Burt Hochberg (1933-2006)

Some time in late 1990 or perhaps spring of 1991, Burt Hochberg invited me to submit a sample game review. He was at that time the senior editor of Games magazine, and the man in charge of the games-and-books section. I had called him out of the blue. I had no clips as a writer (although I may have misled him on this point); I certainly had no experience as a game reviewer. I had nothing, in fact, but a fanatical love of the magazine he worked for, which I had been reading for a decade.

What he should have said was, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Would-be freelance writers simply don’t cold-call magazines in search of assignments. It’s unprofessional. I didn’t know this at the time, but I would learn.

I wouldn’t learn it from Burt, however, because what he said was, “Send me a review.” So I went home and wrote a review of a random video game, and faxed it to him the next day. I called him the day after that, and he invited me to the Games offices, to playtest new games. The next playtesting session would be the following Tuesday, starting around 6:00. Pizza would be served.

I arrived hardly believing that I was going to play games at Games, with the very people whose puzzles I’d been solving for years and years. My sole mission that first day was to be invited back. At this, I succeeded, and I kept going back for the better part of ten years. Games became my clubhouse and my second home. I attended the official playtesting sessions, and I dropped by during lunch and played Euchre or Wizard, and sometimes I even did work — writing game reviews and the occasional feature article. Once or twice I even stood in as receptionist. But mostly I did several years’ worth of hanging out.

By taking my phone call on that day in 1991 — which he certainly did not have to do — and by inviting me to join him and his co-workers, Burt Hochberg gave the steering wheel of my life a very definite nudge. Indeed, sitting here now, I can hardly think of anyone outside my family who single-handedly influenced the course of my life more dramatically. I currently work for a puzzle-magazine company, I construct crossword puzzles as a sideline, and I have written a rather puzzle-intensive book for kids. I spent years working as a game designer, a job I secured for myself entirely on the strength of having playtested 3,000 different games. Most of my friends are in the National Puzzlers’ League, which I joined only after hanging around at Games for a couple of years.

Exactly zero of this would likely be true if Burt hadn’t answered that phone 15 years ago.

I’m the last person who could fully write Burt Hochberg’s obituary — alas, I hadn’t been in contact with the man for at least five years. All I could possibly give you is the very broadest strokes: his passion for classical music and for chess. (He was for many years the much-respected editor of Chess Life.) I’m embarrassed to admit that right now I can’t even recall if he had children. And so instead I’ll simply offer this remembrance, and an all-too-belated note of thanks.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 6, 2006 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Eric, you may be interested in reading these other tributes as well.

    http://www.chesscafe.com/skittles/skittles.htm

       0 likes

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