Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jigsaw puzzles

The ballpark version of the “40 cloves of garlic”
chicken sandwich from The Stinking Rose.
Seemed to me that the cooks at the Giants game
aren’t able to count to 40. 
[bumped since I finished the Project Sondheim comment]

Something about jigsaw puzzles that you only do them on vacation, and family members who generally aren't interested in such mental exercises get into them to the point where you can’t drag them away.

Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle for us.  New cryptics for Sunday Brunch this weekend, or work on a few from last weekend: Xanthippe posted four.

Meanwhile, I brought along a couple more Stephen Sondheim originals, and solved one today: “Assemblage Line.”  Discussion below the fold since it includes spoilers.

At the moment, I don’t have the scan file, so I can’t tell you the New York issue where “Assemblage Line” was published.  The instructions read:

Nineteen of the clues (the solver must figure out which nineteen) are in two parts,leading to two different answers--call them “A” and “B”.  In each case, “A” is one of the group “B”, and only “A” is to be entered in the diagram.  Each part of the clue is either a definition or a subsidiary indication (pun, anagram, etc.) of its answer, but not both.  Either part of the clue may come first...  All words “B” are familiar words in one sense, but perhaps not in another.  Webster’s Unabridged is useful in some cases, but Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is more so (and it’s a good book to have even if you don’t do the puzzle.

I’ll look at the whole thing in a moment, but that last sentence is the one that really interested me.  Here Sondheim is inviting readers to consult a reference beyond just the dictionary (which is always fair game).  Put into 21st century terms, he says “visit Wikipedia.”  I found that notable because the assumption is that we modern solvers are cheating somehow by making use of online tools that solvers of the 1960s and 70s didn’t have.  They actually did have those tools, they were just harder to get at.  I’d never heard of Brewer’s until now, and we didn’t have had one of those at home where I was growing up, but I expect most main public libraries would have had a copy in their reference section.

I could envision New York Magazine readers getting to the “aha” moment of getting the theme figured out, and then bringing their copy of the magazine, or a list of links to look up, to the NYPL to get the answers that would let them finish the puzzle.

Even the most literary of solvers probably wouldn’t have had “a charm of goldfinches” or “a cast of hawks” at ready memory, though “a skein of geese” (the answer that was the breakthrough for me) or “an exultation of larks” would have been expected.

And this coda...
The author apologizes for 33 Across and 30 Down,
which are crossword-puzzle words in the worst sense.

Sondheim is right that they’re rarely seen outside crosswords, but two pieces of such fill in a bar grid constrained by so many theme answers is pretty impressive.

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