Thursday, April 10, 2014

Puzzles for freedom? (Puzzle No. 3,321)

OK, now everything’s copacetic with and the new puzzle is up and visible.

Meanwhile, as the Venezuelan government cracks down on protesters and tightens currency controls amid growing shortages of basic goods like toilet paper, the government’s information minister has declared a new enemy: crossword puzzles.  While the minister doesn’t appear to be a skilled-enough solver to post the offending answers, she alleges that the newspaper El Arügueño is hiding anti-government messages in its crossword.

It wouldn’t be the first time such allegations have been made: in 2012, the puzzle constructor for Últimas Noticias, Neptalí Segovia, was hauled in to the intelligence ministry to explain a puzzle that was seen as a death threat against the regional governor, who happens to be President Maduro’s brother.  Segovia said the offending juxtaposition of words was just a coincidence, and he avoided punishment.

Now there are in fact puzzles that have included hidden messages: happy (marriage proposals) and sad (a farewell from a dying friend), so the idea isn’t so far-fetched.  Some constructors, like Kevin Wald, make an art of it.  Usually though, when there is an intended message or theme within a puzzle, the constructor will call it to attention somehow: either explicitly in the instructions or a clue, or by putting the message in an obvious place like the central row of the grid or the first letters of the clues.

Such messages have a long and noble history beyond the crossword, and indeed beyond the written word: one of the reasons I appreciate the music of Dimitri Shostakovich was his willingness to skate out at the edge of what the government would allow, and his use of music to challenge the authorities in the USSR.  We’re fortunate to live in a place where Hot and Trazom and their editors can sneak a message into a puzzle and not be afraid of being clapped into jail as a result.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): moderate, with a few hard ones before you finish.  Be ready for twists!

Hozom’s comment: not up yet—watch this space. (updated Monday)  “Sam Who?” in which Hot and Trazom field complaints over general knowledge and cultural literacy (not theirs, but what they expect of their solvers).  They might have cherry-picked some particularly favorable examples in Satchmo and Sam Spade, but I agree that solvers would be poorer off if such references, even to the latest vapid pop stars were ruled out of the puzzles.

Look at it this way: one of the things you hope to get out of solving a cryptic is the intellectual stimulation of seeing words and phrases in new ways: things like clever and fitting anagrams or a funny Spoonerism.  Learning a new fact or two along the way ought to give you the same kind of reward, not to mention a more rounded intellect to engage with the world around you.  

If you're still not convinced, consider that that person or work of art in the cryptic clue you're thinking of carping about might show up in another puzzle somewhere else, so even if those facts have nothing to do with you or your cultural preferences, they'll make you a better solver.

Hot and Trazom are right on target in saying that an unfamiliar definition ought to be matched with straightforward wordplay.  I was going to say the same thing.

Back with the solution (and more 11) on Monday.  Join us as always this weekend for Sunday brunch.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're responding to a hint request, please remember not to give more information than necessary. More direct hints are allowed after Monday.