Like a lot of you, I’m scared shitless about what’s in store for our country and our politics as we move toward a new administration. I’ve tried to tune out the most disturbing details; how else to get through the day? And, I’ve also decided to avoid writing about what’s going on. After all, not everyone feels the same as I (or you) do—and the ironicman blog is not meant to be a soapbox for my political expression. As I’ve said before, we try here to be light-hearted with a just a touch of realism.
As I’ve made this ostrich-like effort to bury my head in the sand to keep from hearing about the catastrophe taking place, I’ve been drawn to some tried and true pastimes to soothe my psyche and distract me. Which is why I find that I’m doing a lot of crossword puzzles lately. And drinking more.
Doing crossword puzzles, has long been a salvation for me. (Doing them while drinking is even better.) Getting lost in the puzzle is as close as I get to meditation; if I’m anxious or worried, it’s the perfect escape—for the time I’m working on it, there’s nothing except me and the page I’m looking at. So, as you might expect, I’m now doing crosswords more than ever. I do the one in the NY Times daily and of course, the one on Sunday.
I’ve done crossword puzzles, off and on, for a long time now and truthfully, I’m fairly adept. As an adjunct to doing the crossword, I follow a blog published by a master wordsmith, Rex Parker, who is one of those savants who does the puzzle in a matter of minutes. Not infrequently, I check with Rex (after I’m done) if I haven’t been able to finish or to check myself. Also, to see how the puzzle was rated (easy, medium or challenging) and to follow his commentary on the fill.
That follow-up with Rex is all part and parcel of the ‘
Nero Neil fiddling while Rome burns’ distraction that I need. The entire process takes me to a totally insulated place; probably not unlike those sensory deprivation tanks that block out the world.
About a week ago, I had just finished a weekday puzzle which included the clue for 5 Down, “Younger brother of Ivanka“. (Answer: Eric). As I said, I often check with Rex to see his critique of the puzzle and on this day I did exactly that. I knew nothing of his politics, so you can’t possibly imagine my surprise and ecstasy when I read this commentary on that puzzle:
The NYT has to stop this gratuitous use of the near-future President’s family, and the ALT-right in general, in its puzzles. OBAMA (and MALIA) appeared a lot because his letter pattern is so grid-friendly. 60% vowels, terminal A—both useful features. And you can clue OBAMA only one way. Nowhere else to go. ERIC, however, has a near-infinity of other clues … and yet you go to this smug fascist halfwit … twice in one week!? I’m in no way saying the puzzle has a rightward tilt (that’s absurd, just as absurd as the opposite claim). I’m saying the incoming administration is repugnant on every level and casual references to them (and their Nazi, sorry, ALT-right supporters) in crossword puzzles normalizes them. It’s the most normalizing thing ever, actually. The banal neutrality of a crossword clue. Fuck all that. All of it. Also, I happen to know that in this case, the ERIC clue was an editorial decision, and one that did Not sit well with at least one of the constructors. I’d be furious too if someone rubbed that shit on my puzzle. Even if you’re trying to draw some vague connection to Mussolini’s right-hand man there at 45D: ___ Balbo, right-hand man to Mussolini (ITALO) … no.
Gotta love the reference to Mussolini’s right-hand man!