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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Curveballs: Jane Austen Meets Will Shortz

I have often credited my longstanding addiction to American crossword puzzles (particularly those edited by Will Shortz for the NY Times during the past 20 years) with having particularly trained and sensitized me to the sort of wordplay that I have found in Jane Austen's writing, and which is at the heart of Jane Austen's shadow stories. In a nutshell, only in hindsight did I realize that my learning the Will Shortz Code was the perfect preparation to make the leap to the Jane Austen Code.


In today's NY Times puzzle, there is a _particularly_ good illustration of exactly what I mean by this  (so if any of you actually does the NY Times crossword puzzle, and hasn't done this one yet, you should wait to read the rest of this post until you've done the puzzle!)

This was an unusual puzzle, because it came with an explicit hint as to a hidden pattern, as follows:

"Note: Four answers in this puzzle are incomplete. The missing part can be found in four other places in the grid."

The puzzle was fairly easy for a Thursday puzzle, and I quickly figured out which those four incomplete answers were:

1 Across: Start of a  motto first published in an 1844 book:   All for ___
7 Across: 1967 disaster: Apollo ___
59 Across: Serious rap:  Murder ___
60 Across: Sports coup: Hole in ___

I am sure it did not take you long to realize that the word that would make each of these incomplete answers complete is the word "one":

All for one, Apollo One, Murder One, and Hole in one.

So far so good, a nice additional twist to spice up an otherwise routine puzzle.

But...it was only as I was getting ready to put the completed puzzle aside and go to sleep (I download these puzzles the night before, and do them just before bedtime, as a good way to put the outside world out of my mind, and get drowsy), that I looked again at the completed puzzle, and suddenly realized the one _additional_ twist which Will Shortz (editor) and Brude Haight (constructor of this particular puzzle) had slyly embedded in their puzzle, which brought Jane Austen immediately to my mind.

Do you see what it is that caught my eye?  It's a _pun_, leading to an additional layer of meaning---it's literally hiding in plain sight.

To those so inclined to give it a go and try to figure out what I am referring to, a caveat: you probably won't see the additional trick at first, but if you are patient, and reread the above several times,and let it all sink into your mind, it just might pop out at you, as it popped out at me. Or you can just scroll down a dozen lines for the answer....


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The answer to 1 Across, after it is completed, is "All for one", and of course this refers to the first half of the motto of the Three Musketeers.

But....if you were asked to describe the way that the Note actually played out in this puzzle, you might just say, "All _four_ one", meaning that the word that completes ALL FOUR of the incomplete clues is ONE!

Isn't that cool? But what I like best about this final twist in the puzzle is that they _didn't_ tell us that this extra punny layer of meaning was there--it was up to the puzzle solver to realize that there was another layer of meaning, and discover what it was. In my case, both of those events occurred in my brain at the same moment--very exhilarating!

That is _exactly _  what Jane Austen did in her novels, with her shadow stories being that extra layer of meaning, but with an incredibly sophisticated structure of puns and other wordplay that I call the Jane Austen Code.

Readers of novels (and "readers" of real life) mostly operate on the assumption that the author will tell you, explicitly, what you need to know in order to fully understand what you're reading.

But today's puzzle, and Jane Austen's novels, and real life itself, all occasionally throw you a curve, and leave it to _you_ to figure out that there's more than one way to hit that curve.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I'd love to hear if any of you reading this were able to find that final layer without cheating, and I'd also be thrilled if anyone reading this post (a) begins reading Jane Austen for the first time, and/or (b) begins doing Will Shortz's crossword puzzles for the first time. 

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