Each puzzle seems like a complete serving, with just enough head-scratchers but not so many that they make me feel stupid, like the New York Times crossword guru, Will Shortz (no relation), sometimes can. So, one puzzle a day is exactly enough for me. Unless I happen to have an airline ticket, in which case I crave the thickest book of crosswords I can find. But, I digress.
One day recently I got to mulling just what part of T. Joseph’s crossword style appeals to me, and before long I had a clue. So to speak.
The clue was: “Cider girl of song.” Without thinking, I penciled in the answer as “IDA.” And then, I pictured a crossword-solver of the age twenty-something confronting that hint “Cider girl of song.”
A blank set of neurons, I’m guessing. Google tells me that the sheet music for the song “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider” was published in 1903 by a vaudevillian (another blank set of neurons, for a young person?) named Eddie Leonard. I was not around in those days, but apparently either my parents or grandparents had the LP versions done in the 1930s and 40s by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, or a wide range of others vocalists. It’s a catchy song, although pretty old-fashioned.
I’m guessing Mr. J. is over 50, or feels a kinship with those of us who are. He also seems to have a predilection for movies and cartoons, of which I’ve absorbed quite a few by osmosis over the years. That’s how I knew 36 Across, “Sylvester’s trademark.” Not Sylvester Stallone, but Sylvester the Cat, and the answer is LISP. Geography is a fairly constant theme, and I picked up some of that in school, in spite of myself. My geography knowledge maxed out in about 1966, though, so I had to confer with Google to determine that “Qom’s country” is IRAN. (I don’t think Iran had been invented when I was working toward my diploma at West Jefferson High. Either that, or we were distracted by news of Vietnam, which had us shaking in our shoes, but that’s a story for another time.) But just when you think you’ve got a fix on Mr. J.’s clue stockpile, he comes along with a warm-and-fuzzy one like “Oinker, to tots.” My first response to tots is always “tater tots,” and I’m thinking a pork barbecue (preferably outside meat, pork, chopped) when I realize I’m over-thinking it. An oinker, to tots, is a PIGGY.
That kind of inventiveness has to warm one’s heart, even when one has just retrieved one’s morning paper from a front yard so icy it looks like 17 Down, “1965 film from Pasternak novel.”
Ah, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.
In a nutshell I guess that what makes a crossword artist (for it is an art, I maintain) welcome in one’s home (and a certain room of one’s home, especially) day after day are much the same qualities as make for an appealing radio DJ: affability (which would be a good clue sometime), sincerity, and good taste in music. Or in Mr. Joseph’s case, words.
I would say that my hat is off to him, but I’ll keep my hat on until the yard becomes a little bit less Zhivago-like, thanks. And I’d feel a little more comfortable analyzing Thomas Joseph’s supposed demographic slant if I could find a bio of him somewhere online, but every search I do says that he writes crosswords for King Features Syndicate...period. Well done, Mr. J.! Disappearing into one’s work that completely is no easy task. See you 36 Down: “Day after today.” All right?
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM and is archived afterward on his website.