Also, another in my series of occasional observations about Internet celebrities. Stay tuned for that.
Image: Van Gogh's "Starry Night Over the Rhone" almost finished!
First: I love crossword puzzles. I grew up apprenticing the New York Times Sunday crossword at my grandparents' knees. I will never forget my step-grandfather taking a look at a Sunday crossword, seeing that a dozen clues simply said, "Author," without any other hints, and telling me as he filled in a blank answer, "Oh, this one is TSELIOT."
He made short work of that one.
My grandmother's first language was French, but she took down the NYT crossword on a regular basis. Much of what I know about crossword-ese words such as ERSE, ERNE, and ERST, I lerned from her.
Because of these strange little words never used in any other context, crossword puzzles are harder to solve for beginners than something like a Sudoku, which I find impenetrable most of the time.
The little problem of the letter E being the most frequent in English, while words that start with E are comparatively few, means that a lot of words have to be repeated, including weird words.
If you like words and cotton to crosswords, pretty soon you build up a vocabulary of small, weird words. ESPY, ENT, ESKER, ECCE, and EL are among them. There are plenty of others, like AIT, RIA, and GAT, that have no e's at all.
And try to create a crossword without having to resort to ERIE.
Even Breakfast with Pandora has gotten benefit from the crossword craze. When the NYT has the clue "Odysseus Rescuer," hundreds of cheaters solvers flock to this post because one of my posts contained those two words. Turns out the rescuer of Odysseus in crosswords is INO, although he is also rescued by NAUSICAA and CALYPSO as well.
Which goes to show, even if you are smart, you are not necessarily going to breeze through crosswords.
I have always thought that googling an answer was cheating, but one of my visitors to the INO post said the point of crosswords is not solving them, but learning new things. So there's no reason not to look it up.
I don't think that is the philosophy of Rex Parker.
Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword has always been my go-to crossword analysis blog, if only because I always wondered why a crossword blogger would have the same name as a comic strip character (Rex Parker, MD).
Our local shopper-type newspaper comes free on Sunday and includes the previous week's NYT Sunday puzzle, so I and the beloved get a chance to make like vacationers in Southampton and work it at our leisure.
Parker is a big wheel in the American crosswords world. He was given an interview in the New York Times and knows crossword editor supreme Will Shortz.
Parker is also a grouch. He seldom sees a puzzle he likes, and is always nit-picking about whether a clue was appropriate, an answer was reasonable based on the clue, or whether the theme was worthy of twenty-first century crosswords. In my memory, the only puzzle he really crowed about was a Sunday themer based on Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" in which circled letters of the puzzle marched across to the right and then back to the front (going around the puzzle the way you'd go around the world on a map) spelling out the book title. The long down clues had the names of the cities visited in the book hidden in them.
(For example: the answer THELONGKISSGOODNIGHT had the city HONGKONG concealed in it).
Whew! That about tired me out just to describe it. And it took a lot of sweat and elbow grease to finally get it.
But Parker just went nuts over it.
Parker also tends to consider easy what I consider difficult, and vice versa. The most recent Sunday I did, which I considered relatively simple, he condemned for having impossible crosses. It's true that I didn't know what an ELROPO (another hapax starting with E) was and had kind of forgotten about Sally LUNN sweet rolls. But the rest didn't take much thinking.
Of course, there was the one I completed in about 30 minutes about which Parker said, "There is nothing to recommend this puzzle except easiness-- except that it will certainly make some people who routinely struggle to finish Sundays feel like ****ing genius for once."
I don't know if I felt like a genius for once, but I had a good time not having to struggle. That makes for a nice change.
Parker has done the blog every single day since September of 2006 (except when he's assigned it to someone else), which is an impressive record. By the amount of snark and cynicism in his posts, I think it's possible he's starting to get tired of the routine.
What is the next step in Internet celebrity for a crossword puzzle blogger? I do not know. I haven't even figured out what's the next step beyond being a decidedly unfamous mythology and popular culture blogger.
So I will have to get back to you on that.
"This is the ______." (Jim Morrison lyric)