Monday, January 31, 2011

Ring in the New Year - January 2011

Not long after I completed this puzzle I joked with an acquaintance about how "ha ha there's always some clue that's tacky or mildly offensive in the Harper's cryptic" and the acquaintance, being an Enneagram 5 of precise intellect, well. He wa'n't ha'in' it. At least, not without some hard evidence to support what was otherwise slander against a venerated print title.

I had no example at the ready save the one in this puzzle, but vowed to make a better catalogue for future reference. Thus I would confidently say to precise Enneagram 5s or smarmy Enneagram 4s or confused Enneagram 7s, "to the blog! All the answers you seek are there! A full catalogue!"

The twist in this puzzle relies on specific knowledge of Wagner's Ring cycle. Either you know it cold, or, as the puzzle description puts it, "Some googling may be required." Strike 1 for patronizing us, Richard E. Maltby. Some "googling" was definitely required by this puzzler.

Unclued theme answers included SIEGFRIED, GOTTERDAMMERUNG, DAS RHEINGOLD, DIE WALKURE, SIEGMUND (or not?) (more on that later), BRUNHILDE, SIEGLINDE, ALBERICH, ERDA, FRICKA, and WOTAN. Easy enough if you're a big Rings fan. For the rest of us, there's Wikipedia.
Valkyrie Of course, had it been esoteric knowledge of Lord of the Rings then obviously I'd be kvelling and singing operatic songs of praise to this puzzle. To each her own. But don't give me this smirky "go google [sic] it" instruction. This is a puzzle, not medical school! Strike 2, Maltby.

And on that note, we humble Googlers and Wikipeders were left with ambiguity in 1D, which could either be SIEGMUND or SIEGRUNE based on other fill and on Wikipedia's list of characters from the Ring cycle. Perhaps to an opera all-star it's "so clearly" one or the other, but I went with SIEGMUND since he just sounds more important. But that's probably mostly because of Sigmund Freud.

So it was guess-times on this puzzle, which, it's always a Complete Drag when you have to guess in a cryptic. The point of a cryptic is that satisfying mechanical feeling of interlocking parts in your brain when you solve a clue and can know for certain that it's correct, in a way that's different and also the same as how NY Times crossword solutions are so often governed on instinct and precise yet inarticulable knowledge of the Heart and Mind of Will Shortz. All m'solvers out there, you know what I'm talking about.
Will Shortz | Puzzle editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

The tacky clue this month was 31D: "From Indian woman, not wife: quiet kind of racket (6)." Several attempts were made building off of RANI, which is of course the Indian word for queen and a frequent NY Times crossword answer. But no, the clue did not indicate a woman from the Indian subcontinent, but rather a Native American SQUAW. Remove the W à la "not wife" and add SH from "quiet" and we're left with SQUASH racket. Ugh.

Oprah Winfrey
Marge Bruchac | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Seems that "squaw" was first identified as an epithet in 1976's Literature of the American Indian (quoted here), then later came to popular consciousness as an insult after Native American activist Susan Harjo appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 and claimed that "squaw" is a derogatory term for female genitals. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the word.

Abenaki scholar Marge Bruchac has a rather defensive editorial titled Reclaiming the Word "Squaw" and as you might guess it's pro-squaw. But she adds in an addendum,
Yet, in the modern era, given the tragic history of non-Native treatment of Native American Indian women, the word "squaw" is often interpreted as an insult. For some, it represents the rape and abuse of Native women by white soldiers and fur traders; for others, it represents the prejudice experienced by reservation Indians.
Thus, regardless of the actual etymology, it's a word used to demean or insult women. Even the people who like it don't like it. Tacky, Maltby. Strike 3.