Friday, November 11, 2011

Taking Steps - November 2011

This month's puzzle: nothing actually tacky. One clue: maybe a little judgey. Some clues: absolutely delightful. Well done this month!

The super special trick extra layer of intensity: an acrostic. I feel about acrostics the way that Indiana Jones feels about snakes: terrible. "Why'd it have to be snakes/an acrostic?"
Indiana Jones with snake | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

Except that the major difference is that Indiana Jones defeats the snakes, and I had never ever once before defeated an acrostic ever once before in my life. Not ever. Not once. Not even close. I'd get 20% of the way in, 30% of the way in, then: total block, and with too little complete to glean any inference from the fill. Jesse urged, "but the part where you intuit the quotation and start solving things faster than you can write them is kind of euphoric!"

I did not have the courage then to admit: I had never felt such euphoria.

And thus this puzzle took nearly a solid month to finish, totally messing with my average solve time (between 3 hrs and 3 days). Hit a major roadblock even with half the clues answered. There were just no hand-holds from the fill. Too many long words, very little to infer aside from a lot of "ion" combos.

Got a good boost from the clear refreshing Bay Area air on a visit to San Francisco, and two answers from the brilliant Amelia, and then one magical BART ride home the whole puzzle morphed from a mess of yucky yolk and wet flour into a glorious dough that I baked in the oven of my brain, and which thus yielded the delicious bread of a solved puzzled. And I felt that acrostic euphoria, Jesse. I felt it.

smiling toast | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

All across answers change by one letter between rows. Two uses of EINSTEIN for anagrams, which I can't decide if I find brilliant or sloppy (read: I find it audacious and sloppy).

  • AA. Queens consumers, perhaps, bet on bad rates (9)
    (bet = ANTE) + RATES anagram = ANTEATERS.
"Queens" as in ant queens. Beautiful.
anteater | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • R. Einstein's confused—time to be gay! (8)
Love it.
The Gay Nineties | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
  • N. Peasant plowed with one foot (7)
    PEASANT anagram = ANAPEST
Sometimes I feel like the only one who cares about prosody and the rhythm of words. Maltby reminds me that I am not alone. Anapest is ba-da-BAH ba-da-BAH: "Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky." DFW said the anapest is a horse's gallop.
  • P. Waiters, as some say, are dogs (8)
Knew this was a homophone, but got stuck on synonyms for "waiters": servers? waitstaff? porters? carriers? No no, this is "waiters" is in "those who tarry" as in TARRIERS homophone = TERRIERS. Favorite clue of the puzzle. Here's Asta: a favorite terrior of puzzles! Asta from 'The Thin Man' | wire fox terrier | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

And then as for that judgey clue: Actor cast in not quite polite plays finally abused things (9). Answer: ACTOR anagram + (not quite polite = NICE - e) + (plays finally = S) = NARCOTICS as synonym for "abused things."

Hrm. Narcotics are painkillers and sleep-inducers. I took Vicodin after they pulled out my wisdom teeth. Vicodin is an opiate. Am I a narcotics abuser?

And of course, the synonyms are not a one-to-one correspondence in cryptics. You can see it in the TERRIERS clue. Are "dogs" synonymous with "terriers"? No. Mr. Stupendous pointed out, wives are also sometimes abused, but were the clue to use WIVES as the synonym for "abused things," that would, indeed, be quite tacky. We'll leave it at judgey, Maltby.

In fact, I solved this clue early on as PROTOCALS = ACTOR anagram + POL from not quite polite + S. I misspelled it (it's "protocols") but it felt so good to assume the puzzle believed rules were made to be broken. T-shirt reads: 'RULES DON'T APPLY TO ME' | Tacky Harpers's Cryptic Clues

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sixes and Sevens - July 2011

Sixes and Sevens - July 2011 | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

July was a juicy puzzle and much good clean fun, up until this month's humdinger tacky-attack. And no, I'm not talking about 17A's EBOOKS ("Modern Library edition of So Be OK (hyphenated)" = SO BE OK&nsbp;anagram).

Which, side note, that was really pushing it, Richard E. Maltby Jr! This isn't the New York Times crossword. You can't just ETAIL and ERATE your way through the grid. This is why we come to the cryptic. We come for real words, even obscure words (29A NEPHRIC, "Degenerate pincher of a kidney (7)" = PINCHER anagram). But these e- prefixes in a cryptic? Too soon, Maltby! Too soon. And thanks for indicating that it's a hyphenated word. Nobody cares!

This month's extra puzzling twist was that the six- and seven-letter answers were unnumbered. Straightforward. Knocked this out with steady progress at my usual casual three day pace.

Particular favorites included 16A's glorious DOPPELGANGER from "I can see myself here, having gone and grappled with intermarriage (12)" = GONE + GRAPPLED anagram (pulled that one down right away) (anagrams are my strongest suit) and 1D's INFIDEL from "I don't believe it's an infield foul!" = INFIELD anagram.

And then we come to the unpleasant matter of This Month's Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clue. This month it was what turned out to be 34A: "Chastity maintains these holy songs get placed around the start of Easter." Tried building off AVES a couple times before I remembered that there's a special word for what we sang in church. Special thanks to my mom for the assist on: HYMNS. Toss in an E for start of Easter and we're left with HYMENS as a synonym for "chastity maintains." Hrm.
Our Bodies Ourselves - 1970s edition | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
What's Happening to My Body Book for Girls | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues

I logged a lot of hours with Our Bodies Ourselves during adolescence. I also had The What's Happening to My Body Book for Girls. I also had and still have a female body. So I'm well-equipped to offer insight on this point. Carol Roye sums it up nicely:
As nurse practitioner it is not so easy to tell whether a girl is a virgin, because hymens are so varied. If there is not much of a hymen I have no way of knowing what happened to it. Was it a boyfriend or a bicycle? Or, perhaps, this girl did not have much tissue there to begin with.
Wikipedia says it better:
Virginity testing [inspection of the hymen] is a very controversial practice, both because of its implications for tested girls and because it is not accurate.[1] It is degrading and considered a violation of human rights by Amnesty International[2] and is illegal in many countries.
This clue resonates with bad "bloody sheet" notions of female purity and women as property. Stoning is still a legal sentence for women convicted of adultery in countries that enforce Islamic Sharia law. "Honor killing" is still a very real repercussion for women who, oh, say, get married without an intact hymen.

My rejoinder, matching tacky for tacky: "Jewish bodily impurity before head was cut off by thin film (8)"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Story of O - March 2011

March, 2011

This puzzle really had me guessing right up until the final anti-climactic (as it were) finish. And in this case, it's not a tacky clue, it's the theme. And the theme is not actually tacky, just ... well, you'll see.

As a puzzle, this is another solid affair from Richard E. Maltby Jr. Favorites include 30D "Tom in Spain, a hybrid goat (4)" = GATO from Tom (qua cat) translated into the Spanish GATO and anagram'ed. Also 36A "Was first Zeppelin's leader (3)" = LED and 7D "As written, Kafka's hero is unbalanced (3)" = SIC + K. Some really juicy, novel clueing here.

But the theme is "The Story of O," and if those four words mean nothing to you, The Story of O is an erotic sado-masochistic and loosely autobiographic novel by Pauline Réage, pen name for Anne Desclos. The material was so controversial that Desclos kept her identity secret for forty years.
The Story of O | Histore D'O | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
I quote the documentary Writer of O:
The Story of O is a book you hear about when you're 13, and then never again.
That was exactly the case for me! I first heard of this book from the hip kids from New York City I met at summer camp. Then I never heard of it again until 10 years later when the documentary came to Boston.

It's an intense book. Some versions end with O's death.

So you can imagine my surprise to lay eyes on the puzzle's theme! You can't read bondage, domination, sadism, or masochism into the theme. That's because there's nothing to read into! You read it! It's right there! I'm not just over here dredging up controversy, like how if I'm bored at a party and I might start questioning the truth of the Apollo Moon Landings.
Apollo moon landings | Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues
The Apollo Moon Landings conspiracy. You think it's a dead issue that no one cares about. Lemme tell you: everyone cares. If you are bored at a party, just toss in even a little doubt. Just be real cool and casual, and say, "I mean, if there's no wind, then how does the flag wave? We've all seen the video. Amirite?" even if you know full well exactly why the flag waves. And if the flag-wave doesn't get you traction, just toss in a, "well, how can you really know? I mean, really. How can you really know?"

This won't run into the same wall that "[cocky half-smile] well, there's no objective reality. Think about that. Go ahead, I'll wait" usually slams you right into. Everyone's heard about how there's No Objective Reality and they're ready to turn their brains off when you or some other cool person brings it up. But the Apollo Moon Landings Conspiracy: brains alive! Brains on fire! XKCD on moon landing conspiracies
cartoon courtesy XKCD

Throughout my three‑day solve I was waiting for the big BDSM shoe to drop (kick). The theme had something to do with nine letters connected by a blue line. Would they eventually spell out a filthy obscenity? What perversity lay in store for we innocent and gentle cryptic solvers?

And the theme turns out to be about: golf. The unsexiest of sports. The blue lines connect letter Os to symbolize nine holes of golf. This is as if the theme were "Debbie Does Dallas" and the theme solutions were about landmarks in Dallas and famous Debbies.
Debbie Does Dallas

related: are you aware that there is a TV series titled Debbie Does Dallas Again? Because so much was left unsaid the first time.

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.