Even if you don’t know a rebus from an anagram or a double-entendre from a pun, you have no doubt noticed Frank W. Lewis‘s cryptic crossword puzzle each week on the last page of the magazine. Frank, who died peacefully November 18 at the age of 98, had supplied The Nation with his brain-teasing (some would say brain-frying) puzzles from 1947 until his retirement at the end of 2009. His fans were and are legion (Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Vonnegut and Katha Pollitt among them), steadfast and demanding.
Frank was a true Renaissance man, a lover of music, history, literature, language, botany, geography, sports, boating, cards—the list is endless—all of which enliven his puzzles. He also had a past about which he never told all: during World War II, he was a cryptanalyst for the National Security Agency, where he worked in the dark days BC (before computers) cracking German and Japanese codes. As Civilian in Charge of the Japanese Section, he broke the Japanese shipping code and was credited with shortening the war in the Pacific. He was awarded the (very rare) Exceptional Civilian and Outstanding Civilian medals (the only person to win both).
Meanwhile, stationed in England, Frank had fallen for the cryptic crosswords he’d found in the papers there and to amuse himself had begun to make his own. Back home after the war, he found only one magazine that featured a worthy cryptic—The Nation. When a vacancy opened on the puzzle page, Frank filled it by winning a contest judged by Nation readers. And thus began his sixty-two years as our puzzle setter.
For the past year we’ve been running “Frank’s Golden Oldies” while we look for a successor to the master. Early in the New Year, we will announce the results of our search.
Farewell, Swank Filer.