This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 4:00 am and is filed under Archive.
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While we’re on this subject I have a question. I’m on mobile broadband and the longer this thread gets the longer it takes to reload the page. Is there anything I can do to improve this. If there isn’t may I propose we start a new one?
On a”normal” windows keyboard (not a laptop) hold the ALT key down while pressing 0178 on the number pad, not the numbers at the top of the alpha keys. Then release the ALT key & you will see a very small ² – looks odd then but ok when posted.
Plaistow Patricia sprang to mind immediately and then I remembered that in Ian Durys, ‘My Old Man’,
“Later on he drove a roller ,chauffeuring a foreign man,
dropped his aitches on occasion,said cor blimey now and then,
did the crossword in the standard, at the airport in the rain,
at the airport in the rain,
My old man.”
On swear words hear or in crosswords or generally ? Bit of a splatting minefield *********
The previous measure of creating a new Chat post to improve loading times was an interim solution until I could test and install some new software. This has now been done and you will see that the comments in this post are now paged. This means the maximum number of comments that will now be loaded when you access Chat is 50.
Tom #24: Oh yes, “A Retrieved Reformation”, “The Cop and the Anthem”, “The Last Leaf”, “After Twenty years” … such wonderful stories of O. Henry that one can never forget, though “The Gift of the Magi” is the piece that is highly anthologised in school textbooks here in India.
Glad to read your latest comment, Liz. I remember seeing ‘The O. Henry Playhouse’, with Thomas Mitchell as O. Henry, on TV, as a child. Thank you, Rishi, for mentioning the titles: I’ve just looked them up on Google and there they are for the reading [I've just read a couple] – and literally scores more. As Tom says, perhaps not entirely to modern taste but charming, nonetheless.
This was nothing personal. It was just that this part of your comment was not directly relevant to the puzzle, which had O. Henry as an answer. A discussion of his works is a totally separate topic.
My comment on O. Henry, removed from where I made it and placed here, followed Tom’s in which he stated: I was just reading him this morning before I did the crossword and the short stories have not aged well in general.
If my comment was considered irrelevant and removed, then surely the bit quoted above too cannot be where it is now.
Been a bit busy lately and only kind of half doing crosswords.Yesterday I grappled with Brendan on the train home and sussed that the first half of 4/19d was chicken. Walking home I bought a take away. When I got home I ate my food and did the crossword but soon had to admit defeat. Before going out again,I logged on to 15/2(ah the elusive tiny 2).The second half of 4/19d Chennai. Take-away from ‘Chennai Masala’ Restaurant.(for a taste of home)
As I left the flat there was smile on my face and I wondered whether the sea in the Bay of Bengal was calm!
First, I read and understand English, so unlike others on today’s Guardian Blog I took on board the post by Chat Meister.
Second, my education does not leave me bereft of good manners, so I take note of those comments and write here, unlike others.
Thirdly, you guys seem hell bent on presuming things that I never say. I never said I didn’t want to learn by coming across new words. What I do object to is the presumption which says that “if one knows something it is therefore well known” or “if most of one’s peer group knows something it is therefore well known”. That is ivory tower ruhbarb of the worst variety.
The sum of human knowledge is immense and therefore the fragment of it with which any of us is familiar cannot possibly be well known in any general sense, there is simply too much. Yet some insist on saying precisely the opposite of that. I merely wish to open people’s eye’s to the simple fact that it is a bigger world.
Just remember this. Every little item that I don’t know but which you do is balanced by an equal amount of those things that I know and of which you are totally ignorant. That is real life. It is a balance.
Think of it as a Venn Diagram. One circle for every sector of the world’s population. The phrase “well known” only applies to where the circles intersect.
There are many interesting words and widely used abbreviations that could go into a crossword, and if they are from outside of your little circle in the Venn diagram you would find them obscure. Why should anyone object if you then said so? I wouldn’t object to you saying so, so why do you object when I say it? It is NOT a critisism, it is merely a drawing of attention to differences, a nag to say be careful of how you use the phrase “well known”.
When I was young I did not learn Plato as I was fascinated more by the future than the past as the past is dead, but the future is something I was going to live. Nor did I waste my time learning the nicknames of university courses in which I had no interest that were offered by universities in which I had even less interest. Why should I waste my time on such irrelevances? Instead I learnt that which means I can sit here quietly smiling, safe in the knowledge that I belong to a real elite, not an ivory tower elite. I am one of those who has changed the lives of almost everyone in the civilised world. But I don’t get sniffy about how little of that knowledge is possessed by you lot, so do me a favour and, with regard to your knowledge, treat me the same.
Oh, and do try to learn to understand English to the extent that you refrain from reading additional meanings into the words of others.
Testy I just spent an age lovingly crafting a reply and the software lost it when I hit submit. It’s too late to retype now, but the basic point is no absolutely not. Crosswords should have obscurities, but the setter has to realise that, and frequently doesn’t, so that one half of a clue compensates for that.
But you have all for a long time missed the main point. It is not the puzzles, it is the attitude of posters that everything they know is or should be common knowledge. This is invalid. I know just as many words, not to mention obscure words as anybody, but my word set is not your word set, you word set is not Fred Bloggs’s word set and so on. I resent the attitude of some that not only fails to recognise that, but invalidly implies some totally false sense of superiority on behalf of the speaker.
And if you are honest you will remember those occassions when I took the reverse role, saying that I found certain words to be not obscure. BUT, notice that I never implied that everybody should know those words, nor that people were somehow deficient for not knowing. That is the difference between me and those who had better remain nameless.
I don’t know what obscurity stirred up this issue, but I think there’s a bit more to it than different Venn diagram circles. Setters should of course remember that not all solvers will know everything they use, but there must be some set of facts that they’re allowed to assume all solvers will know – the capital city of the UK, where the monarch and the prime minister live, and so on. One problem is finding the edge of this area – what Shakespeare plays/characters/lines should we all know about?
In the stuff that few people know, there’s an alternative to giving an easy wordplay for an obscure answer: to choose obscurities in a wide range of subjects, so that all solvers should know some of them, and can use these to help towards the rest. We made an attempt a while ago at Times for the Times to analyse puzzles by the subject areas to which knowledge belonged, but this foundered on rocks like getting agreement about what was too easy to count and difficult enough to count double in each field. One problem was xwd clichés: Is ERATO as the muse of lyric poetry difficult because your average person has never heard of her, or a doddle because she comes up so often?
The obscurity thing is a red herring anyway – “general knowledge” is knowledge that is general in its scope, not necessarily knowledge that is generally known.
So, great battles, names of football teams, titles of films and even minor Shakespeare characters are all “general” knowledge.
A critique of why Napoleon’s tactics failed at Waterloo, the relative merits of 4-4-2 vs 5-3-2, the plot of Forrest Gump and an analysis of the importance of the role of the fool in King Lear would all, by contrast, be “specialist” knowledge because they require detailed knowledge of the subject area.
As for vocabulary, most words in the Concise OED or Collins have to be considered fair game for setters. Chambers wilfully includes obscure dialect and esoteric spellings, but that is specifically why it is favoured by “advanced” setters such as Azed.
Setters shouldn’t try to guess the extent of what their audience does and doesn’t know, and to leave words or names out for fear that they are too obscure would be to leave themselves open to accusations of dumbing down.
I really will have to stop replying from my rss reader, it is too prone to losing the text!
Peter, interesting research, thanks for sharing. I think I’ve already agreed somewhere or other that “spreading the obscurities around” different areas of knowledge would be fairer.
smutchin, that first para is exactly what I’ve been trying to say! It’s a distinction that has been lacking.
Everyone else, there is nothing wrong with anybody saying they found a particular word obscure. There is nothing wrong with politely disagreeing. As I said recently, the shoe has been on the other foot a few times and I was at pains not to put people down because of it. So can everybody else remember smutchin’s first paragraph? Just because you (the general reader) and some others know something doesn’t mean it is generally known, despite being general knowledge, so please desist from claiming otherwise.
Curious statement about Beerbohm TREE (Herbert, not Max incidentally). One source of the “myth” is Stephenson’s own book, in which (Secrets of the Setters (2005), p. 94) he says: “In crossword jargon, though, TREE means actor and vice versa.” [The book explains about Herbert and Max accurately.] Surely the reason for still including Mae West is simply that you can still find her in the dictionary. The stuff about wit and good causes is irrelevant unless IDI AMIN and Il DUCE have been banished from the puzzle, which I somehow doubt.
OK, 3 days working on the railway, no crutches, no walking stick. The good news is the leg is sore(r) as a result, but bearing up and recovering quicker than it would have just a few weeks ago. Oh, yeah, and we did really well as it was an Ivor the Engine weekend.
Thought I’d move the discussion here Derek. Just to sum up I’ve reproduced the main points:
Looking at the mysteries revealed above I note “the world or universe as an orderly or systematic whole”. Who writes this drivel? What is orderly or systematic about chaos and randomness?Abuses of the language are accepted into dictionaries in the name of modernisation. Then they come out with an obsolete fairy-tale for a definition. Consistent eh?
… but that meaning is dead and gone. A cosmologist studies what? The cosmos? How amusing then that their own observations lead them to spend so much effort applying chaos theory! 10 out of 10 to the Greeks for a nice idea based on limited information, but we have moved on since then, as have the words.
Derek: look at the cosmos and you will find many things that follow observable orderly patterns, from as local a level as the predictable phases of the moon, the eclipse cycle (the interplay of sun and moon), the orbits of the planets in our solar system, the movement of comets in and out of our solar system, and on a galactic level you will also see ordered self-similarity across massive scales such as the patterns created by galaxies which spiral around in much the same way as a shell might on the earth. There are also events and objects that have no discoverable orderliness and appear randomly. Such random events were fitted into the overall Greek scheme of order and had their place alongside the predictable parts – without upsetting things too much. To be honest I see your belief that the universe is “chaos and randomness” as just that – a belief for which you select certain facts to support, but that doesn’t represent the totality of reality.
golgonooza, the things that appear ordered and structured are only thus by not looking hard enough. They are also ephemeral, one day the moon will be out of earth orbit, one day there will be no earth, no solar system, no galaxy. All these things are created from chaotic events (the Greeks got that bit right), but they have no permanence. Everything also ceases, frequently in chaotic circumstances, even galaxies. A supernova may be predictable (one day when we know how), but what happens after that is chaotic.In other words, order and structure are not present in the absolute sense that the Greeks meant. They are transients.I was reading your words with respect, then you said something pretty daft. This is not a matter of belief, nor have I selected any facts, I am including everything. It is what has been observed and calculated by many respected persons with whom I would not wish to argue.
A word to the religious. None of this reflects on religious belief. Whilst it has been traditional in all religions to deduce that if a god created everything, then he/she/it would also have created order, that is not true. The first part, creation, is reasonable belief, the second part is presumptious. It presumes that mere mortals can deduce the intentions of said god. Those inentions we are assured by religious scholars are not for us to know. So the concept of a chaotic universe is not incompatible with it being divinely created. The big bang was an act of creation. Whether you credit that to divine intervention or not does not change the basic fact, there was a creation, we all agree on that. Belief has nothing at all to do with the forever increasing observations of chaos and it’s effects. Just because things are not as ordered as we thought, that invalidates no fundamental religious belief, but it may invalidate that which was superimposed thereon by those who presume to know the will of their god (isn’t such presumption blasphemy?).
So, I just wanted to respond to some of the points you made.
Firstly, I wanted to challenge the idea that the Greek’s notion of the cosmos was a “nice idea based on limited information, but that we have moved on since then”. This ‘culturally enlightened’ stance is based on the idea that somehow Greek creation myths were primitive forms of science, ways of coming to terms with a world before we had the tools advanced enough to do it, and that as we’ve now clearly got better, more advanced scientific knowledge we can write off these crude attempts. This approach to myth goes back a long way. More recent theories of myth, though, attempt to take myth on its own terms rather than reducing it to primitive science, as clearly myth is trying to do something else than try and describe all things in a factual way. Myth is trying to express something universal about the human experience they say, it is a response to many different things within the realms of human experience, things such as awe, fear, the need to bring a structure to the seeming randomness of the world. Such universal human experiences remain a constant through the ages, and so myth in general terms never becomes ‘outdated’. Why else do theatre, cinema, music draw such crowds?
Secondly, you say that things that appear ordered are only that way because people don’t look hard enough. My response to that would be that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Why complicate matters? Occams razor states that as a first principle of truth. Even if one day these ordered things will become chaotic, how do you know that they will not thereafter become ordered again? I could just as easily state that what appears to be chaotic now will not be chaotic forever, and as chaos is transient it is not absolute and permanent.
Now you might say that all things are tending towards entropy and winding-down, and the final state of the universe will be a chaotic soup. But that is not cosmological gospel. There are many different hypotheses as to the future of the universe. One is that as there was a big bang that expanded everything outwards, there will one day be a big crunch where everything contracts back upon itself. Who knows whether the whole cycle might not start all over again? If there were an infinite series of such expansions and contractions, I would not want to argue that Chaos and randomness were the final absolute truth about the universe.
Thirdly you say: “Whilst it has been traditional in all religions to deduce that if a god created everything, then he/she/it would also have created order, that is not true. The first part, creation, is reasonable belief, the second part is presumptious. It presumes that mere mortals can deduce the intentions of said god”. Two points – firstly even a simple reading of the account of the creation in Genesis 1 will reveal that the very act of creation itself was an ordering of a chaotic principle. What was meant by creation was a bringing-order.
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness”. Creation then moves on in stages, permutations of this original division and ordering, all based on this original command which brings light, and this seeing, or judging of light, that it is good and that it had value – so the cosmos is just that – it is what is in creation that is good and has value and that is separate from the darkness of chaos. So the fundamental basis of this is that God didn’t just create something and then leave it, but that his bringing order and light to the world is exactly what creation is. And secondly you say that religious scholars tell us that God’s intentions are not for us to know. Here you are simply wrong. Many religious scholars will of course tell you that in many places humans have purported to know the intentions of God. It is all over the Genesis account – God intended the universe to be a place for humans to look after, God intended there to be a creation that was made in his image and likeness in order to glorify him, etc. etc.
Knowing the will of God is what makes saints and is the most basic intention of every Christian – which is why they say “thy will be done” in their prayers – it is certainly not blasphemy, and it is why Christians pray.
You’d probably be un-surprised that Auster/Southern Cross was less than well received by the Brit crew. I remember being directed to a puzzle she set (that we probably ate for breakfast) … and ahd a great belly laugh … the issue being obscurity. I will find it for you, just because it’s fun.
I’ve had a look at mhl’s suggestion and I agree that (a) it wasn’t well received; and (b) some of the comments were hilarious!
I vaguely remember doing that one when it appeared in the CM, and was amazed at “HUMP THE BLUEY”, because I didn’t know, at that time, that Auster was Southern Cross.
I note also a lot of discussion about “EQUADOR”. The clue clearly states to substitute C for Q and D for T in “EQUATOR”. ECUADOR was the correct solution. I’ve found the puzzle on the Guardian website and used the check function.
And mhl, I agree it was a very enjoyable puzzle. The whole point about cryptic crosswords is to set clues which are somewhat mysterious, sometimes misleading, to provide a challenge to the solver. I find it a great source of satisfaction when I get through the deception and solve the puzzle. Life is far too short to be too pedantic.
Monica – anyone complaining about not having heard of “HUMP THE BLUEY” didn’t enjoy Lucky Starr’s hit “I’ve Been Everywhere”!
Crypticnut: the clue was amended late in the day in the online edition to make it produce ECUADOR instead of EQUADOR (and the answer in the online version was changed) – I noted that in the final comment on that post.
I had a red, hot go at Puck today and although I’d previously done it online I still couldn’t get it out. It was a beaut … got all the WC allusions and the top line, which I rememebr in the online version … I recall being annoyed I couldn’t join the post that night because I was too busy and I sooo wanted to mention the Banana Bender thing.
I do the CM on the train on the way to work (so no access to reference tools) and the online as my lunch-time treat with my sandwich (google gets a workout, let me tell you).
I must say I’m getting much better though … this site has really improved my skills and confidence.
Know how you feel. I would have loved to have had my ten cents worth on the blog but, sadly, not practicable after five weeks.
I have to say that I do not agree with a lot of the comments being critical that the puzzle was too UK-entric. The clues were well constructed and should have been solveable anywhere – though that’s easy for me to say having been doing cryptics for over thirty years. Having said that it took me a while to get started but I put that down to sleep deprivation from staying up till the wee small hours watching that which we don’t want to mention!
Looking forward, now, to the blog for Paul’s prize puzzle from last Saturday, particularly 12d……..