Friday, March 15, 2002

Foreign language puzzles

I was wondering how they do puzzles in Timbuktu or Baluchistan. The characteristics of the different scripts must make for some decorative efforts. Or is the good old Anglo-Saxon world the only place where word puzzles caught on? Seems unlikely. Imagine acrostics using Chinese ideographs! I know something about Arabic, have seen their daily newspapers on a trip to Cairo, but can't remember ever seeing any word puzzles. Anyone out there who knows of an interesting non-Roman script word puzzle, let me know if you can at I won't publish any emails unless you specifically say it's OK, but I would really like to know.

Last month's Harper's puzzle, by Richard Maltby, was called "Misprints". I found it tantalizingly difficult yet interesting. The idea was to decipher clues with a misprint in them - that made up half the puzzle clues. For the other half, you had to enter the answer to a "regular" puzzle clue in the diagram with a misprint. This was a lot harder than it looked. One interesting feature was the definition of a "misprint". It was defined as a simple letter substitution, always occurring in a cross-clued light.

I have always been fascinated by how the puzzles I liked are made. I've tried my hand at it but always seem to botch it up. I have a feeling the pros have methods beyond my ken. Not that I couldn't learn.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

So, no puzzle news this morning. I'll just have to get my two cents' worth in on the news of the day. The Israelis look justifiably suspicious of the Zinni initiative, which seems designed to give the Palestinians what they couldn't achieve on the battlefield or by murdering unarmed civilians by the hundreds. Of course, they could have had nearly the same deal many times in the past. Is it too cynical to think that the present generation of Palestinian leadership wouldn't be able to function if they didn't have Israel to blame all their problems on?

That said, how do the Israelis get themselves out of this situation? Is an "iron wall" the solution? Or implanted machine-readable tags that would distinguish Jews and Israeli Arabs from Palestinian possible terrorists? By the way, why is no one commenting on the fact that almost no Israeli Arabs have been killed in the eighteen months of the "Al-Aqsa intifada"? Could there be any more persuasive showing that, one, the Israelis are not "racist", even though that charge is absurd, because they're all Semites, or, two, that Israelis can live with Muslims? On a more general level, is it possible for a highly developed modern culture, with TV and the internet and some degree of individualism, like the Israelis, to exist cheek-by-jowl with a heavily hierarchical matriarchy like the Arab world?

Yes, I said matriarchy, because I believe, with Dr. Johnson, that "Nature has given women so much power that the law very wisely gives them little." And the less power women have in a society by law, the more they have by nature. Israel, despite the influence of the Orthodox clan, has given women much power by law. To pay for that, of course, the same women have lost much of their natural influence. In the Arab world, women run the family and hence the society, using men as cannon fodder and mouthpieces in their usual manipulative way.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

CONUNDRUM - the advanced puzzle solver's forum

Ever since I found I could do the New York Times daily crossword puzzle in ink in less than fifteen minutes, I've been searching for new puzzles to conquer. The "cryptic" puzzles in the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's magazine have challenged me for years. It's about time I shared my enthusiasm for this puzzle type - and any others readers might suggest. I'm looking forward to discussing your opinions and circulating my own. As each puzzle comes out, I will solve it - or not! Then I'll analyze it. I hope this will be fun.

So I looked at a lot of puzzles. "Word finds" were my first introduction to the world of moron puzzles. They give you all the words and ask you to find them in a block of letters, cleverly disguised by running them backwards, forwards, upside down and diagonally upside down backwards. They didn't hold my interest for too long. That must have been because of my lifelong habit of reading dictionaries upside down and diagonally backwards.

On a slightly higher intellectual level, I had a long-term relationship with crostics. They give you a block containing a quotation and definitions with the letters of the answers to the definitions keyed by number to the spaces in the quotation block. If that description has given you a headache, you will understand why crostics gave me headaches. After a while, though, like crosswords, they became merely a stenographic task, my fingers racing to keep up with my mind. As I got older, the headaches were accompanied by arthritis.

By the way, doesn't this blog-writing thing remind you of Sam'l Johnson sitting at a table in a coffeehouse in late eighteenth-century London scribbling copy for his periodical Tattler or Rattler or Rambler or whatever it was? Only he always got it right the first time.

As soon as I can figure out how, I'm going to separate a section of this blog for daily political and philosophical rants. Then I will figure out how to set up an email block so anyone who may be reading can join in. Mojo Man may be joining us.