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.
Though I may not be the first puzzle constructor to have employed this pun, I doubt anyone has taken it to such daring lengths.
Do you ever wake up in the morning and wonder why you are maintaining a website that offers weekly crosswords and weekly Victorian novel recommendations? Am I the only person who does that?
Today's puzzle will be distributed (thanks to "Bob Kerfuffle") at the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where people try to solve puzzles as fast as they can. I myself don't like to solve puzzles fast. I like to savor them, to meditate on the nuances of the fill and the cluing, and on the ramifications of the theme. That's why I design puzzles the nuances and ramifications of which can be easily meditated on. I won't spoil your fun by explaining just what those might be in this puzzle.
This puzzle evokes a dystopian future in which machines, built to drudge for us, acquire wills of their own and become our masters. At first glance it may seem like just a good thriller. More serious solvers, however, will find beneath the surface a profound meditation on what it means to be human.
I'm back in action, with back-to-back thrills! I've got your back! It's payback time! So don't hold back! Just download the puzzle.
My choice of painting was inspired by 39 Down. I looked up the term online and found it originally referred not, as I thought, to a raucous but harmless celebration of some sort, but to a noisy, sometime violent mock-parade held to express collective “disapproval of different types of violation of community norms” (Wikipedia). And this reminded me of everything that arouses the misanthropy against which, dear solver, I am perpetually struggling—it reminded me, that is, of mindless tribalism, hideous clamor, deliberate cruelty in the service of some sanctimonious purpose. I found myself longing for silence and emptiness. The inhabitants of these Aberdeenshire farms, however maliciously inclined, have got to remain quietly in their snowbound buildings for the present.
I have crafted this puzzle specifically for those elite solvers who are able to soar above the petty, earthbound considerations of vulgar linguistic usage that limit the intellects of the common herd. If you belong to this group, I congratulate you, and invite you to congratulate yourself. For self-congratulation is a primary—in fact, for many, the only—purpose of cultural experience. Let us wallow in it together.
A crossword puzzle, says Aristotle, or Coleridge, or somebody, should create its own alternative world, one in which, though people may not behave as expected, they nonetheless follow an internal logic of their own. I have tried, in my humble way, to obey these strictures, nowhere more than in this present offering.
Download this week’s crossword:
I'm afraid the relation of the title to the puzzle is arguably just a little bit strained here, requiring both a parsing and an unlikely abbreviation. Normally I am all too scrupulous in making titles that simply and exactly delineate the nature of the puzzles to which they are attached. I make an exception today in order to give myself an excuse to haul in another painting by the great Atkinson Grimshaw. Maybe somewhere there's an alternate art world, into which (if we're good) we will pass when this earthly life is over—a world in which the fame of Grimshaw is choired by angels, and Picasso is unknown.
Why say in one word what you can just as well say in two, or three, or four, especially if you can thereby come up with 15-letter grid-spanning phrases?
What Darwinian purpose does hair serve? How are the odds of human survival increased by its plentiful presence on the top of the head? Maybe it provides protection from sun and rain and snow? But if so, why do so many men who are deprived of this protection after their first youth successfully breed other men who will be similarly deprived? And why do they meanwhile retain the facial hair that just gets in their food?
Well—it's another of life's unsoluble riddles. Crosswords, by contrast, provide only soluble riddles, so console yourself with this one.
Is it permissible to alter a certain letter in a crossword theme phrase, and yet allow that letter to remain unaltered elsewhere in that very phrase? Will it, as I’ve heard more than once, confuse the solver? Maybe so, if the solver is a primitive computer capable of processing only the simplest “if-then” algorithms and immune to humor. I construct my crosswords, however, for genuine, warm-blooded, passionate human beings! I’m not saying that, if you object to what you think is my inconsistency in the matter of theme-answer-letter alteration, you’re not fully human—but it’s a possibility worth considering.
"Oh goodness infinite, goodness immense!,/That all this good of evil shall produce,/And evil turn to good!" you will exclaim, "replete with joy and wonder," after you finish this puzzle. (See John Milton, Paradise Lost, XII.468-71)
We owe 32 Across to my test-solver, proofreader, and sometime editor “Bob Kerfuffle," who has also spared me the embarrassment and you the annoyance of many errors of all kinds. He will not permit me to use his real name, preferring to "do good by stealth." (See Alexander Pope, Epilogue to the Satires of Horace, Dialogue I, l.136)
That's this week's crossword she's got there. Judging from the position of her pen and the expression on her face, she's at 52 Across, and trying desperately to remember what exactly a "ratite" is. She's seen the word before, maybe in another crossword—but what does it mean? It's nothing to do with rodents, or rodent-followers, but it is some kind of animal, isn't it? A "gnu" maybe?
If you attended last August’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, you may have picked up a promotional copy of this very puzzle, which was distributed there on my behalf by my test-solver, editor, and promoter, the inexplicably generous “Bob Kerfuffle.” I was not myself in attendance, as I prefer to cultivate an air of reclusive genius—in the hope of being revered as the J.D. Salinger, the Emily Dickinson of crosswords. Do please try to play along with me in this.
I never construct a puzzle without exhaustive research of its origins and implications. For this puzzle I looked up the etymology of the word "monkey" in the OED. Apparently it derives either from "monk," on the theory that the unknown coiners of the word found some satirical resemblance between the animal and the religious community member, or from "Moneke," the name of the son of Martin the Ape in the 1498 Middle Low German classic version of "Reynard the Fox." Next time you find yourself at a dinner party at which conversation falters, mention these two possibilities: lively debate is certain to ensue.
For a learned account of the phenomenon on which this puzzle is based, see the Wikipedia article on "Inland Northern American English." I was born and raised in Kansas City, where English is spoken in its purest form; and so, when fate relocated me to Chicago for awhile, my ears were often offended by wrong vowels. If you yourself use these wrong vowels, I know I can trust you to train yourself to stop.
Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting
Thursday was Thanksgiving. I was thankful for you; and you, I'm willing to suppose, were thankful for me. But now we have these turkey parts all over the place. Like so many of my puzzles, this week’s holds a mirror up to nature, showing the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.