Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Only in Puzzles

In the USA Today crossword puzzle (Saturday last) appears the following clue: “45. Propel a gig.” It is supposed to produce a three-letter formation. That’s an easy one. In goes ROW.  



R




O




W



Trouble was, the upper horizontal word, 4 letters, was clued as “44. Unit of loudness.” And the lower horizontal as “51. Suffix denoting wealth.”  That ROW in 45-Down produced a whole lot of frustrated searching. There seemed to be no real alternative to ROW if the clue is read as referring to a verb. DECIBEL was too long for that unit of sound. Now as for that suffix signifying wealth—we both knew that that was a work-around. The puzzle’s author was left with a meaningless series of letters and thus found those letters in a suffix. Eventually we wrote in SONE for unit of sound —but that, of course, rendered ROW obsolete. And as for that suffix, it came to us that a “millionaire” might work.


S
O
N
E


A


A
I
R
E


These two answers worked splendidly with other words that came from above and continued below but left us no choice but to insert an A between the O above and the R below. Trouble is that “oar” is a noun and not a verb. But. The but in this case is that fact-checking is at least as important a task for crossword puzzle as for political editors—if not more so. So to the dictionary we go. Turns out that “to oar” is a transitive verb. I can “sing” without any further reference (intransitive verb). But I can’t simply oar. I’ve got to oar something—say a gig? And there is a further limit imposed. You can only “oar” in crossword puzzles. When it comes to the real world, the following verses don’t fit the bill:

Oar, oar, oar your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

It’s okay grammatically, if not otherwise. So we crossworded that word into the space erased and sighed a sigh of muted satisfaction.

2 comments:

  1. Those are some baffling clues. I don't think I would ever have reached -aire; I think debonaire would have thrown me off that completely. (Wealth of courtesy, perhaps?)

    I don't know that I've ever come across 'oar' as a verb. Looking around for actual examples, though, I like the Urban Dictionary's completely made-up definition; that is, to stumble around randomly, smacking people in the face with oars. Somehow it does seem that 'oar' should have a meaning as strange as its sound.

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  2. My son-in-law, John Magee, has the right view on Crosswords: a peculiar subculture of language. You will be interested in another clue in that puzzle, 70-across. It says "Leftover morsels," a 4-letter word. Brigitte and I recognized it rapidly. The answer is ORTS. Orts? Well, we learned this word years ago playing puzzles. In those days it was in every other puzzle we saw. But lately it has fallen out of fashion...

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