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VOL. 36 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2012

These crossword clues stink worse than skatoles

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Dear Judge Vic, “So, in last week’s column, you’re saying that those vintage ’50s & ’90s xword answers are no longer tolerated? Geesh! What will I do now to make fun of you?”

Vocab Larry

Dear Vocab, Thanks for your interest. If you would like a more comprehensive perspective on the shift from old-school to modern crosswords, see preshortzianpuzzleproject.com, where my young friend David Steinberg holds forth. Speaking of Steinberg, I also have a note from him:

“Loved your write-up about the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project – it was a lot of fun to read! I especially liked the list of Maleska/Farrar esoterica – those entries are pretty awful. Still, I think the worst pre-Shortzian entry I’ve seen is DERO, which was clued as ‘Throat of one’s neck: Comb. Form.’”

David also pointed out that he did not turn 15 “recently,” as I wrote, but attained that age last year in November. So, he’s now well over 15½.

And his website is more fun to read than this column. Each time he posts, he “features” an old puzzle and one weird answer from the old school. From his July 18 post:

“Today’s featured pre-Shortzian entry is LATHI. … It … appeared in the August 1, 1993, puzzle by Martin Fass, ….The clue … was ‘Punjabi policeman’s club.’ Webster defines a lathi as ‘a heavy stick, often of bamboo, bound with iron, used in India as a weapon esp. by police (as in dispersing a crowd or quelling a riot).’”

Next week I will share some modern clues and answers to illustrate how different puzzles have become. For now, I’ll let David’s posts take us out with a few more featured obscurities:

SKATOLES: “Appeared in the September 12, 1992, puzzle by Tap Osborn …. The clue … was ‘Perfume fixatives.’ Webster defines a skatole as ‘a foul-smelling compound C9H9N found in the intestines and feces, in civet, and in several plants or made synthetically and used in perfumes as a fixative.’ I don’t think I’m ever going to think of perfume in the same way ….

KIMURA: “Appeared in the April 25, 1992, puzzle by Tap Osborn …. The clue … was ‘Japanese astronomer.’ … Hisashi Kimura, … 1870 to 1943, … won the prestigious Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society [in 1936]. A crater on the moon and an asteroid were named in his honor. …

SCISSEL: “Appeared in the September 21, 1950, Margaret Farrar–edited puzzle, whose author we don’t know yet. The clue … was a real mouthful: ‘Plates of metal with circular blanks after cutting for coinage.’ Webster defines SCISSEL as ‘metal scrap clippings left over in various mechanical operations; esp. the remnants of fillets from which coin blanks have been punched.’

SHADUF: “Appeared in the May 2, 1992, puzzle by Jesse Roarke …. The clue … was ‘Irrigation device: Var.’ Webster defines a shadoof (the primary spelling) as ‘a counterbalanced sweep used since ancient times, especially in Egypt for raising water (as for irrigation).’”

Thanks, David.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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