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.

European Revolution

I have solved all the clues for this week’s Listener puzzle, “European Revolution” by Spud, and I’ve filled the grid. (I don’t completely understand the wordplay portions of 1 Down and 6 Down, and 25 Across seems to lead to two possible interpretations, but it seems clear what the grid entries have to be in all three cases.)

I’ve found the messages from the across and down clues, but have no idea how to use them. I’ve got the letters from the scrambled clues, other than being unable to resolve that ambiguity about 25A, but don’t know how to interpret them. I’ve Googled the message in the acrosses and learned something new, but not sure how or even whether to apply the subject to the puzzle.

Yikes! Now what?

Later: Yow, I have it at last. The ending is very hard but also very ingenious and funny once you find it.

Turns out I didn’t have the right word formed by the down clues, and didn’t have all the letters from the scrambled clues. Then I stumbled on a near anagram of the letters from the scrambled clues that made a certain sense with what I’d figured out about the puzzle, only it added one letter to the set I had and changed another. Then I saw that there was a third and better reading of 25A that changed that letter into one of the two I needed, and that the other letter I needed was right there to be gotten from one of the other clues but I had overlooked it. So I clearly had the right anagram.

Then I figured out how 1D and 6D worked, and corrected my interpretations of a couple of the other down clues, and the new letters I derived from those gave me a longer word out of the down clues, one that was more obviously (duh!) connected with the grid.

At that point I had two of the six elements I needed to find in the grid. It took me a while to find the other four. It’s very tricky. The introduction says 19 letters in the grid have to be changed. I kept seeing ways that I could create another element by making a small change, but there was no pattern to the changes, no justification for making them — and then all of a sudden the lightbulb went on and I saw the pattern. Sweet!

Circus Oz

Terry and Mauricio and Dave and I went to Circus Oz at Zellerbach Hall last night, as Dave’s birthday present to Terry. The show is a delight, sassy and crazy and a lot of fun. The performances are more improvisatory than polished, but that’s the point. It’s a small troupe, just eight or nine acrobats, plus a small but terrific live band and a sensational ringmaster/singer, Sarah Ward. Nobody shows off the kind of polished skill you find in, say, a Chinese circus, where an acrobat may devote his or her lives to perfecting one kind of act; here, everybody does several acts, all of them well but none of them the best you’ve ever seen. But it’s still one of the best times I remember having at a circus — it reminded me at times of the spirit of the old Pickle Family Circus.

In Other Words, the Only “Trend” Here Is That the Problem Is Now Only 98% Invisible to the Media Instead of 100% Invisible

There are roughly 31,000 teen suicides each year; let’s round it down to 30,000. Various studies have shown that gay teens are anywhere from twice as likely to seven times as likely to attempt suicide; let’s take a conservative estimate and say twice. The percentage of people who are gay is probably around 6% to 7%; let’s take a conservative estimate and say 5%.

That means that a conservative estimate of the percentage of teen suicides that are of gay teens is about 9.52%. Multiply that by 30,000 and you get 2857 gay teen suicides per year, or 238 per month.

That’s using very conservative estimates. Let’s try making them just modestly conservative. Say that 6% of all teens are gay, and that they’re 2.5 times as likely to kill themselves, and the result is that 13.8% of all teen suicides are of gay teens, or 4128 per year, or 344 per month.

Those are, as I said, conservative numbers. If you take the most widely quoted statistic, which is that 30% of all teen suicides are of gay teens, then you get 9000 per year, or 750 per month.

There’s nothing new about any of this; the estimates were in the same ballpark when I was majoring in psychology in college 25 years ago.

So if you hear me grinding my teeth at the recent articles about gay teens who have killed themselves, it’s not that I’m annoyed by the coverage. It’s that I’m annoyed about the repeated references to these six suicides as a “dramatic increase” or a “disturbing trend” or anything like that. The high suicide rate among gay teens has been a tragedy I have known about and lived with my whole adult life as a gay man, and hearing these six suicides presented as though they were anything out of the ordinary angers me.

The only thing out of the ordinary here is that, of the several hundred gay teen suicides that occur every month, the mainstream media is ignoring merely all but six of them, instead of ignoring all of them as they usually do.

Yes, it would be wonderful if the current media attention leads to some change. Not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just angered at the pretense that at least thirty or forty times this many suicides haven’t been happening every month for decades.

A Change of Clothing

This week’s Listener crossword puzzle, “A Change of Clothing” by Elgin, is brilliant, and has a hilarious surprise ending. I wish I could talk all about it here without giving anything away, but I can’t. Let’s just say that the puzzle concerns (according to the introduction) a heist, and that there are some red herrings very ingeniously built into the puzzle, and leave it at that.

Oh, and a lot of very nice clues, too.

Even after figuring out what was going on and completing the grid in a way that satisfied all the instructions, gave me the pair of crime fighters I needed, unambiguously pointed at the culprit, and justified the title of the puzzle, I was hung up for a long while because for all this to work out, a particular four-letter combination in my final grid had to be either a word in Chambers Dictionary or a proper noun that could be found in either the Oxford Dictionary of English or Chambers Biographical Dictionary. But it didn’t seem to be in Chambers and I don’t own either of the other two reference books so can’t check in them. However, if it were somebody well known enough to make it into two reference books, he or she couldn’t be hard to track down, right? I did a Google search on the letter combination, and checked Wikipedia, and looked it up in the biographical dictionaries and other reference books that I do own, and there was nothing anywhere.

Well, it turns out that the four-letter word is in Chambers, but for some reason it’s not in the iPhone version that is what I use most often. When I pulled the actual book down from the shelf, duh, there it was. It was a variant spelling of an obsolete word, but still, there it was. That’ll teach me to rely on the completeness of the iPhone version.

Later: Double duh: Chambers Biographical Dictionary is available for searching online.