The New York Times
When I was in school, I was O.K. with grammar when we were talking about your basic nouns, verbs and adjectives. I was even O.K. with present tense, past tense and future tense. Once they started to rattle on about split indicative predicates with a triple axel and a shot of mocha, however, I decided it was time to stop listening and just write. It was incredibly freeing.
I’m better about it now — education is so wasted on the young, isn’t it? — but I still give serious side-eye to some of the more complicated rules of sentence structure. It’s a relief to me that other columnists and editors, like the esteemed John McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun, do as well. Mr. McIntyre, who lends gravitas to just about any occasion, has made a wonderful series of videos about grammar usage on his “You Don’t Say” language blog, and I highly recommend them, if not just to feel better about yourself. It’s free grammar therapy.
I bring this up because today’s puzzle by Joel Fagliano is all about grammar, and when I read the puzzle title, “Grammar Lesson,” I was afraid that I might not be able to solve his puzzle.
Pish tosh, as Mr. McIntyre might say, if he in fact was in the habit of saying “pish tosh.” It turns out that while the theme entries are mostly elements of sentence structure, the clues are not asking you to parse sentences. They’re asking you to parse puns. And we’re all about the puns, aren’t we?
Mr. Fagliano offers us a set of six elements of SENTENCE STRUCTURE (I’m not counting this as a theme entry, even though it’s in a symmetrically correct place to be one. I’ll just assume it’s a revealer, even if it’s not clued that way).
Some of these worked better for me than others, but I really liked “Santa’s nieces and nephews?” for RELATIVE CLAUSES and “‘Village’ newspaper that’s namby-pamby?” for PASSIVE VOICE (the namby-pamby newspaper would be The Village Voice). If grammar had been taught this way when I was in school, I would have paid more attention.
There were two inspirations for this theme. A while back, I saw an ad in The Economist for a magazine subscription that read “Present tense? Future perfect.” I thought, “Huh, that’s a pretty cool wordplay find,” and then promptly forgot all about it. Recently, I got a Gchat from Brendan Emmett Quigley, who wanted to run a clue for the answer FAKE NEWS by me — “Indefinite article?”. Again, I thought that was a really nice find. Later that day, some long-dormant synapse in my brain connected the two of those and I realized there might be good Sunday crossword theme there.
As for the fill, the one thing that gave me pause was the inclusion of ANN COULTER as an answer. In light of the recent controversies over Eric Trump and Betsy DeVos references in The Times crossword, I worried that some solvers would be upset by this clue/answer. On the one hand, I strongly disagree with just about everything she’s ever written or said, and giving her book free press in the crossword brings me little joy. On the other hand, she’s undeniably an interesting and fresh crossword answer — she’s well-known by most Americans, and her full name has never appeared. Overall, my general feeling is that the crosswords should reflect modern life, positive and negative. Prominent supporters of the new administration are just as puzzle-worthy as prominent critics. That being said, I’ll try not go out of my way to include politically charged fill like this, knowing how it makes some people feel.
Thanks for the lesson, Mr. Fagliano.