Sunday, January 02, 2005

Wrong angles

Harper's January 2005 Puzzle: RighTangles

Every answer forms a right angle in the answer grid, the solver has to figure out at which letter and in which direction each word bends. I finished this one pretty quickly. The two answers hinted at in the instructions were dead giveaways, I thought, as if the puzzle author thought the puzzle would be so difficult that he wanted to give the solver an easy hint to get started with. I did have to check a couple of my answers with a dictionary to make sure I had everything right, which I did, unlike the creators and editors of the puzzle.

I suppose this puzzle is a pretty impressive piece of puzzle creating, or would have been if not for a couple of mistakes. One was just lazy editing: #31S should be 5 letters long, not 4 as given. One was worse, the "center sqare", where 5S and 26E meet, has letters from 3 words in it, despite the strong claim in the instructions that each square will have letters from 2 words. I notice that the two mistakes are "complimentary". In other words, if the editor or puzzle author was adding up the word lengths to make sure that there were twice as many letters as squares, he/she would have gotten the right answer even though one square has three letters in it, because one word is given as one letter too short. (Or maybe both mistakes are mine, and the puzzle is actually correct as printed? No, couldn't be, my answers work too well for them to be completely wrong, as they would have to be for the puzzle to be correct.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The More the Merrier

Robert M. Jeffers, guestblogging at Eschaton brings blogging about Harper's Magazine to the masses, here and here.

As Jeffers notes, if you beleive the book review by Greg Grandin, Niall Ferguson is a scary political theorist, advocating decreases in the American standard of living and a much more warlike society in order to make us better able to kill our enemies. I suspect (or at least I hope) that a Ferguson fan would claim that this is a misunderstanding of Ferguson's work. But the bad news is, I'm afraid our society is inevitably changing in that direction (more warlike, lower living standards for the working class), whether Ferguson wants it or not.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

First Place

Harper's December 2004 Puzzle: Three's a Charm

My blog dreams have come true: I have gotten a Harper's Puzzle-related comment to one of my posts. Thank you, commenter.

For this months puzzle, there are eleven unclued words in the answer grid, which have something in common. Not the most original puzzle theme idea.

Once I figured out what the theme was, I knew there was no way I would finish the puzzle without looking online for the answers. But I did get all of the clued answers, and four of the eleven unclued answers on my own, so I feel like I succeded as well as I could have.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Not the puppies!

Harper's Magazine November 2004.

Good article on the politics of abortion. Fine Gene Lyons review of the Left Behind books. I can't argue with Lapham's criticism of the electoral college. Decent article about the value our society places on busyness is marred by a pretty gratuitous anti-Bush ending. Even though my politics are pretty similar to Harper's', I don't like it when they get too partisan. As I've said before I can get partisanship and Bush-bashing lots of places; from Harper's I want informative and skillful writing. To summarize, overall the magazine was a pretty good read.


Did they have to include a story about people on a dog-killing spree? I suppose logically, a story about killing dogs should be less objectionable than a story about killing people, but it just isn't. A story about killing dogs is ugly. I've heard that good art is sometimes ugly, but if that was good art, I'll stick with mediocre art that spares the puppies.

Activation Energy

Harper's November 2004 Crossword: "Sensitivity Training".

Nine answers have to be rewritten as phrases with the same pronounciation as the clued word before being entered in the grid. For example bordeaux is the clue answer, boredough is entered in the puzzle.

This was what I call an activation energy puzzle. After struggling with the puzzle for a couple of days, not making much progress, I realized how the theme worked, and finished the whole puzzle in less than an hour. Almost the whole puzzle - I'm not quite sure about 24 down. I assume the answer is lieu, but I can't see how that comes from the clue. Probably it will seem obvious once I get the answer key next month.

24d. Place with renter would be rank! (4)

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Nothing to say

Harper's Magazine and Crossword October 2004 (kind of)

This is basically a placeholder post, since there was nothing in this month's Harper's that I am inspired to comment on, but I am not yet quite willing to abandon my plan to blog about each month's issue.

What else is new? I recently got the new Mark Lanegan CD. My impression: the high points are great, the low points are pretty dull, but overall easily his best album so far. Next week I'll be picking up the new Tom Waits, maybe I'll bother to blog about that here. I saw the Bush-Kerry face off. The Democratophile blogs have been pretty triumphal about Kerry's "win". Pessimist that I am, I was watching the debate looking for moments that would hurt Kerry, and I got very nervous when Kerry had the line about a global standard for preemptive war. I figured that would be a "gaffe" that the Bush spinners would jump all over, and it would end up being the one thing that people remembered about this debate. Well it hasn't happened yet, but I guess I learned that I really am anxious for Kerry to win this election, or I wouldn't have been so scared when he said "global standard".

I almost finished the Harper's crossword on my own, but I had to check with a dictionary for 2 down, since I had no fucking idea that there was such a word as "rill".

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Feeling loony

"The president has gone from mission accomplished to mission miscalculated to mission impossible on the war on terror," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry

So now the Kerry campaign accepts the fact that the war in Iraq is the same thing as the "war on terror"? OK, I know, it was just a spokesman trying to score a cheap point, but still. That almost makes it worse, that Kerry's people are more focused on clever sound bites than they are on articulating a coherent anti-Bush position on the war.

Here's something else I saw today that drove home the point of just how lame the Democrats are these days. The Al-Jazeera news network (like every other news network) gets to put up a sign announcing their presence inside the hall at the Republican convention. In contrast, the people running the Democratic convention apparently thought a sign saying "Al-Jazeera" would be too controversial, or something.

Some people, however little they think of G.W. Bush, might have a hard time casting their presidential vote for such a bunch of craven unprincipled cowards. Yesterday evening I dragged myself out to see a panel discussion titled "Can We Do Better Than Anybody But Bush?", featuring an all-star lineup from the people that right-wing bloggers and editorialists love to call the "loony left". The speakers were reporter Jeremy Scahill, journalist JoAnn Wypijewski, anti-globalization bigshot Naomi Klein, ex-Black Panther, socialist, and anti-death penalty activist Shujaa Graham, socialist publisher Ahmed Shawki, and Nader running mate Peter Camejo.

I thought the panel might feature an interesting contrast between three veteran activists (Graham, Shawki, and Camejo) and three Gen X reporters / authors (Scahill, Klein, and Wypijewski). But the speeches actually turned out to break by gender. The female panelists, Klein and Wypijewski, took the ABB position, and both gave a low-key and reflectve speech, conceding the point that Kerry was worthless and basically evil, but still suggesting that maybe it would be best if he wins the election. Klein, who's writing I always find interesting, turned out to be the weakest speaker in the bunch, a bit unfocused. Wypijewski at least made a good effort to be amusing.

The four male speakers, in contrast, all gave impassioned stem-winding speeches exhorting the audience to fight the good fight and stand up for what we believe in, which means turning away from the Democrats. All were powerful speakers, especially Camejo, who spoke last. By the time he finished he had the audience really buzzing. I personally left the room with half a mind to look up the local Green party and see what they were up to.

But on reflection, I think that Wypijewski's argument is the one that stuck with me. She argued that for progressives these days, voting doesn't make much difference, regardless of who we do or don't vote for. If we vote for the Democrat, or the third party candidate, or don't vote, we might imagine that we send the powers that be (or at least the Democrats) some kind of message. But are we really? Maybe they aren't going to listen to us in any case, maybe there is no scenario in which the Democrats get so desperate that they veer to the left. In that case, there is nothing to lose, so we might as well vote for Kerry and get the minor satisfaction of seeing Bush fail. It's not much but it's the best you can get for your vote. Sad, but perhaps true.

Friday, August 27, 2004


I see some well-known bloggers are trying to move in on my territory (blogging about Harper's). I too noticed the anomaly that is getting attention: the strange introduction to Lapham's cover story in the September issue, in which Lapham describes (in past tense) his reactions to the 2004 Republican Convention, as if he was writing after the convention took place. Eugene Volokh is all over this major issue. Although I have to assume that Volokh didn’t actually read the Harper's article, based on the fact that he refers to this Jacob Sullum post as "[i]mportant substantive criticisms" of Lapham's article. Sullum makes just two quite petty criticisms of the article: it lumps diverse conservatives together (true to some extent, but pretty irrelevant to whatever point Lapham is making) and that Lapham thinks all Republicans are dumb (not a serious criticism of the article, just a whine about Laphams catty writing style).

In any case, it was a very bad idea to write about the upcoming convention in the past tense, as Lapham himself admits (according to Volokh, I didn't check the Harper's website myself). If it has the effect of discouraging Lapham from taking up so much of the magazine with his own writings in the future, I won't complain.