Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I do the New York Times crossword in its syndicated form, which means that today is August 10. I let my paid subscription lapse not long after TORME was clued as “Cool jazz pioneer.” Wrong, very wrong.

Anyway: the August 10 puzzle, a Wednesday puzzle, mid-week, not meant to be especially difficult, has a number of obscurities, one of which is the answer to 53-Down, “Warm Alpine wind”: FOHN (föhn ). I know that word because it makes a memorable appearance in John Ashbery and James Schuyler’s novel A Nest of Ninnies (1969). Ashbery explains in a Paris Review interview:

A gag that’s probably gone unnoticed turns up in the last sentence of the novel I wrote with James Schuyler. Actually it’s my sentence. It reads: “So it was that the cliff dwellers, after bidding their cousins good night, moved off towards the parking area, while the latter bent their steps toward the partially rebuilt shopping plaza in the teeth of the freshening foehn.” Foehn is a kind of warm wind that blows in Bavaria that produces a fog. I would doubt that many people know that. I liked the idea that people, if they bothered to, would have to open the dictionary to find out what the last word in the novel meant. They'd be closing one book and opening another.
Foehn , or föhn , or FOHN, is clearly (ha) obscure. But I got it. I wish I could say the same for SQFT and TSWANA.

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Crosswords : John Ashbery : James Schuyler

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