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'67 Across: Lustrous alumnus

Cornell Alumni News page from 1966 depicting Glee Club Asia trip coverage

Image: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

Adam Perl '67 was beaming as his toughest puzzle of the day stumped Rex Parker at the second annual Finger Lakes Crossword Competition in early March in Ithaca. Parker, the self-described "King of the Crossword" and a competition juror, sat muttering oaths at Perl's ingenious grid.

"I am a very fast puzzle-solver, and Adam's puzzle ground me to a halt," says Parker, author of the popular blog "Rex Parker does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle." "His crosswords could hold their own in any major tournament in the country."

Perl, who is a regular contributor of crosswords to The New York Times, created three original puzzles for the local competition, a fundraiser for the Tompkins Learning Partnership, an Ithaca-based nonprofit that provides free tutoring services in reading, writing and speaking English.

Adam Perl

Adam Perl '67. Photo: Franklin Crawford See larger image

Perl says he started crafting puzzles and word games in the mid-1980s; his first puzzle was published in The New York Times in 1998. He's since had 22 puzzles published in the paper, at every level of difficulty, and has more awaiting publication. That's no small feat, considering how much work goes into constructing puzzles unaided by computers.

Perl came to Ithaca in 1957 when his mother, Inez Garson, became assistant director of the then-Cornell Art Museum. He entered Cornell in fall 1963 and became a music major and joined the university's Glee Club. In 1966, the singing group was chosen by the U.S. State Department's Office of Cultural Presentations to serve as goodwill ambassadors on an extended three-month tour of what was then called the Far East; the 44-member ensemble performed in 10 Asian countries in 90 days.

"We had memorized three complete concert programs and also learned the national anthem of each country we were to visit as well as one or two songs in the language of each land," says Perl.

The club performed nearly every day during the tour, on local radio or TV stations, at universities and in concert halls. Perl has organized two Glee Club reunions since then, in 1991 and 2006, and is working on a third for 2016, at which they will sing their old tour songs and also perform with current Glee Club members.

crossword puzzle by Adam Perl published in The New York Times

One of Adam Perl's crossword puzzles as published in The New York Times. Image: Provided See larger image

Perl is the middle of three generations of Cornellians, and words and music run in the family. His daughter, Amanda Perl, graduated in 2003; his sister, Rachel Garson, in 1963; and his father, Arnold Perl, attended the university in the 1930s before leaving for a career as a writer (one of his plays, "Tevye and his Daughters," based on the Yiddish folk stories of Sholom Aleichem, was the basis for the musical "Fiddler on the Roof").

After Cornell, Adam Perl spent four years in New York City as a stage manager for the New York Shakespeare Festival. He returned to Ithaca in 1972 and in 1979 opened Pastimes Antiques in downtown Ithaca.

He's been singing in various Ithaca groups since the 1970s and is choral director of the Savage Club of Ithaca, founded in 1895 and home to many alumni and former Glee Club members. The Savage Club performs regularly at Reunion Weekend and other times throughout the year; a nonprofit, it also has raised more than $20,000 for local youth performing groups. Perl got the crossword bug, he says, because antiquing left him with considerable time to kill.

"I go to a lot of auctions, and even at a good auction, there's a lot of down time," Perl says. "So I used to just solve crossword puzzles."

One day Perl decided to try his hand at making his own. At the challenge of a co-worker, he submitted it to the Times. He's been at it ever since, also creating crossword puzzles for fundraisers and special occasions.

"I feel very proud to have found a way to turn my crossword making skills and singing into charitable events," he says. "(And) having a crossword 'celebrity' like Rex here last March definitely added to the cachet of the tournament."

Parker is looking forward to helping promote next year's crossword event and will come prepared for Perl's next brain drainers.

Franklin Crawford is a local freelance writer.

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