Friday, June 1, 2012

Sign Language - June 2012

Tacky Harper's Cryptic Clues - June, 2012
We're back, loyal readers of! S'gonna be different now; from now on, we're using first person plural pronouns to refer to ourselves.

This month we knocked out the puzzle in an hour while lying in bed in a bad mood. Even given such compromised puzzle-solving state, this cryptic fell apart like a cookie in a washing machine. Like a model airplane in a woodchipper. Like an emotionally unstable person asked the Hard Questions.

Ugh, and this puzzle also frequently employed our least favorite cryptic clue type, the kind where you have to guess the synonym and use it in an anagram or word manipulation. Bleh. If you like this kind, they're all yours.

Our beef is that these clues don't stand on their own. Ya almost always need some crossfill to nail them, and then when you do it's like, "oh." No satisfaction.
  • 12A. Blue inside, seek unlikely cause of tsunami (8)
    (Blue = AQUA) + SEEK (anagram) = SEAQUAKE
    We were so hoping this would be a controversial answer, like that tsunamis are caused by eco-terrorists as Michael Crichton imagines in State of Fear. Did you read that book? We love Michael Cri, but that science fiction book was truly science fictional. Anyway. Did we guess AQUA only because of the cross-Q on EQUAL, yes, obviously that is the only reason we guessed AQUA. Prior to that, forced BLUE SEEK anagram after BLUE SEEK anagram.
  • 28A. Place to walk in ermine when temperature's off (4)
    (ermine = STOAT) - (temperature = T) = STOA
    Blah. That's the sound of us falling asleep with disgust. STOAT and STOA?
  • 6D. Horse rears up to go over something again (5)
    (Horse = PACER) (anagram) = RECAP
    "Pacer" for horse is a stretch. Bleh.
  • 35A. One who cans tomatoes at the outset leaves strainer? (4)
    (tomatoes at the outset = T) + (One who cans = AXER) = TAXER
    Ugh this convention in puzzledry that fired = axed = canned is so hacky and anachronistic. And "TAXER" is one of those words accepted in the ScrabbleTM dictionary, and nowhere else. Like as if every verb can take an ER. Every verb! ARRIVER: One who arrives! Yes, "arriver": a word we know and use. One day we will coldly tell these so-called words: we're not disappointed you're lying to us, we're disappointed you're lying to yourselves."
  • 24A. Name a president who came back as a Mideast leader! (4)
    (Name = N) + (president = ABE) (reversed) = EBAN
    Actually jk, jk, we loved this clue, only because it says, "name a president!" and we immediately think, "Abraham Lincoln!" That man was The President. Boom.
Abe Lincoln

The very best cryptic clues are the ones that read as natural English, with no obvious indicators or handholds. They're smooth, and impenetrable to all but the most skilled. Like a ball bearing, or the sphere in the movie Sphere starring Samuel L. Jackson, based on the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.


None of this month's clues were quite of that highest light, but there were some beloveds:
  • 10D. A sweep might show what a Ghanaian spends ... (6)
    A SWEEP (anagram) = PESEWA
    Currency of Ghana. Lovely. Daringly asking the puzzler to have specific knowledge of West Africa, i.e. the world as it exists even beyond such cultural eye-openers as high school French and Spanish. Shout out to Ghanaian friends Victor and Felix, and further shout out to Richard E. Maltby Jr. for including not one but two Ghana clues this month!
    Here's the other one—even more fun:
  • 13D. ... in a day around Ghana's surroundings! (6)
    A + (day = FRI) + (around = CA (as in "circa")) = AFRICA
    Ok, so, yuss, this is kinda that clue-type specifically called out earlier, cuz you have to guess/infer that FRI, but whatever! A clue about Ghana! Woohoo!
  • 9D. Cheap furniture store loses a president (3)
    (Cheap furniture store = IKEA) - A = IKE
    Another synonym-guesser, but you know we love any dig against IKEA. Particle board and two-cent screws. Worthless. IKEA furniture is like H&M clothing: some of it lasts forever, but most of it is disposable and won't survive the year. And we also love a second president clue. Ike! We like!
IKEA broken
  • 25D. Price on your head by morning is taken from amount taken in (6)
    AMOUNT - (morning = AM) + BY = BOUNTY
  • 34D. Breathing spaces in which all vie roughly to maintain no score (7)
    ALL VIE + (no score = O) (anagram) = ALVEOLI
    Hoorah! Knew the answer as soon as we saw the word "Breathing" and "vie." That is how strong an impression 6th grade biology with Mr. Wurzberg made. Do you know what we did that year? We dissected a cow lung, right there in the classroom. It was incredible. We also made our own root beer from scratch. Otto Wurzberg was the money.

    So then we'd kept the word "alveoli" locked into longterm memory all these years, believing that one day there would be payoff. This puzzle was the payoff.
In 2004 we spent several hours with Dave "Sparky" Newman's road atlas learning the US state mottos, believing that one day there would be payoff. And then just the other month, one of the rounds at pub trivia was strictly: US state mottos. Kaboom. We nailed that round and doubled the points, and eventually won the night, resulting in a single free shot of whiskey for the entire team. Thus, the payoff for eight years of holding down that rote memory was literally and figuratively distilled: a tiny volume of alcohol.

No regrets, dear readers.

Special magic variety theme this month: the names for various symbols. Hell yes! Loved how many of these we knew, and loved even more the opportunity to learn others:
  • 1A. # = OCTOTHORPE
    Why "octo" when it limns nine spaces? Shouldn't it be "nonothorphe"? DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS JUST BASK IN THE GLORY OF THIS WORD
  • 20A. ¶ = PILCROW
  • 22A. • = INTERPUNCT
  • 37A. «» = GUILLEMETS
    Those French quotes. Love! High school French. Opening my eyes.
  • 51A. ∞ = LEMNISCATE
    Reminded us of "limaçon from calculus.
"limaçon" means "snail"
  • 8D. Quincunx! = QUINCUNX
    What a delightful, filthy-sounding, incredible word!
  • 26D. @ = AMPERSAT
    Always knew this symbol by its alternate name, "amphora."
  • 36D. ÷ = OBELUS
    So much is lost with "/" to indicate division. How beautiful, the noble obelus!
Well there you have it for lowlights, highlights, and theme. Ah, but where is this month's tacky Harper's cryptic clue, you ask? We have one and a half!
To the half!
  • 39D. Female advisor—awkward, I agree (6)
    I AGREE (anagram) = EGERIA
We'd never heard of her either.

Egeria was a mythological Roman nymph and royal consort, and, as Wikipedia assures us, her name is synonymous with "counselor." Presumably Richard E. Maltby Jr. couldn't possibly mean Egeria the French pilgrim and writer of the Dark Ages. side note: how cool to have a legacy as a writer of the Dark Ages?

This clue annoys us. Ha ha female advice is awkward. Ha ha women in positions of authority, how weird. We could write you a full-length legally admissible brief on the awkward, misguided advice conferred unto us by men of a stereotypically male perspective.

Just this morning, some guy told us that the best way to move our web series forward was to "get an agent. That's what I've heard is always the first step." This is literally the dumbest advice anyone has ever given us w/r/t the series. Possibly w/r/t anything. Ugh, this advice annoyed us even more than this clue annoys us.

We must move along, however! The truly tacky clue this month is:
  • 42A. Where women live and are kept by His Majesty (5)
    ARE + H + M = HAREM

This clue only works if you equate "women" with "prostitutes." Great. We do appreciate the tightness in referencing a sultanate in both halves. Rare and excellent cluing, just wish it were put to classy use.

Where are the jokes that target dudes, Richard E. Maltby Jr.? We at would be glad to write them for you. Something like:
  • Where you find immature males, earth-shaking flatulence (4)