Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sixes and Sevens (and Twelves) - August 2012

August 2012
Hello! We skipped last month's puzzle in the blog. The only semi-tacky clue in July 2012 was
  • 30D. Unnamed person appearing in Big River? Big mistake.
    (Big = B) + (Unnamed person = ONE) + (River = R) = BONER
... and BONER as a synonym for "big mistake"? We love it. Both in the sense of "oh, that was a real bone-head move. My head doesn't contain brains, just bones. What a boner of an error." But also in the sense of, "I have an erection before a major presentation; this is a big mistake."

<sidenote> In the summer of 2010 we sat in on some calls for an 8-bit video game collective, with the possibility that we might do some art for them. One member of the collective had just gotten his digital hands on a zero-gravity engine, and we brainstormed ways to use it for a game. 

Sidenote to this sidenote: the way this collective talked about the zero-gravity engine was as if they'd acquired plans to the Death Star.

So the guy who'd actually personally acquired the engine, his big idea was to make a game starring a female astronaut who needs to go pee very badly. The longer she's unable to find a bathroom, the more her spacesuit fills with urine.

We bit our tongue from suggesting that we use menstruation instead of urination, and her spacesuit could fill with blood. Jason suggested instead that the character be male and have an increasingly large and embarrassing erection that he had to hide from the other astronauts. Like Frogger but with boners. 

That's the callback to boner. Ok we're done now. </sidenote>

July 2012 also marked yet another puzzle in our hot streak of Harper's cryptics conquered in one session, lying down, with only half our brain present. 

"We've done it!" we thought. "We've mastered the Harper's cryptic. We're like a pylon under a bridge. We're like Juggarnaut in X-Men. We're the unmovable rock. Just try to shake us, irresistible force! Because we would love it!"

But taunt not, lest Richard E. Maltby Jr. send you your reckoning.

August's puzzle killed us! We were in great danger of not even completing it in due time to mail it in and vie for the coveted Harper's cryptic prize of seeing our name in tiny print in the footer of the puzzle two months hence! We haven't used dictionary wildcard search in some time for the Harper's. You better believe we were using it this month.

  • 29A) Old king's sackful partially emptied (4)
    SACKFUL - (the middle) = SAUL
    Sweet, elegant, proper. Love it.
  • 7D) Half in pain, I stab Montoya in The Princess Bride (5)
    (half in pain = IN) + I + (stab = GO) = INIGO
    Knew immediately it would be INIGO or MANDY. Took a while to parse "stab" as in "have a stab at" or "have a go at." Our old manager used to tell us to "take a stab at" tasks. He knew that he was inviting us to imagine stabbing him. He was testing us. 
  • c) Friar has signs of depression, perhaps (6)
    (Friar = FR) + (has = OWNS) = FROWNS
    Kept trying to force TUCK, or ABBE. Loved the simplicity.
  • d) Batman's end: after hip replacement, found in South by the Riddler (6)
    (South = S) + (hip replacement = PHI) +  (Batman's end = N) + (by = X) = SPHINX
    Great Batman clue. Great sphinx clue! Great clue. 
  • k) Perhaps an Arab's eastern newspaper is to be sent north (6)
    (eastern = E) + (newspaper = TIMES) (is to be sent north = backwards) = SEMITE
    Arab's are Semites! Loved it. A refreshing, literal, historical take. It's so good when Richard E. Maltby Jr. bucks convention for precision like this.
  • b) New, raw, sculpted and 50 percent unfinished, it is, in the main, a unicorn (7)
    (New = N) + RAW + (50 percent = HALF (unfinished) = HAL) = NARWHAL
    What an incredible beast of nature! "In the main" for "the ocean." Mm! Love.
  • g) Siemens generates opposition that cannot be overcome (7)
    SIEMENS anagram = NEMESIS
    We forced variations on ENEMIES for a couple rounds. NEMESIS! Loved.
Oh, and then all four of the twelvers were majestic:
  • a) The Gift of the Magi is open in feel, you might say (12)
    (open = FRANK) + IN + (feel = SENSE homophone = CENSE) = FRANKINCENSE
  • b) Confusing matter with Keeler? She has a lot of hang-ups! (12)
    Yes! She does get hung up on a lot! Much love to our brothers and sisters in the canvassing arts. We know your struggle, and the enmity you face.
  • c) Kind of do the whole dictionary, entering before long entry in passage bound for reproduction (12)
    (Kind of do = PERM) + (the whole dictionary = A TO Z) (inside (before long = SOON)) = SPERMATAZOON
    The most majestic of them all! Had to look up the singular of spermatazoa. ZOON. Check the specs on that suffix. Don't see that one so oft. Unless perhaps you play the BAZOON. (*cough*)
  • d) Distinctly spoken? (12)
    (double synonym) PRONOUNCEDLY 
Oh, but there were some lows to this puzzle as well. 

  • 23D) He's ... he's soft at heart, pirouetting! (5)
    (he's soft at heart = hE'S SOFt) (pirouetting = backwards) = FOSSE
    Ok but "He's ... " is the synonym for Fosse? Is it? Is it really? Like "Sheeeeee's thhhhhhhhe one!" from "One" from A Chorus Line? Maybe a musical-savvy dear reader can explain this to us. Maybe Richard E. Maltby Jr. can explain this to us. He loves musicals
  • a) Seniors found in woods (6)
    (double synonym) ELDERS
    Haven't we seen another ELDERS clue in recent memory? I'll look it up. 
  • d) Only ego can encompass this creative activity (7)
    ONLY EGO (anagram) = NEOLOGY
    "Neology" is a synonym for "creative activity"? Weak. Such a tiny sliver of the spectrum of creativity. Hardly a synonym. Like "Audrey Hepburn" as a synonym for "collection of atoms."
  • f) Here's a liqueur—hugs and kisses—and something to carry it in (7)
    (liqueur = B AND B) + (hugs and kisses = OX) = BANDBOX
    Long suspected that hugs and kisses would sub out to OX, and that there'd be a five-letter liqueur ending in B to yield the suffix BOX. But what five letter words even end in B? PLUMB? PLUMBOX? No ... SCRUB? SCRUBOX? No way! KABOB? KABOBOX? Nopers. Turns out it's B&B, and BANDBOX. Bandbox? It looks like a hatbox to us. Ok cool. Bandbox. Learning.
  • c) Crafty about the beginning or end of harassment spelled out in brief (7)
    Um. So we put down USELESS as the answer. Not sure if it's correct. Confirmed cross-letters are _SE_ESS. S'gotta be USELESS, right? But what's the synonym? "in brief"? "crafty"? Hate to finish without knowing. Blame it on poor cluing in the puzzle :)
And now we come to the tacky matter of this month's tacky Harpers cryptic clue. One and a half this month.

First, the halfsy: 
  • i) Cats has long New York run back before gender-switching (6)
    (long = L) (New York run back = YN) (gender switching = SEX anagram = XES) = LYNXES
    Ok so getting uptight about confounding sex and gender makes a lot of people, even intelligent, modern people, roll their eyes. G'head and roll them, intelligent modern dear readers of TackyHarpersCrypticClues.blogspot.com. We know who you are. You're the kind who would rather become vegetarians than ever be accused of being a feminist. Yeah. You. Sex and gender are different. One is biological, one is cultural. And confounding the two has caused real problems for people we love
After the correctness of Semite, it was disappointing to see such a predictable, usual, imprecision here. Meh, but this clue was just annoying and picking at one of our old bones. The real tacky clue for the month:
  • b) Bush shows extraordinary zeal getting in with a bunch of drunks (6)
    (extraordinary zeal = ZALE) + (bunch of drunks = AA (surrounding)) = AZALEA
    This one only works if the synonym for "bunch of drunks" is "Alcoholics Anonymous." 
And while we appreciate the symmetry of referencing W Bush's chemical history, found it tacky to dismiss the organization as a "bunch of drunks."

S'like, "well ... they're not drunk anymore!" Or maybe that's exactly what Maltby means: there'll never be transcendence. Sigh. 

Here's what we think of when we think "bunch of drunks":
further insight into why this resonates in a bad way
Our two guys (in the sense of "he's my guy!") are Marc Maron and Mike Doughty, both of whom have recovered from addiction and logged time in the meetings. Are they a "bunch of drunks"? 

And in between Maron and Doughty, our guy was also the late David Foster Wallace as manifest in Infinite Jest, where Alcoholics Anonymous is an important setting and character. Would you say "you're a bunch of drunks!" to the face of any of IJ's Crocodiles? Would you say it to any real human in recovery? Would you?

We have to believe: that you would not.

And, gratifyingly, we now imagine Richard E. Maltby Jr. settling down tonight with his favorite RSS feed reader, and sighing at yet another taking-to-task by TackyHarpersCrypticClues.blogspot.com. A short glass filled tall with scotch, neat. A leather armchair. A living room in a Manhattan loft carefully cluttered with the tchochkes of money and taste. An antique toy piano. A useless glass sculpture that sits on a glass shelf in a glass cabinet. WQXR quietly playing from a Bose stereo. Maltby at his iPad 2, reading this blog, sometimes smiling, sometimes murmuring. 

A car alarm from far below startles the small dog at his feet. Maltby barely hears its klaxon. Pets the dog the way you turn a housekey. He contemplates. "What clue shall I drop next month?" Considers referencing poop and rejects it. No, he takes pride in his full maturation to the genital stage of Freudian development. 

Pets the dog again. 

Sip of whiskey. 

PAN AROUND to the giant empty living room. ZOOM OUT through the window to the lonely treetops of Manhattan's skyscrapers.

Turn up to the lonely moon, and Venus nearby. FADE TO BLACK.