It’s not really a secret that we all see, feel, smell and hear things differently. If you have ever sat through a course in philosophy, you know that our perception of what is “real” is based not on what something actually is, but what we say it is. Which is always incredibly disappointing to a teenager who has come to college to discover the “real” world (“That’s it?! That’s all there is to it? Can I go now?”)
The quote that is normally attributed to the writer ANAÏS NIN, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” is also a Talmudic idea about dream analysis: People can only dream about things they have encountered or thought about, and so their dreams consist not of reality — whatever that is — but is instead a version filtered through the lens of the dreamer’s experiences.
This clue at 36D jumped out at me in the midst of solving David Phillips’s Saturday crossword because it’s so similar to the way we solve — or try to solve — crossword puzzles. Anecdotally speaking, I could run a clue that involves wordplay by 10 different solvers and I would probably get at least three unique interpretations of the clue, maybe more.
There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, except that there can only be one officially correct answer for each entry (unless it’s a Schrödinger puzzle, but I digress.) Some solvers will immediately see the “correct” answer — or at least the answer that is meant to fit in the slot that day — and others will have to make their way to it by sheer dint of imagination.
Let’s look at 52A, for example. I make my living on the internet. I spend a good deal of time interacting with people — most of them very nice — online. But when I first read the clue “On-line jerks?” I immediately thought that the answer must be TROLLS, because in my mental neighborhood, that’s what online jerks are called.
Maybe you got it right the first time. If you have a fish on the line (“On-line”) and the line jerks, those are called BITES.
I would call Mr. Phillips’s puzzle a fairly tough Saturday, but remember, even if you don’t see things as they are, you can always try to think of alternate meanings for the words in the clue.
■ I knew we were headed for a two-finger sign with the clue “Double-digit figure?” but my brain kept screaming “Churchill!” instead of PEACE SIGN.
■ 15A: Most people associate spiders with webs, but today we’re looking for a “Spider producer.” And note that “Spider” is at the beginning of the clue, to capitalize on the capital letter position. The Spider is produced by the Italian carmaker ALFA ROMEO.
■ 18A: “Reform?” is another clue that has multiple meanings. Which one came to mind first for you? Was it to improve or to change shape?
■ 20A/10A: I lucked out here. I got 20A’s SAKE from the crossings, so JAPAN was a no-brainer at 10A.
■ 29A: With an entry like YEAH I KNOW, I can’t pass up the chance to post an Andy and Lou sketch from “Little Britain”:
■ 34A: Note the question mark in “Cult follower?”: That means that we’re not really looking for one who follows a cult. We are looking for a suffix or word that can follow the word “Cult,” and today the answer is URE, as in CultURE.
■ 48A: Nice wordplay here. “Skip the lines, say” suggests someone cutting to the front of a line, but today the answer is ADLIB, as in one who forgoes a written script and just wings it.
■ 62A: It took me a long time to get this one. “Expert on the drums?” is not a musician, at least not today. It’s an EAR DOCTOR, who is on expert on the ear drums.
■ 65A: In more so-called line-cutting news, the clue “Get through lines quickly” is not about waiting in line. It’s about SPEED READing, which was a huge thing when I went to school. The Evelyn Wood SPEED READing Dynamics course was at the forefront of reading incredibly fast and then getting on with your day, unless you wanted to really enjoy what you were reading, in which case you could always enroll in “Saturday Night Live”’s “Evelyn Woodski Slow Reading Course.”
■ 2D: Don’t despair if you don’t know how many sides a loonie has; work the crossings. I got the first two letters, EL, and was able to guess ELEVEN. Trust but verify: Here’s what the Canadian loonie coin looks like.
■ 14D: Nice, Scrabbly letter run in NTH POWER.
■ 35D: This clue/answer pairing (“Old stars”/HAS BEENS) made me think of this:
■ 51D: This was too good to pass up taking a deeper research dive. Pogonologists, apparently, are people who study BEARDS, because why not? If kids can sit through college classes that teach them that what they see isn’t real, why is it so silly to study BEARDS?
And if there is a study of BEARDS, there must be music to entertain those pogonologists. Further, if there is music for pogonologists, it stands to reason that there must be a musical group called The Pogonologists, none of whom appear to have beards.