* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where even such an innocent pastime as the New York Times Crossword Puzzle can be fraught with otherworldly paranoia. Enjoy the stressed-out psyche of Dan Caprera!

Unfortunately, We Will Be Unable To Publish Your Crossword Puzzle: “The One Thing I’m Afraid Of”

By:
dcaprera@gmail.com

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your submission to the New York Times daily crossword. Every week we receive hundreds of outstanding puzzle submissions and we wish that we could publish them all. Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that, at this time, we will be unable to publish your most recent submission, a crossword puzzle that you’ve titled “The One Thing I’m Afraid Of.”

This decision was based on several key factors:

First off, although the NYT crossword is known for the exacting difficulty of its clues, we here at the Times were worried that some of your answers were both inordinately difficult and extraordinarily subjective. Usually, the solution to a crossword clue should be something in the public vernacular, something like “TACO” or “BOOMERANG.”

Meanwhile, in your puzzle you had clues such as:

  • 2 down — An emotion I’m currently experiencing.
  • 30 across — My greatest fear.
  • 74 across — The place I dare not go.

According to your submission, the answers to these clues should be, respectively, “FEAR,” “THE SHADOW MAN” and “MY DREAMS.” However, at the risk of being overly blunt, I believe that these answers would be exceedingly difficult for any one person to solve on their own.

Another quibble I had with your submission is that, preferably, you should not repeat any of your answers. For example, if a crossword used the word “OREO” as a solution, it would (hopefully) only use that answer once.

Sadly, you have used the same exact answer an unprecedented four different times. Consider for a moment your puzzle’s following clues:

  • 3 down — His name.
  • 15 across — The name of my fear.
  • 50 down — The shadow-man who found me in my dreams and compelled me to make this crossword puzzle so that the world would, at long last, know his name and fear it.
  • 57 across — His NAME!

Sir, in an ideal world, these clues would each have four different, discrete answers. However, in your puzzle, the solution to all four of these clues is, confoundingly, the same exact phrase — more specifically, the name “Harrison Chafitz.”

Now, I personally have never heard of a man called “Harrison Chafitz” before. And neither have any of my extraordinarily qualified colleagues here at the Times, but either way it would still undoubtedly benefit you not to repeat this solution (i.e. “Harrison Chafitz”) with such regularity.

Indeed, dear sir, who is Harrison Chafitz? Why is he so important? And why (why?) have you dedicated an entire crossword puzzle to a quote-unquote “Shadow Man” — a fictitious dream-walker who does not (and, it should be noted, cannot) exist?

As a reader, these were just a few of the many questions your puzzle caused me to ask.

Finally (and this is a very small complaint), while looking over your submission, one of your clues struck me as particularly problematic. Obviously, we here at the Times are unopposed to including, how shall we say, non-traditional answers within our puzzles. For example, the clue “ABC, easy as ___” would have the non-alphabetic answer “123.”

But with that in mind, I would now like you to consider one of the clues you wrote in your puzzle. You wrote:

  • 62 down — Draw his face. Draw his face. Draw the face of Harrison Chafitz. Draw it. Draw it now.

This clue is clearly problematic for several key reasons. Not only does it explicitly reveal the answer to your puzzle’s four longest clues (as mentioned above, the name “Harrison Chafitz” appears four times). But, more importantly, this specific clue relies on your audience’s ability to, ostensibly, draw a scale model of a man’s face within a single crossword square — a feat that most would consider to be difficult, nigh impossible.

In addition (and again, this is very small complaint), but this particular clue does not seem to be related in the slightest to the rest of your puzzle. Especially given that it is enclosed within its own, individual border (see below):

For reference, here is the clue in question:

Making a crossword puzzle is no small feat. And we here at the Times commend your ingenuity and unconventional élan. But regrettably, for all these reasons (and many, many more), we will be unable to run your puzzle within the pages of our lauded publication.

All the best,

Will Shortz, Puzzle Editor of the New York Times 

P.S. If you’re still looking for a publisher, please do try sending your puzzle off to the good folks at the L.A. Times. Those guys’ll publish anything.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where the problem of man-made climate change weighs heavily upon us. Not as heavily as animated films about penguins, though.

If We Let The Ice Caps Melt, How Will We Explain The Plot Of Happy Feet Two To Our Children?

By:
dcaprera@gmail.com

Our polar ice caps have never been more at risk; the planet’s North and South Poles are shrinking at an alarming rate and, if allowed to continue, the consequences of this glacial thawing could be truly catastrophic. Now, more than ever, we must think towards the future…if we let our ice caps melt, how will we ever explain the plot of Happy Feet Two — the 2011 animated smash sequel about penguins who can tap dance — to our children?

Seriously. When will we as a society realize that we’re just playing Russian Roulette with our children’s lives? And that every chamber in this metaphorical gun has been filled with a hollow-point bullet that reads: “In thirty years our precious children won’t have the cognitive infrastructure to comprehend the plot of Happy Feet Two (wherein the emperor penguin, Mumble, returns from the first Happy Feet movie and uses his powers of song and dance to convince the elephant seals of Elephant Seal Beach to destroy an iceberg on Emperor Land and return music to the fantastical realm of Antarctica).”

How can we just stand idly by and RUIN our children’s future comprehension of the world’s second-greatest film about animated penguins voiced by Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, and Hugo Weaving? Will our children even know what a penguin is? And, if not, how will they ever fully grasp why they have to tap dance again on the silver screen?

These are the questions that consume me.

Hypothetical scenario: pretend it’s the near future. The year 2047. And Earth’s ice caps have disappeared like a succulent cuttlefish into the mouth of a dancing penguin. Now imagine that I was so incompetently dimwitted as to bring a child into this damned ice-free dystopia. If my “son” (who, in this hypothetical scenario, is named Jeffrey) grows up in a world without ice caps, how will I possibly explain those aforementioned Happy Feet Two plot points to him? Will he understand that Emperor Land is a reference to emperor penguins? Will he realize that Mumble’s son Erik is different because, unlike his father, Erik cannot dance (which is something that penguins don’t normally do anyways)?

How will I have the gosh darned courage to bring my hypothetical darling Jeffrey to my study, sit him down on my favorite well-worn hypothetical leather armchair, and desperately try to explain that “in Happy Feet Two, Ramon (everyone’s favorite fast-talking Adelie penguin) finally finds love” only to see the tears well out of his confused and uncomprehending eyes like ice melting off of a glacier?

No father should have to put his child through that kind of hell.

Of course, not everything will be ruined by this all-too-possible future…For example, without Antarctica, will our beautiful babies have trouble understanding a synopsis of the first Happy Feet movie? No. Definitely not. The first Happy Feet‘s themes of bravery, self-discovery, and growth in the face of adversity are timeless. With or without ice caps. You don’t need to know what a penguin is to know that Mumble’s love is true.

But the way that Happy Feet Two expands upon the Happy Feet universe for an uninterrupted 117 minutes; or the fact that Happy Feet Two eschews many of its predecessor’s timeless themes in favor of intricate, location-specific exposition… these nuanced details require a thorough grounding in the norms and conventions of polar ice caps. Without them, our children won’t have enough background information to understand even 1/10th of the plot of Happy Feet Two.

Which is unacceptable.

Folks, unless we take a stronger stance against global climate change, there will be drastic consequences for future generations. And I don’t know about you, but I want live in a world where my Jeffrey has hypothetical children of his own; children who know that, in Happy Feet Two, Lovelace (the pompous rockhopper penguin) rips his iconic rainbow sweater after dancing too hard to the song “Under Pressure.” Because they learned about it from their father. And sure, things may seem desperate right now…but weren’t things equally desperate for the penguins of Emperor Land when they were trapped beneath that iceberg?

If we don’t act now, our children will never understand how powerful that last sentence was meant to be.

 

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