If, like me, you awake on Saturday morning with a thrill of excitement, knowing that Fraser Simpon's cryptic crossword awaits you in the Globe & Mail, you will have felt crushing disappointment this morning. In today's puzzle, the clues don't match the grid.
This isn't the first time it's happened, although it's rare. A few years ago, when I discovered that the grid didn't match I reverse engineered the grid based on the clues provided. (That was back in my pre-toddler days when I had more time!) It was so exciting to be able to share the right grid with all of you. I even got a shout out from the public editor at the Globe & Mail, which was a lot of fun. And it brought me in touch with other cryptic crossword fans, including one named Sally who has been compiling Fraser Simpson's grids for years just in case a mismatch happens. She kindly sent me her library.
So, let's all give Sally a big "Thank you!" Because when I saw the mismatch today, I immediately dug out her old email and located the right grid. I'm happy to be able to share it with all of you. Happy puzzling!
If you grew up in Ontario in the 1980s like I did and you're tackling this Saturday's Globe and Mail cryptic crossword by the great Fraser Simpson, you'll notice two things that other solvers might miss.
The first is a blatant and, to me, very welcome political commentary in 8 Down:
"Done with Ford," I snarled (3, 2)
As with any great cryptic clue, you don't have to know who Ontario Premier Doug Ford is to solve this riddle, which is an anagram. But there's a whole other level of satisfaction if you do. Doug Ford, is the brother of the internationally notorious, and now deceased, crack-smoking Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Among the many, many things Doug Ford is enacting as the newly elected Ontario Premier that are infuriating Ontario residents (especially teachers, which Fraser Simpson is, parents, and anyone else who cares about the education of an entire generation of fellow residents) are extreme cuts to education funding. Experts predict these will have profoundly negative effects on students.
As I've blogged about before, here and here, cryptic crosswords have a long and interesting history of serving as a vehicle for political messages. This is not surprising: setting cryptic crosswords is a form of creative writing, and writers have long found wonderfully creative ways of asserting their political stances, including, more recently in the U.S., the use of an acrostic in the resignation letter of the U.S. President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and the creation of a special two-part "The Writers Resist" episode of the Dear Sugars podcast.
Now, the Ontario budget cuts are making headlines across the country; you didn't have to grow up in Ontario in the 1980s to appreciate it. But if you did -- if you were a student during the Mike Harris era like I was -- you will be feeling an especially maddening sense of déjà vu.
The second clue that shoots right to the heart of 1980s Ontario kids is 26 Down:
Bruno's roomie at Macdonald Hall voices displeasure about start of term (5)
My daughter learned about recycling and reusing at her daycare this week. A tagline for the environmental movement is "Think Globally, Act Locally".
Culture typically works the same way, though perhaps to our detriment. We make art, we practice culture, here, in our studios, in our homes, but unless we take measures to tune it out, the vast majority of the cultural information we receive is global. My friend and fellow writer Derek once argued that when we are all inundated with the same cultural references, we become homogenous in our creative thinking. I have thought about that for a long time. It's why I think it is so important to not just see the blockbuster movies and read the best-selling books, but to explore local art exhibits, seek out TV shows and films with smaller distributions, discover authors we have never heard of, buy foods from local shops and not just chain grocery stores.
Thank you, Fraser Simpson, for flipping the script, and bringing local Ontario cultural references to the world with today's puzzle.
This past Saturday, I was a little surprised to see the following clue in Fraser Simpson’s Globe and Mail puzzle:
Escort enters sound bargain with the prosecutor (4, 4)
I stared at it and wondered: could it be it anything but a reference to President Trump’s alleged affair with the porn star Stormy Daniels and the $130,000 his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her not to disclose it?
On Saturday, April 14, 2018, Fraser Simpson published a simple clue in the Globe and Mail cryptic crossword that made me want to cheer:
Actress McGowan stood up (4)
Why cheer for this? You may ask. It’s just a straightforward double meaning clue. The actress in question is Rose McGowan. And if someone stood up, they rose from their seat.
As kids, we were taught that the best Christmas gifts are made rather than bought, and although my lack of artistic ability should have put pain to that lesson long ago, I’ve never been able to shake it.
In past years, I’ve given homemade vanilla extract and ten-packs of soup and certificates for babysitting services. More recently, I’ve made personalized cryptic crosswords. (You can get my 2017 Christmas Cryptic here.)
But this year, fascinated by the concept, I decided to try my hand at something considerably more involved: a personalized escape room.
This year, I set myself a new challenge, which I'll blog about shortly, but I also made my usual Christmas cryptic crossword. I'd be thrilled if you gave it a shot! And as always, all feedback is very welcome.
Saturday last, at the Concordia University Exposcience event, my three-year-old figured out how to accelerate and decelerate her heart rate on an ECG by imagining infuriating or calming things. She pulled all the organs out of a model of a human torso, then reassembled them. She controlled a robotic car and accepted a helium balloon and made fractal art but given that she is three, her favourite part was sampling the ice cream made from liquid nitrogen.
Of all the demonstrations, my favourite was from the cool cats from the Concordia Chemistry Department. They held a seemingly blank piece of paper over a flame (careful not to burn it) until a hidden message appeared.
Lemon juice was the invisible ink in that case, and it gave me a geeky thrill to see the trick in action. But it still didn’t beat the subterfuge of another hidden message I saw recently.
Vexed by President Trump’s failure to condemn rioting white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, all thirteen members of the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities (which included actor Kal Penn and Pulitzer prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri) resigned en masse in August. Their resignation letter was scathing and formidable. (You can read it here.) But that wasn’t all.
Embedded inside the letter was a hidden message: the first letter of each of the paragraphs of the letter spelled the word “RESIST”.
Maybe three days later, the Science Envoy for the Department of State, Daniel M. Kammen, also resigned. His letter contained the acrostic “IMPEACH”.
Of all the riddles used in cryptics, I find initialism clues and hidden word clues the most delightful because of the way they manage to hide in plain sight, effectively using the words around them as camouflage. But acrostics, which are concealed messages made up of the first letter of every word, sentence or paragraph, can add another mind-blowing dimension.
Read the source material and you get one message. But read the acrostic and it can give you a thought-provoking, even jarring new perspective.
Examples of acrostics abound, from the Edgar Allan Poe poem (unimaginatively named “An Acrostic) that spells out "ELIZABETH" to the memo from the CEO of Sun Microsystems, which contained the acrostic "BEAT IBM". But the best example I’ve found to date of an acrostic that completely changes your take on things is in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1958 short story “The Vane Sisters”. The story, told in the first person, is about a man who has just learned that a former student with whom he had a brief relationship, Cynthia, has died.
Cynthia, whose sister Sybil commit suicide, was a believer in spiritualism and the occult, and was convinced that the dead send messages to the living, sometimes through acrostics. After the narrator learns of Cynthia’s death, he become frantic, looking everywhere for signs that Cynthia is trying to influence him. He even searches for acrostics. In the end, he finds nothing and is relieved.
Readers are too. Until we realize that the last paragraph contains an acrostic: a message from Sybil herself, telling us that she has been reaching out from beyond the grave to manipulate the narrator’s view of the world from the story’s very beginning.
Yes, okay. It's a bit heavy.
Perhaps I ought to end with a happier tale of the use of an acrostic. A love story.
The Moth is a live storytelling event in which people share their true tales on stage in front of an audience. It’s available as a podcast and I listen to it from time to time, especially on road trips. One of the most memorable I’ve ever heard is Cynthia Riggs’ story “The Case of the Curious Codes”.
In it, Cynthia describes how when she was 81, she received a mysterious package: an envelop full of cryptograms and a return address given in latitude and longitude. The sight of the cryptograms jogged Cynthia’s memory: at age 18, while working in a marine biology lab, she and a kindly colleague, Howard, used to swap them. He had kept them for 62 years.
Correspondence ensued. The two caught up after so many decades, discovering all kinds of bizarre coincidences, and growing closer with every package. Eventually Cynthia, an avid gardener, received a package from Howard that contained seven seed packets arranged in the following order: hollyhocks, leeks, orka, vinca, eggplant, spinach, and catnip. H-LOVES-C.
So having said all that, I suppose there's only one question left, dear reader. Have you figured out my acrostic?
Of all the wedding photos my friend, the extraordinarily talented Dallas Curow, has taken, there is one that I find particularly magical.
It’s a shot that was taken between shots, which is to say in a candid moment. The bride and groom are laughing uproariously at something we can’t see. On either side of them, guests turn their heads, searching for the source of that mirth, smiling the hesitant smiles of people who anticipate seeing something funny very shortly.
It’s the first time I’ve had a cryptic in print and I'm thrilled. It's especially cool to know that The Bookshelf in Guelph, which was my favourite hang-out in high school, will have copies.
This is a special puzzle because it was custom made for the Summer 2017 issue of Montreal Review of Books. I absolutely love this publication, which exists to highlight the literature of English-language writers and publishers from Quebec, and I wanted the puzzle to reflect that. Six of the clues are personalized, including three clues that make reference to authors whose books are reviewed in this issue (one of the reviews was written by me).
In just ten days, I'll have my first cryptic crossword in print and I couldn't be more excited. It's being published by Montreal Review of Books, which you can get all over Canada (see here for a list of places that carry it). I'm especially honoured given that this is the first time they've published a cryptic crossword before.
I hadn't really thought of it until my editor called to double-check a word in one of my clues, but proofreading a cryptic crossword puzzle must be really tricky. Clues can sound really weird even when they're right and even a perfectly symmetrical grid can have a structural error (which happened with The Globe and Mail a few months back).
If you don't happen to solve cryptic crosswords, which my editor doesn't (yet), how do you proceed?
I'm a writer, adventurer, amateur setter of cryptic crosswords, lover of "ah-ha!" moments, and exhausted mom.