Today is my beloved mother's birthday. Alert solvers might be able, on the basis of this puzzle's title and theme answers, to guess her name.
Poking holes in our ears so as to dangle ornamental objects from them—isn't it a little ugly and foolish, when you come to think about it? Attaching metal things that emit radio frequencies to the ears of livestock so as to keep track of them is at least practical. Has anyone thought of combining these in a movie, involving a creepy stalker and a gift of earrings? "The Piercing," it might be called. If you’re a movie producer and you'd like to buy an option on the idea, let me know.
If you just work hard and believe in yourself, there is nothing you cannot accomplish!—with a few possible exceptions: a living wage, for example, and good health, and maybe some other things too. But never mind: here are some exemplary stories (or titles of stories anyway; you can easily imagine the rest) to inspire you on your way along life's journey.
When you're done with this week's puzzle, you’ll have not only another happy solving memory to cherish forever, but also eight hilarious riddles certain to enhance your popularity at any convivial gathering.
I once thought to use this puzzle's title (in the singular) as a theme answer. The clue would have been about Paul Simon, who "lost Art"—Garfunkel, that is—in 1970. And the Wilson brothers "found Love," their cousin Mike, to form the Beach Boys. But then what? Did any group throw "Iris Out"? or decide to "Keep Faith" after all? or to "Kill Joy"? I couldn't make it work. So I invite all you aspiring crossword constructors in need of a theme to apply to me for permission to adopt it, which I will grant free of charge if I find you worthy of my benevolence. Just email me a statement of financial need and an autobiographical essay on how you overcame an obstacle.
Many cultural products seem meant not to amuse, or enlighten, or move us, but instead to invite us to congratulate ourselves—for being sufficiently educated, or sensitive, or hip, or whatever, to enjoy or understand them. Music made of noise, or sculpture of excrement, pleases not in itself (almost no one likes noise or excrement), but as an invitation to savor our superiority to the common herd that is offended by it.
You can't do this with crosswords: to be solvable they have to make sense. But you can still invite self-congratulation—for knowing some new slang phrase or internet meme, or for enjoying some person, place, or thing that only the enlightened enjoy. The fun is not so much in the theme, or in the process of solving, as in the supposed bafflement of the out-of-it solver in the face of these modish allusions.
Now, far be it from me to protest. Harmless sources of pleasure are so few in this sad world that I don’t begrudge anyone this one, such as it is. I mention it only to point out that you won’t find it in my puzzles, because I don't even know what the cool kids are doing, and because I just want everybody to be happy. In today's puzzle I provide a crossword version of another kind of art that seeks only to please: the simple, pretty, obvious landscape painting at which every undergraduate is taught to sneer.
The painting illustrates 17 Across, sort of—of course, nothing illegal is going on here; but the man in the shadows, just to the right of the king, looks as though he might be plotting something.
This week I unite the two parts of my website with a single title, shared by the novel and the puzzle. I don't think anyone has ever tried this before—recommending, that is, a Victorian novel with a certain title, and then making a crossword with that very same title. Frankly, I’m a little nervous about it. But no matter— every milestone in human progress involves some risk.
It's been thirty-two weeks since I've run a puzzle featuring primates—too long, as you'll no doubt agree. If you solved Crossword 055, you'll recall that it featured only monkeys that are not also apes. I made it that way on purpose, so as to leave the way open for a future ape-specific puzzle. That future has arrived!
Here I sit, comfortably ensconced in my book-lined study, a snifter of cognac in my hand, a knowing glint in my eye, and . . . I can't think of a thing to say.
This is the end of the series. Next week, something else!—if you don't take 55 Across too literally, that is.
Alas, today's preposition was way too easily profused, and in consequence I've come all too close to a crossword theme made of actual phrases properly interpreted. I'll try not to come this close again. I don't know how many promising theme ideas I've had to discard for no other reason than that they led, like this one, directly to phrases real people might really use. Other constructors are not so scrupulous, and that's why discriminating solvers like you keep returning to David Alfred Bywaters's Crossword Cavalcade.
A mighty profound puzzle today, what with French philosophers, and the nature of being, and the unity of all things. Philosophers are going to figure out the meaning of life eventually. Meanwhile, if you've never heard of Mike and Jack (51 Across), I congratulate you.
We approach another summer solstice, and so it’s time for another series. Last year, as you may fondly recall, I gave you six puzzles called "It's Magic," six recommendations of novels by the Trollope family, and six Victorian fairy paintings. This year (having learned moderation in the meantime), I'll give you four puzzles called "Prepositional Profusion," four novels with titles that include the name "Cynthia," and four paintings featuring the goddess of the moon, alternating with four paintings of women by Sir Francis Grant, President of the Royal Academy, 1866-1878. Why? Because I happen to have made four puzzles called "Prepositional Profusion," and because my beloved wife's name is Cynthia, and because I like paintings of women by Sir Francis Grant.
In an early version of this puzzle, ELIA, the pseudonym of essayist Charles Lamb that has been embraced by puzzle-constructors for its oreo-like usefulness, appeared at 41 Across. Eager as always to spare you all the crosswordese I can, I took it out, but with some regret, for Lamb is the source of these wise words : “The puns which are most entertaining are those which will least bear an analysis.” Write them down, gentle solver, and repeat them to yourself next time you’re tempted to think ill of one of my themes.
“What’s past is prologue”: why has this phrase become proverbial? In Shakespeare's Tempest, where it originated, it's spoken by the usurper Antonio, who is tempting his friend Sebastian to commit murder: the "past" in his case is the supposed drowning of Sebastian's nephew (which didn't happen, so it's not in fact the past at all), and, in Antonio's mind, it is "prologue" to the murder of Sebastian's brother Alonso (which doesn’t happen either). The phrase now seems to mean either that the present is shaped by a past we must acknowledge; or, contradictorily, that we can break free from the past if we try really hard. It is, in short, nonsense built upon nonsense, and therefore perfect as a title for one of my crosswords.
The painting shows the results of proper 17-Across.
A common motif in theater (the Pierrot of commedia dell'arte and his many literary heirs), in opera ("Vesti la giubba"), in song ("The Tears of a Clown," “I’m a Loser”), in sad clown paintings—a motif that no doubt reflects a universal and enduring human feeling—receives here a moving crossword treatment.
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Are you taking in all the subtle nuances of my puzzles, gentle solver? The title of this one, for example, is a rueful reflection on the state of contemporary politics, while the puzzle itself, in pointed contrast, conjures a better, alternative world, one in which circus entertainers can afford second homes, and cows play baseball. It's utopian fantasy, to be sure, but not mere escapism, for it's encased in biting topical satire. (I invite my future biographers to make use of any or all of these phrases.)
Gustave Moreau, Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra
I was planning a large puzzle based on the twelve labors of Hercules. I was going to make the labors turn corners so that they’d seem extra laborious (crossword answers that turn corners are really hot these days). I had fit in "Nemean," "Lernaean," "Ceryneian," "Erymanthian," and "Augean," all very neatly—but "Stymphalian" defeated me. Oh well—here’s this instead.
So what if this week's puzzle is teeming with horrific contagious diseases? They're all safely contained within phrases so nonsensical they create a sort of semantic vacuum from which nothing can escape.