Crossword-Puzzle Contributor Alex F. Black Dies at 86

For more than a quarter-century, Alex Black constructed scores of crossword puzzles for the New York Times and The Washington Post Magazine.
For more than a quarter-century, Alex Black constructed scores of crossword puzzles for the New York Times and The Washington Post Magazine. (Family Photo)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2005

Alex F. Black, 86, who made his living as a television publicity executive but found creative satisfaction in the highly structured discipline of constructing crossword puzzles, died of pneumonia May 15 at Carriage Hill Bethesda nursing home.

Mr. Black created scores of puzzles for more than 25 years as a freelance contributor to the New York Times and The Washington Post Magazine. His work, it could be said, appeared far and wide, as well as across and down.

His wife once found one of his weather puzzles reproduced on a beach towel. His daughter stumbled upon one of his puzzles in Tokyo, reprinted in an English-language newspaper. His puzzles also have been included in several book-length collections.

He delighted in springing jokes and puns on the lexicographomaniacal public.

28 across: Postage for chain letters: "Bilk rates."

Mr. Black had a certain fame among friends and acquaintances, said his daughter, Victoria Black of Washington.

"Everybody calls you up on Sunday morning to say: 'Hey, how are you doing? What's three-across and four-down?' " she said.

Sunday puzzles were Mr. Black's favorites because they are built around themes, from Pun Fun to Eight Easy Pieces to Madcap Marriages.

14 down: She elopes with explorer -- smooth running: "LucilleBallBering."

Mr. Black took up pencil and paper about 1973, after working the puzzles in New York newspapers for years. He was neither the most prolific nor the most famous cruciverbalist, but he was consistent, publishing a handful each year until he had to quit several years ago due to illness.

Crossword puzzle constructors now often rely upon computer programs to help them create their brain exercises, but Mr. Black eschewed automated aids.

"Every paper has its own rules, and they're very strict rules about symmetricality, the ratio of black to white squares," his daughter said. "There are 10 absolute rules across the board, and then each paper has its own quirks."


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