One of the more tedious chores awaiting Susie and me when we come home from a stay in Paris is going through the overloaded basket of mail that the Post Office has been keeping for us during our absence. Anyone who imagines that catalogue sales have given way to e-commerce should take a look some time at one month of the fliers and catalogues that fill the basket. When those have been thrown away, along with the endless appeals for money [including, for reasons that I will never understand, personal appeals from John Boehner to the inner circle of faithful Republican super-donors, of whom he imagines I am one], there are, with luck, one or two actual letters, and -- always a delight -- a little stack of copies of the Nation. I have long been a subscriber to the Nation. Indeed, fifty-five years ago, I even published a completely forgettable little piece in its pages. But if the truth be told, I do not actually read the Nation any more. When it comes, I immediately turn to the puzzle on the last inside page, which I just love.
I am very vain of my ability to do that puzzle. [For those who are not familiar with it, it is a baby version of the impossible London TIMES puzzle, imitations of which appear even in the Daily Mail and Guardian in South Africa.] Yesterday, after dinner, I picked up the latest issue of the Nation, whose puzzle I had earlier partially completed, and managed to finish the entire thing. Some of the clues are not too obscure. "rural ailment afflicting infants at a New England school -- 7 letters" is of course "bucolic" [BU = New England school; "colic" is an ailment afflicting infants;" "bucolic" is "rural." You get the idea.] But some of them are real mind-benders. The very last clue I solved was 8 Down. Two words, 6 letters and 9 letters: "Writer Ford (and others) covering host with those making a selection." After a great deal of head-scratching, I worked it out. "Ford (and others)" is "cars." "covering" means over or above [this is a down clue]. "Host" is "mc" and "those making a selection" are "cullers." cars+on+mc+cullers is Carson McCullers, a writer. whew. Doing these puzzles does not actually require intelligence so much as a really twisted mind. For those of a philosophical bent, I will note that the key is always the distinction between use and mention, and as you will recall from my Autobiography, I studied with Willard van Orman Quine, the diva of the use/mention distinction, before I was old enough to shave.