As for me, I applaud both Mr. Ginsberg and Mr. Shortz for pushing the crossword humor envelope.
Jokes are little Darwinian memes. They compete amongst themselves to reproduce through retelling, they evolve, and when everyone has finally heard them, they show up as gags, er I mean as quips, in crossword puzzles. That's always been my problem with quip themes. If they're funny, they're already common currency. The Matt Ginsberg example in today's Sunday, July 13 puzzle (answers) distinguishes itself by being of questionable taste so that's a big plus. Not just for me, and I have the server logs to prove it. My most popular blog post of all time is What's your Offensiveness Index?
Who originated this joke? I remember it as a common email signature tag back in the 1990s but I had no luck tracking down the creator. Feel free to claim it's you. As far as I can tell, nobody can dispute you. Anyway, tell me what you think, both about quip puzzles in general and also ones that make you scream in terror or at least groan.
This is Mr. Ginsberg's fifth puzzle, all in 2008. I still remember his "1/64 of a checkerboard, maybe: Abbr." clue in January. There are some fine clues today too. "Take heat from" is UNARM. "Veiled comment" is, of course, I DO. I didn't know the word SPLIFF but I'll be sure to use it now. DEMESNE is the "Lord's land" or the area around an estate. Hale-BOPP is the one comet nearly everyone has seen. Charles Dickens is a favorite of word lovers like me and his shortest novel is HARD TIMES. Even if you've never read any Dickens, you're familiar with some of his opening passages. Hard Times begins with these wonderful paragraphs chock full of sage advice for crossword solvers:
“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”
THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir — peremptorily Thomas — Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind — no, sir!
Update: Some readers have inferred that I thought Mr. Ginsberg was taking credit for the quip himself. Not at all. Constructors quote famous gags all the time and the presumption is always that it's a third-party quote.
I've also been asked in email if I would have loved the crossword if I hadn't already known the gag. The answer is yes but to be clear, I loved it anyway. It's a solid and entertaining puzzle. I'm sure it's more fun for people who haven't heard the joke.
Finally, PhillySolver (who else?) dug up some biographical info on our constructor. It was written a year ago, before Dr. Ginsberg's first NYT publication. It's an interesting read.