Saturday, March 30, 2002

My favorite clue? 19 down, with 39 across a close second.

I'm just starting Cox and Rathvon's latest, from the Atlantic, called "Loops". I love it when I look at a puzzle and say to myself, "I'll never get it, never", like Don Music on Sesame Street. Just off the top of my head, though, I'd say the challenge in this one will be fitting the words into the diagram properly, not solving the clues. That's a legitimate part of a puzzle, of course, but I can't help thinking I like deciphering better than rearranging letters to fit in boxes the right way. One can hope, though, that I'm wrong and C&R will come up with some real doozies to keep me up all night. Tally-ho!
The last word on what is to be done in the Middle East - by Binyamin Netanyahu - is here:


Richard E. Maltby's latest effort, in Harper's this month, proved amusing, instructive, yet frustrating. Maltby's like that. He has great ideas, comes up with intricate clues, but too often finks out by, for instance, throwing in a French word that wasn't even in my Pocket Larousse. Now it's OK by me to use a few foreign words, but one should keep them familiar. The one he used wasn't hard to figure out, but that made it even more galling. One sympathizes with the puzzle constructor's dilemmas, but the mechanics shouldn't show through. That said, I liked the puzzle, solved it fairly quickly, once I got going, and it certainly wasn't 48 across. Is it possible someone told Maltby to "dumb down" his efforts? I have been rummaging around in old puzzles, from the early nineties. I could swear they're harder. Oh, well. I give "Mine, All Mine" three question marks on a scale of six. ???

Friday, March 29, 2002

Victory vs. Peace in the Middle East

What's this got to do with puzzles? It's the greatest conundrum of all - to be or not to be. The flaw in the thinking? There's no such thing as peace. The choice for the Israelites and the Philistines is not between war and peace. It is between victory and defeat. The Israelites could have "peace" tomorrow by just giving up and letting the terrorists kill them all. But that peace would look an awful lot like defeat. That's why "peace" talks never work. If you called them "Victory talks" their true nature might become apparent.

All victories, of course, are only partial and temporary. To the winner, victory and peace look the same. To the loser, defeat is not made any easier to bear by being called "peace". When you realize there is no such thing as peace, you realize why the Israelites will never purchase "peace" by ceding land to the Philistines. Every such concession puts them closer to defeat and they know it. Both sides are stymied, not because they can't get the other side to accept "peace", but because they can't figure out what any lasting victory would consist of and how to achieve it. That's why the Philistines are thrown back on the extermination of Israel - an impossible dream. And Israel in desperation thinks fondly of an "iron wall" to keep the Muslim world at bay.

"Peace" is a terrible thing. It resembles a lot of other illusions, like the Edenic myths that inspire the so-called "environmentalists". Do any of them really think that the Earth can or should be kept in a certain ideal state forever, maintained like a terrarium at standard temperature and pressure, with two and a half species per square inch, never changing, never growing? Do any of them really think that if you cut a tree down, others will not grow to replace it? Do any of them really think that if you pave a meadow the pavement will remain forever?

No, of course they don't. They barely think at all. Just like the "peaceniks", who, if they were honest, would admit what they really want is not peace, but victory, they emote and feed off others' emotions and become hypocrites and liars to get power over others.

So there's my rant for the day.

Thursday, March 28, 2002


My favorite day of the month – the new Harper’s and Atlantic puzzles have come out.

Richard E. Maltby’s effort in Harper’s is already making me tear my hair out, but that’s what I like. Eight of the answers are deformed in some unspecified manner before being entered into the diagram. Of course, the eight deformees are not marked in any way. I guess that makes it more fun, but doesn’t it seem to you that it’s always pretty obvious, when you’ve got a good solution – one that hits with a solid “chunk!!” – whether it fits into the diagram or not. The possibilities are not endless.

Which brings up another point. How do these composers come up with these wild and wacky ways of messing with your mind? It’s hard enough just to compose a simple crossword. Is it as hard as it appears to construct cryptics? Perhaps a composer can chime in with some trade secrets (NOT!!)

Sunday, March 24, 2002

One answer away

I got an old copy of an Atlantic puzzle and cranked away on it. Maybe it was guilt for copying it out of back issues at the library, but something didn't let me finish it quite. So here I am wondering what in the world Expanding Second-Rate Farm, in Westernmost Georgia means, having the letters _h_ng already. Making it more difficult is the scheme of the puzzle, which requires that some of the puzzle entries, including this one, must be constructed by taking the answer to the clue and taking out a word - four letters long in this case - that means some kind of food. For instance, one of the answers was "RaisingCain". But all you entered in the diagram was "gCain" because you took out the "raisin". Clever, no? The clue in that case was "I sing"California" in shower, creating a ruckus".(11) two words.