, Shortz knew early on just what he wanted to do in life—become a professional puzzle maker.   His parents thought he was just going through a phase, but at age 14 he had already sold the first puzzle he created to Venture Magazine.  

At Indiana University he designed his own major, graduating with a one-of-a-kind degree in enigmatology, or the science of puzzles. His parents encouraged him to go to law school, convinced that he couldn’t make a living in puzzles.  Undaunted, Will skipped the bar exam to begin his chosen career in puzzles immediately, and he’s never looked back. He’s even one of the featured experts in “Wordplay,” the 2006 documentary film about crossword puzzles and the people who create them.

Along the way, Shortz, a long-time member of the Ephemera Society, has amassed a collection of more than 25,000 puzzle books and magazines dating as far back as 1534, including mechanical puzzles and other related items, such as a crossword bracelet from 1925 where each wooden link is a crossword square.  Highlights of his collection include the world’s first crossword puzzle, which was published in a supplement to the New York World on Dec. 21,1913 (the only known copy in private hands) as well as an original copy of the world’s first crossword book, published by Simon and Schuster in 1924.   

The Ephemera Fair, produced by Impact Events Group in Lexington, Mass., is the largest fair of its kind in the country.  It is held in conjunction with the Ephemera Society of America’s 38th annual conference.  More than 80 exhibitors from all over the country and Europe will be showcasing and selling what collectors have come to call “eye candy” - delicious discoveries in categories that include correspondence, advertising materials, posters, historical documents, posters, tickets, scores, scripts and cards.  If you’ve ever saved Valentines from long-ago sweethearts, or treasured theater stubs or matchbooks from restaurants you’ve patronized over the years, then you’re already an ephemera enthusiast.

Here is a quick look at just one of the delicious "eye candy" categories to sample at the upcoming Fair.  Colorful, printed advertisements have existed ever since craftsmen, shopkeepers and other business people realized the advantage in promoting themselves and their products.  Today, advertising ephemera is much in demand.   From exhibitor, Richard West, of Periodyssey in Northampton, Mass. comes a fine example -- an advertisement for a famous literary magazine called "The Chap-Book," the first little magazine of its kind.  Published from 1894-1898 by Stone & Kimball, contributors included such luminaries as H.G. Wells, Henry James, Hebert Beerbohn and Eugene Field.  The Chap-Book advertisement that Periodyssey is featuring is from an 1896 edition.

Advertising candy, from Richard D. Sheaff of Bethel, Vermont, includes an early chromolithography American flag advertising hop bitters with the line, “…try the bitters before you sleep. Take no others.”   Richard is also bringing a delightful advertisement for Silver Gem Chewing Gum to the Fair, in which a flying female figure dispenses a cornucopia of silver gem pieces to eager school children scooping them up in their hats.  And who could doubt the color printing talents of Hinds, Ketchum of Chicago when their advertisement for their services, in the shape of a label, is so colorful itself.    Then, there is the bright blue advertising poster for Town's Hotel in Bellows Falls, Vermont, advertising all of the modern improvements -- steam heating and electric bells!

Fair hours are:  Saturday, March 17 from10am-5pm; and Sunday, March 18 from 11am-4pm.  Ticket price is $15 for adults (children under 16 are admitted for free with adult ticket).  Students with an I.D. are also admitted for free. Discount coupons are available on the website  Tickets for the Will Shortz presentation on Sunday are limited and must be ordered in advance from the Ephemera Fair website or are included with the conference fee at