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 Alexander Franklin Black
Lieutenant, United States Navy
New York State Flag
 Courtesy of The Washington Post
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, 2005, 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."

91 across: Jane Marple: "MsApprehend."

Norman Mailer once said that solving a crossword puzzle is "how I comb my brain every morning." The task of creating devilishly difficult verbal playthings takes an agile mind willing to twist and bend meanings until the right words fit into an artificial structure, a task that can leave neophytes cross-eyed.

Mr. Black once hosted former New York Times crossword puzzle editor Eugene T. Maleska, who had come to Washington to speak to the Cosmos Club. The club sheltered Maleska for a night, but Maleska, who wanted to stay in Washington longer, imposed on his contributor for a bed and breakfast for the weekend.

Alexander Franklin Black was born in New York and graduated from Brown University. He served in the Navy during World War II in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

He went to work for New York-based Universal and MCA Television. He retired in 1982 as its executive in charge of worldwide publicity. That year, he moved to the Wesley Heights section of Washington.

Mr. Black enjoyed theater and museums.

He always loved words and was a prolific writer and reader, said his wife, Irene Black of Washington. He often stayed up late to read novels, historical books and anything about the ocean. He was witty to the end, she said.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years; his daughter; a son, Bob Black of Washington; and a grandson.


Crossword-Puzzle Contributor Alex F. Black Dies at 86

91 across: Jane Marple: "MsApprehend."

Norman Mailer once said that solving a crossword puzzle is "how I comb my brain every morning." The task of creating devilishly difficult verbal playthings takes an agile mind willing to twist and bend meanings until the right words fit into an artificial structure, a task that can leave neophytes cross-eyed.

Mr. Black once hosted former New York Times crossword puzzle editor Eugene T. Maleska, who had come to Washington to speak to the Cosmos Club. The club sheltered Maleska for a night, but Maleska, who wanted to stay in Washington longer, imposed on his contributor for a bed and breakfast for the weekend.

Alexander Franklin Black was born in New York and graduated from Brown University. He served in the Navy during World War II in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

He went to work for New York-based Universal and MCA Television. He retired in 1982 as its executive in charge of worldwide publicity. That year, he moved to the Wesley Heights section of Washington.

Mr. Black enjoyed theater and museums.

He always loved words and was a prolific writer and reader, said his wife, Irene Black of Washington. He often stayed up late to read novels, historical books and anything about the ocean. He was witty to the end, she said.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years; his daughter; a son, Bob Black of Washington; and a grandson.


BLACK, ALEXANDER FRANKLIN
LT   US NAVY
DATE OF BIRTH: 12/27/1918
DATE OF DEATH: 05/15/2005
BURIED AT: SECTION 5-PP  ROW 26  SITE 1
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

AF Black Gravesite PHOTO
 Photo Courtesy of Russell C. Jacobs, August 2006

Webmaster: Michael Robert Patterson


Posted: 7 October 2005 Updated: 18 August 2006