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Gordon works best in the pre-dawn hours in her home office in downtown Philadelphia, surrounded by two bookcases of dictionaries, almanacs and other directories. Ideas come to her constantly, and she uses a computer to build the grids.

“She’ll spend hours and hours looking for the right word or the right phrase,” said her youngest son, Jim Lanard, 73.

Unpublished puzzles are piled on the window sill. Her funny themes include types of “choppers” (HELICOPTERS, GUILLOTINES, WISDOM TEETH) and different kinds of “removers” (FLY SWATTER, FLEA POWDER, ROACH SPRAY).

Gordon has had many puzzles rejected, too, acknowledging that some of her references are not modern enough. She recalled an argument with Times crossword editor Will Shortz over the words YAY and YEA: Gordon contends the former isn’t a word; Shortz disagrees and allows it in his puzzles.

“She is a pistol,” said Shortz, who has known her for years. “I think of her as a classy lady who also can be very down to earth.”

Shortz was among dozens of well-wishers who attended Gordon’s birthday party in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Though the joy of the celebration was tempered by the recent death of her eldest son, Gordon looked radiant as she greeted guests and blew out the single candle on her large cake. Lanard then led a toast.

“Already the wheels are turning,” he joked about his mother’s word-centric mind. “What are eight definitions that rhyme with ‘birthday’?”

Surely Gordon has that puzzled out by now.


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