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there's a tough word

Thanks to a very nice (read: free) program, my department gets a class set of NY Times every day; consequently, I've made doing the puzzle a part of my morning ritual. I do it in pen not as a testament to my vocabulary skills, but rather a tribute to my grandmother, who would faithfully and flawlessly complete the puzzle in pen. Several decades as an English teacher give one certain powers and charms over words. UNtil that day arrives, I just scribble over my mistakes.

I like the meditative focus of the puzzle, the sort of caffeinated shift in perspective that I feel when speaking a foreign language for a long time. It is another language of sorts, one with an ever-changing cipher of rules whose sole purpose is wit. You can see the draw for us English teachers. I especially enjoy the thrill of uncovering what I call the "cross clues," the items that inform the themes and rules of the puzzle. I enjoy it even more when those clues include terrible puns or corny jokes.

Sometimes I wonder if there's a connexion between the contents and order of the puzzle and the world at large. Not a new idea, but I do like the idea that there's another level of code in the letter-grid, that something more deeply knowing has assembled (perhaps accidentally) a secret message that scries and foreshadows the day. What would you call that, I wonder? (Anyone thinking "sesquipedalomancy" right now, you can sit on a tack.)

Anyway, the original reason for this post was to express my dismay when I saw "SCUMBAG" was the answer to a clue the other day. I'm not against the word, or any word, but time-and-place, people! What's next--"46-Down: CROTCHROT?" My grandmother Would Not Approve, that's for damn sure. Then again, why shouldn't the Times have its slow, steady decline spread to the crossword?


( 9 MCs and 1 DJ — What you got to say? )
Apr. 5th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
"sesquipedalomancy"! I love it!

Yeah, as much as I'd like to defend the fact that "scumbag" is a fairly old word by now, I'd be rather dismayed to find it in the crossword too.

and I'm impressed that you can do it.
Apr. 6th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued by this post and would love to discuss more, for a book I'm writing. I can't find an email address for you, so I wonder if you would you mind contacting me. I'm at

Apr. 6th, 2006 08:56 pm (UTC)
Get a life people!
Next thing you know, you'll tell me the "American Family Associon" is a relevant, honest, voice of the majority!
Apr. 6th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
Slate ran an article about this.

I didn't know the original definition, I must admit.
Apr. 8th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Slate
Who cares what your granny thinks or approves?
Apr. 8th, 2006 10:54 pm (UTC)
doing the puzzle in ink
Your grandmother probably did the puzzle in in because it's easier to see, not because she was very confident. that's why i do it that way.

Apr. 10th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Give me a break...
Okay, I do admit as did another poster that I did not know the original meaning of scumbag. As with many other words in our language and in other languages meanings change over time. The current use of the word no longer has any connection to condoms. Surely there are more important things happening in the world to worry about than a crossword puzzle in the New York times! How about the increasing national debt that both Democrats and Republicans have allowed to happen? How about the number of homeless in our country? How about the sick and starving children around the world? Now those are REAL topics people should be outraged about!
Apr. 20th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
Well, I Learned Something
This is Douglas at Crossword Bebop ( I didn't realize that connotation existed. Do you have a problem with "Many moons?" as a clue for DERRIERES in today's puzzle?
Apr. 20th, 2006 01:05 am (UTC)
Re: Well, I Learned Something
I actually have more of a problem that some other department stole our copies of the Times this morning... darn it. Stealing my morning crossword is the most serious crossword offense of all!
( 9 MCs and 1 DJ — What you got to say? )