Saturday, May 18, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Ben Zimmer, whose last Stumper proved exceedingly difficult for me. So too this one, but this one sparked more joy. Lots of clues I thought I would never be able to answer: for instance, 17-A, nine letters, “What NASA’s eHEALTH ONE device emulates.” But answer I did.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

5-D, six letters, “Summit.” Oof.

6-D, five letters, “Up-and-down address.” Nice.

8-D, nine letters, “Cutting-edge technology.” Somehow I’ve been familiar with the idea from childhood, so the technology might not be that cutting-edge.

9-D, seven letters, “Prizes for Wimbledon women’s champs.” If you say so.

10-D, six letters, “Beef also a beef cut?” The kind of clue whose answer I don’t understand for some time after I’ve written it in.

13-D, three letters, “Bosox great.” We were talking about him just the other day. His name and face were once on packages of Arnold bread.

14-A, nine letters, “Offer for privacy.” Another clue that left me ATSEA, at first.

19-A, fourteen letters, “Deep pan.” At least the answer couldn’t be STEWPOT.

20-D, five letters, “Aged beef?” Clever though it’s meant to be, I think this clue strains the meaning of the answer, which is not in any obvious way a beef.

26-D, five letters, “Up-and-down flights.” Clever.

34-D, eight letters, “Combat with light artillery.” I was not fooled.

35-A, three letters, “House support.” I was fooled, briefly.

38-A, letters, “Upper levels of a sort.” A novel answer, at least for me.

41-A, five letters, “Where gumbo comes from.” I like gumbo and think I should have known this. Now I do.

43-A, fourteen letters, “Cease suddenly.” An instance of subtle misdirection, or else I just misread it. To my ear it suggests an activity outside oneself, like the noise of cicadas, which, alas, isn’t going to cease suddenly or any other -ly any time soon.

My favorite in this puzzle: 53-A, three letters, “Antique letter opener.” Somewhere John Kennedy Toole might be smiling.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 17, 2024

What is a “bottle episode”?

I asked those who would know if there’s a name for a television episode with two characters stuck in, say, an elevator or a basement, talking about whatever until they get free. There is, and Merriam-Webster has it: “bottle episode” : “an inexpensively produced episode of a television series that is typically confined to one setting.”

What prompted my question: the “One Day” episode of Hacks, which aired last night. It’s mostly Ava and Deborah alone, in one setting, but it’s a big one, a forest full of trails, and it must have been expensive to shoot. A recap of the episode describes it as “a Pine Barrens moment,” referencing the Sopranos episode in which Christopher and Paulie are lost in the New Jersey woods.

I made a guess as to the origin of “bottle episode”: “Two’s a Crowd,” the 1978 All in the Family episode in which Archie and Mike, locked in the bar’s storeroom, talk and drink. What a great origin story! But no. Though Star Trek is often cited as the source, Merriam-Webster credits Leslie Stevens, who produced the series The Outer Limits. M-W cites a history of the series that recounts how Stevens once put together an episode in four and a half days: “Stevens dubbed this last-minute lifesaving technique the ’bottle show’ — as in pulling an episode right out of a bottle like a genie.”

TV Tropes and Wikipedia list many bottle episodes.

Desert Island Discs : Keith Richards

From BBC Radio 4: the 2015 Keith Richards episode of Desert Island Discs, available for a limited time. I’m surprised that Keith didn’t choose something by Robert Johnson.

Related reading
Album covers from Keith Richards’ record collection

Thursday, May 16, 2024

John McWhorter’s apostrophes

John McWhorter has a new piece at The New York Times (gift link): “Lets Chill Out About Apostrophes.” Do you see what he did there?

McWhorter argues that most apostrophes do nothing to make meaning clearer. And that using them is tricky. And that Chaucer did fine without them. And: “I’m not suggesting we eliminate the apostrophe, but I would rather retain it for cases where there is a genuine possibility of ambiguity.” I can’t imagine having that question hang over every apostrophe. Writings difficult enough already.

Do you see what I did there?

I left a comment, beginning with McWhorter’s words:

“Their deployment is governed by some rather fine rules — is it ‘my uncle’s book’ or ‘my uncles’ book’? ‘It’s’ or ‘it’s’? — that take a bit of effort to master”: Are these rules really so fine? Are they really that difficult to master? Yes, language evolves, and we (unlike Chaucer) use apostrophes. When they’re needed and missing, their absence can be conspicuous. Getting them right can be one way of getting a reader to pay attention to what you’re saying, sans distraction.
If John McWhorter really wants to eliminate most apostrophes, he had better seek alternative publishers, no? I do agree with him on one point: no one should look down on someone who misuses or doesn’t use the apostrophe.

Related reading
All OCA apostrophe posts (Pinboard) : McWhorter on subject and object pronouns (Him and me disagree) : A page-ninety test

Weevil- and hyphen-free

[3 1/2″ × 1 1/2″. Click for a larger view.]

I found one of these slips in 2019, nestled amid (where else?) the sweet potatoes in Aldi. I found another earlier this week, sporting a new seal, the signature of a section manager instead of a director, and “Plant Industries Division,” plural. But the slip remains hyphen-free.

More about hyphens
Bad hyphens, unhelpful abbreviations : “Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to” : “Fellow-billionaires” : Got hyphens? : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Living on hyphens : Mr. Hyphen and e-mail : Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner : One more from Mr. Hyphen : The opposite of user-friendly : Phrasal-adjective punctuation

[Lest you think I’m Mr. Hyphen: he’s the title character in Edward N. Teall’s Meet Mr. Hyphen (And Put Him in His Place) (1937).]

Perhaps the best words I’ll read today

“MOUSE CAUGHT”: on the side of a Tomcat Kill & Contain Mouse Trap. I had to weigh our two traps on a postal scale to make sure that one held a mouse.

A post with a mouse in it

[In the thirty-three years we’ve lived in our house we’ve had four mice, one at a time, two killed, two found and released.]

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Shrinking Trump

Cognitive decline + personality disorder = Shrinking Trump, a new podcast, available from the usual purveyors. Drs. John Gartner and Harry Segal plan to chart, week by week, the declining wellness of the presumptive Republican nominee. Highly recommended.

I have one criticism: too much laughter. It’s possible, sometimes, to see moments in a loved one’s decline with a stoic sense of humor. But with a country and a world in the balance, there’s nothing funny about Donald Trump’s decline. Turning his gaffes and rants into comedy (as on late-night television) helps to make it all seem acceptable.

What John said

“ ‘I Dig a Pygmy,’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids”: after all these years, I discovered by chance who Charles Hawtrey was. John says his name in the bit that precedes the Beatles song “Two of Us.”

Related reading
All OCA Beatles posts (Pinboard)

[“Deaf aid”: British for “hearing aid,” and supposedly the Beatle name for an amp.]

Handwriting vs. typing

Old news by now, I’d say, but still news: “Why writing by hand beats typing for thinking and learning” (NPR):

Both handwriting and typing involve moving our hands and fingers to create words on a page. But handwriting, it turns out, requires a lot more fine-tuned coordination between the motor and visual systems. This seems to more deeply engage the brain in ways that support learning.
Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024


NBC Nightly News: it’s galling to hear Laura Jarrett call Michael Cohen “Cohen” and call Donald Trump “Mister Trump,” every damn time. Too much deference.