Just finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “Contractions”, lying in bed on Sunday morning. A clean, simple, straightforward theme, yet surprisingly difficult — I saw what the idea was within ten minutes of starting it on Friday, after solving just six clues, but the grid filled in only slowly. I worked on it intermittently on Saturday in between other things, completing a little more each time, and the last part, the upper right corner, didn’t fall till this morning.

Lots of good, elegant, but tricky clues, and quite a few that had me metaphorically slapping my forehead once I’d solved them, wondering how I’d failed to figure them out for long (in a few cases even after I’d figured out what the answer had to be from the crossing letters): 18A, 28A, 38A, 4D, 7D, 25D, 26D, and 34D, for example. No jaw-dropping surprises along the way, just a really well-crafted and well-executed puzzle. Very enjoyable.


Email programs should have a feature that allows you to check a little box in your outgoing message, like the way you can set a message to high or low importance, that is labeled “Do not forward”. If a message is sent out with this box checked, the recipient can’t forward the message, or at the very least can’t forward the message without getting a dialogue box saying something like “The sender of this message has asked you not to forward it. Do you really want to forward it anyway?” All replies to this message — and, yes, forwards of this message, if allowed — would preserve the setting.

Obviously this wouldn’t prevent somebody from cutting and pasting the contents into new message and sending that, if they were really determined to stick it to you. But usually people don’t forward a sensitive message deliberately, but in haste, without thinking it through. The point wouldn’t be to prevent forwarding altogether, but more to remind the recipient that there’s something in the message that the sender might not want others to see.

How often has your friend or co-worker typed “FYI” and quickly forwarded an email message from you to Albert, because she wanted him to see the information or joke or cute baby pictures that you just sent her, while innocently forgetting, in her rush to get to a meeting or something, that a chain of previous messages is preserved in reverse order further down in this message, and that several levels back you wrote something a little bit personal or confidential or maybe even critical of Albert?

Not a Black and White Decision

I finished this Friday’s Listener crossword, “Not a Black and White Decision”, Sunday afternoon. I’d actually finished solving all the clues the day before, but then it took me a while to see what to do with the answers.

The introduction could have been more helpful. The introduction makes it sound like there’s only one way to arrange the answers in the grid in accordance with the instructions, and then, as a bonus, you can find some appropriate words hidden in the completed grid. In fact, there is more than one way, and finding the hidden words isn’t a bonus, it’s the only thing that makes one grid correct and the others wrong. I spent more time than I liked going over the instructions again and again and backtracking over my work looking for what I was missing.

Finally, you’re supposed to resolve one last ambiguity in the grid in accordance with the words that have appeared in the grid; I thought the connection was a bit less than clear-cut, myself, but then I’m actually very familiar with the words appearing in the grid, as they’ve come up several times in the books I’ve edited, whereas I think the constructor probably knows them just from their definitions in Chambers. There’s no particularly compelling reason in the real world why the correspondence couldn’t be the other way round. And there’s actually a stronger connection with something else in the grid, a connection that can be used to resolve this final ambiguity, but the instructions don’t mention it at all.

Oh well. Not a bad puzzle, but the vague instructions added a level of bewilderment that was more annoying than entertaining.

Maybe He Should at Least Get Half Credit for Not Using the Word “Agenda”

So Dave was listening in the next room to somebody interviewing Dan Savage about the “It Gets Better” videos, and this guy actually was clueless enough to ask Mr. Savage whether President Obama’s recent speech “helped you in your campaign” or words much like that. Amazing. I mean, his tone of voice conveyed that he actually thought this was a sympathetic question, that he just took it for granted that there was a campaign behind the videos and thought he was tossing Mr. Savage an easy softball of a question.

Sigh. One more indication — like we needed any more, dear God — that the news biz has gotten to the point where the people who work in it day in and day out can look at even a project as obviously done out of concern for others and devoid of personal gain as the making of these videos and putting them out there for free, and it doesn’t even occur to them that there is not some kind of campaign behind it, some desire to take advantage of the situation for profit or political gain or attention or ego gratification. They’ve gotten so used to doing nothing else in their own line of work, and so used to covering politicians who do nothing else in theirs, that they can’t talk with a commoner without bringing along the same assumption.

To his great credit, Mr. Savage politely deflected the question, saying that it’s not about helping any kind of campaign, but about helping gay teens who are thinking about suicide. Me, I think I might have smiled and replied, “Oh, yes, absolutely. But probably not as much as the suicides themselves have helped you maximize the profits you make from the business of packaging human tragedy as a commodity and turning it into advertising revenue, you smug bloodless vampire you.”

It’s Like They’re Standing in the Middle of a Thunderstorm, Reporting on the Sighting of a Seventh Raindrop

Another reference, this one at who you’d think might know better, to “the rising number of gay suicides”. After all, if the media hasn’t been covering it, it must not have been happening.

The suicides of gay teens being reported in the media are a drop in the bucket. They are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of gay teens who commit suicide every month. I have yet to see this simple, easily researchable fact mentioned in any of the stories.

Past and Present

After three very devious Listener puzzles in a row, this week’s – “Past and Present” by Emkay ; seems relatively straightforward. At least, after fifteen minutes’ work I’ve made a good start on the top portion of the puzzle, including solving two of the theme words, and nothing inexplicable has caught my attention yet.

Later: I started the puzzle during my lunch break on Friday, and finished it during my long commute home, finding the two-word phrase that finishes the puzzle just as the BART train was pulling in to the West Oakland station. No big surprises, just a nice straightforward puzzle.

So now what am I supposed to do with my weekend? I may be forced to actually spend some time writing.