August 25, 2017

"Raccoon in a Dumpster"? Who knew "Dumpster" is a brand name?

Did you, like me, have trouble with today's NYT crossword because the clue "Raccoon in a Dumpster" seemed to refer to something more specific — a fictional character? — than just a raccoon in a dumpster? I see Rex Parker — who bills himself as King of CrossWorld (as opposed to just another king of one of many crossworlds) — also got tripped up by the capitalization:
And then there was the SE [corner of the puzzle], where the capitalization of Dumpster (49A: Raccoon in a Dumpster, e.g.) really, really threw me. I thought "Raccoon in a Dumpster" was a show or a meme or something. A title, at any rate. Certainly not a plain old raccoon in a plain old Dumpster-brand Dumpster. Argh.
Speaking of tripped up, I would never — like Rex — have written in "LSD" for the clue "Hallucinogen nicknamed 'embalming fluid.'" It took me a while to get to the right answer — PCP — but I know enough about LSD to know that "embalming fluid" is not an apt descriptive.

Anyway, here's the Wikipedia article for "Dumpster," which I'd never before understood as a brand name:
The word is a genericized trademark of Dumpster, an American brand name for a specific design.... The word "dumpster", first used commercially in 1936, came from the Dempster-Dumpster system of mechanically loading the contents of standardized containers onto garbage trucks, which was patented by Dempster Brothers in 1935. The containers were called Dumpsters, a blending of the company's name with the word dump....
Genericized. We should have been saying "Dumpster-brand garbage containers" all this time.

By the way, the answer for "Raccoon in a Dumpster" was "forager."

ADDED: I'm not coordinating my themes with James Lileks, but he happens to be writing about the NYT crossword this morning. Nothing about Raccoon in a Dumpster. He's talking about the perennial charge that the NYT crossword is old and white:
So the crossword is old and white. So what? Well, it’s in the Times, and thus it should be inclusive, and that means abandoning terms that Young Persons of Color don’t get, or, if they do get them, don’t find them appropriate for the newspaper....
This is a problem Rex Parker often writes about. I think what's more important than abandoning any terms is not having the puzzle full of words that older middle-class white people know fairly easily but other people would have to look up. It might be fun for me to fill in the names of characters from 1960s TV shows but just a drag for somebody who was born in 1995. As for now-frowned-upon terms like "Eskimo" — which Lileks discusses at the link — the problem is more the casual reliance on the word. It shouldn't be appearing in puzzles frequently, and it should have a clue that acknowledges that it's not currently in use, not something light-hearted like "______ Pie.'"

64 comments:

CJinPA said...

People need to know their brand names. We could xerox this post and send to it to friends, but that would just be putting a band-aid on it. Let's all vow to take a q-tip to our ears and listen more closely to branding efforts. Too harsh? Here's a kleenex.

Hope this posts. My Lenovo's been acting up.

robother said...

Ok. The Demptster-Dumpster was arcana I picked up while serving as a sanitation engineer over 3 summers in college. But capitalizing Raccoon? Did the Beatles trademark (Rocky) Raccoon?

The Godfather said...

I recall that in my youth we called them "Dempsey Dumpsters".

CStanley said...

A public service announcement for any readers who might be novice campers...tightly sealed heavy duty plastic storage bins are not raccoon proof.

Since we weren't camping in bear country we thought we were ok but on the first night had raccoon foragers. They quickly ate all of my homemade blueberry muffins and when we finally ran them off one raccoon (according to my son in law) was running away on his hind legs while carrying a box of pop tarts in his hands. As annoying as the loss was, playing that scene in my mind's eye has given me lots of laughs.

Laslo Spatula said...

An Oral History of ‘Dumpster Fire’

Silvia Killingsworth, The Awl & The Hairpin

"Maybe every year has its variation on a theme. A quick search of my inbox reveals the phrase “hot garbage” (or worse, “hot garb”) was big in 2013-15. The Internet is full of viral verbal tics like this, just like any other grouping of humans all talking to each other in close quarters in a tiny box. That’s how language works! This phrase in particular reveals a fun way to intensify: take something that’s bad (trash) and make it worse (set it on fire). Just when you think a pile of shit couldn’t get it worse, light it up! Things are only ever getting worse! This is what Alex Balk and Father Time have taught me."

I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

Only you can prevent dumpster fires.

David Begley said...

That's why Waste Management has the Bagster™.

SeanF said...

robother: Ok. The Demptster-Dumpster was arcana I picked up while serving as a sanitation engineer over 3 summers in college. But capitalizing Raccoon? Did the Beatles trademark (Rocky) Raccoon?

The first word of the clue is always capitalized.

I don't get the complaints like this about crossword puzzle clues (some time ago, Ann complained about a different one - I don't remember the specifics, but I know it involved a conductor's baton and the word "stick"). They're not supposed to be obvious, you know.

CJinPA said...

one raccoon (according to my son in law) was running away on his hind legs while carrying a box of pop tarts in his hands. As annoying as the loss was, playing that scene in my mind's eye has given me lots of laughs.

Me too!

rehajm said...

Things are only ever getting worse!

Not if you love entropy!

Ann Althouse said...

" But capitalizing Raccoon? Did the Beatles trademark (Rocky) Raccoon?"

The first letter of every clue is capitalized. This convention is often used to make clues harder, either by making us think that the first word is a proper noun OR by making us think the first word is not a proper noun. There's so much potential here, and many very clever clues have taken advantage of the unknowability of the whether the letter would be capitalized if it appeared elsewhere in the clue.

In this particular clue, capitalizing "dumpster" tipped us into thinking the "raccoon" was a proper name, when it wasn't, but often we're tricked the other way, with a word like "bird" that we know can be a name but don't think is being used as a name. For example "Bird with a basket" could confuse you if you assumed it was only upper case because it's the first word in a clue, but eventually you realize the answer is "Larry."

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't get the complaints like this about crossword puzzle clues... They're not supposed to be obvious, you know."

We know that. Especially on a Friday or Saturday puzzle. The clues are made harder and we appreciate clever ways of making clues harder. But sometimes the WAY the clue is made harder is annoying for some reason or just weird enough to want to comment on, which is the case with "Raccoon in a Dumpster." The way we were misdirected was intriguing, and once you get it right, you're not thinking: Oh, that was clever, they got me there. You're thinking: Dumpster is a proper noun?! Nothing wrong with the clue, really. Just surprising to see a fact in the world that had never come to my attention.

Birkel said...

We called them Dempsey Dumpsters as a kid.

Bob Ellison said...

The Dumpster was invented by Thomina Dump in 1911. Queen Elizabeth II honored Dump in 1952 by naming her Lady Dump. To this day, "Lady Dump" is celebrated in most places...

This is going nowhere. Cancel the Pixar meeting.

rhhardin said...

Word puzzles. I included a "game of moo" in software systems sold to telephone companies, which turned out to be wildly popular. It can be played with two people though.

You try to guess a five letter word with no repeated letters by guessing five letter words with no repeated letters.

Each letter in your guess that's also in the word itself is a cow.

Each letter in your guess that's also in the word itself in the same position is also a bull (as well as a cow, just a counting rule).

For each guess, you learn how many bulls and how many cows.

Take turns, first to guess the other's word wins.

Strategy: always guess something compatible with everything you've learned.

"adieu" is a good first guess. If my word is "snipe" your guess gets 1 bull 2 cows, 1 bull for the i in the right place and 2 cows for the i and the e.

Count carefully and double check. It really fucks up the other guy if you miscount.

A game runs about a commuter train ride in length, usually.

Curious George said...

"Just surprising to see a fact in the world that had never come to my attention."

Is it? I would think the closest you've come to the ins and outs of waste management is telling Meade take out the garbage. ;-)

tcrosse said...

This explains it all.

The NYT Crossword is Old and Kind of Racist

Big Mike said...

Foragers, just like homeless people who should be in an institution but aren't because of the great and noble cause of "deinstitutionalization" back in the 80s.

Ralph L said...

One of my dad's USNA friends brought a Dempster heiress to their 35th reunion. We hosted a battalion brunch at our house. She and I shoveled the drunk classmate back to their hotel.

Big Mike said...

@Mary, I thought every woman knows what a Michael Kors bag costs. Wife's opinion is that they're passé.

Quayle said...

"Just surprising to see a fact in the world that had never come to my attention."

Well Ann, whose fault is that? As my ol' Pappy used to say, "Facts don't just come to your attention. Your attention has to go out and find them."

(Actually, my ol' Pappy never said that.)

(And I never called him Pappy.)

(I just wanted to post something about Ann being surprised at what must have been an embarrassing and serenity-disrupting encounter with a heretofore unnoticed fact, so I made it all up.)

(I'm tired of being a wannabe Laslo; I wannabe a Laslo.)

Lem said...

The dumpster fire meme is very popular among never trumpers.

Birkel said...

Quayle < Laslo

Sorry.

Birkel said...

(kidding Quayle)

mikeski said...

Simpsons did it first.

Wilbur said...

I, too, worked as a garbageman for 3 summers in college. But I worked for the city where I lived, so the only dumpsters ... excuse me, Dumpsters ... we handled were from those businesses that bribed the full-timers on the crew to dump their bin illegally.

Back then it was slingin' metal cans and fightin' dogs in the alleys, in the steaming summer heat. A good-paying union job that I was glad to have.

SeanF said...

Ann Althouse: Nothing wrong with the clue, really. Just surprising to see a fact in the world that had never come to my attention.

Fair enough. On re-reading, I see that the post isn't really a complaint, anyway. I think my memory of the previous post must've affected my interpretation of this post. Mea culpa.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Raccoon in a Dumpster" caused some synapses to pop and now I have the Smiths' "Girlfriend In a Coma" in my head.

I know, know it's serious.

I am Laslo.

Big Mike said...

Mary, a bunch of years ago I was driving back from a winter business trip and stopped off at the Hagerstown Outlet Mall to see if I could find a Christmas present for the wife. Found a gorgeous purse for her at the Coach outlet -- solid brass hardware, lots of pockets the right size for her phone and the other stuff she puts into pockets, lovely tan leather that should go with anything.

Only guy in the store. That should have warned me.

Got a new one ripped for me that Christmas morning. Men should never buy a purse for their wives. Nope. Do. Not. Do. That. A woman needs to check the weight, count the pockets, make sure her wallet fits, and the style has to be just so.

At that point I'd been married over 35 years and discovered something I didn't understand about my own wife. How we guys are supposed to understand women ... we shouldn't even bother to try.

She started using it the following fall and used it for years until the finish started wearing off the the leather. I might not be all that bright about the female of the species, but I never said a word.

n.n said...

"Raccoon in a Dumpster" was "forager."

That used to be "old and black", too, before they were reclassified by institutional diversity for purposes of leverage and profit.

Ipso Fatso said...

Unlike all of you, I actually saved a racoon (small r) trapped in a dumpster. He was scared and a little guy. We put a plank in the dumpster so he could get out and man did he run!! Hope he is doing well.

I am not Laslo

jaydub said...

AA "But sometimes the WAY the clue is made harder is annoying for some reason or just weird enough to want to comment on, which is the case with "Raccoon in a Dumpster."

Not really. The clue was "Raccoon in a Dumpster, e.g.", which is very different from just "Raccoon in a Dumpster," i.e., it did not refer to a specific thing but a class of things. The problem clue in today's puzzle was "State capital on the Indian Ocean", for which "Perth" was the desired answer, but Perth is on the Swan River and about 10 miles inland from the coast. Fremantle is the nearest city on the Indian Ocean.

You seem like my wife - she tends to over think the NYT crossword clues, too, and gets hung up on a word rather than trying to work the cross clues and backfill the problem word.

Nonapod said...

Laslo Spatula said...
An Oral History of ‘Dumpster Fire’


Pretty sure the first time a heard the terms Dumpster Fire and Hot Garbage (as well as Burning Car Wreck) used as metaphors was from Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb, and I pretty sure his usage predated 2013, but I'd have to listen to a bunch of old Bombcasts to be certain. I haven't the foggiest if he was the genesis of those terms, but he was certainly popularized them.

EDH said...

Look, I've decided to double-down on dumpster-fire as my least favorite term.

James Graham said...

Ahem.

This is not the first time you raised the question of "Dumpster" treating it as a question of grammar.

A few years back you asked why someone capitalized the "D" and I in your comments pointed out it was TM'd.

I think I was polite enough not to say that as a law professor you ought to have suspected that.

BTW I just read one of NYRB's reprints of out-of-copyright books. It was a mystery and people were drinking "cokes". I wonder if they'll get letters.

Levi Starks said...

You seriously need to learn more about LSD before you die.

James Graham said...

More on TMs.

"Aspirin" was once a TM owned by Bayer.

I've heard the TM was lost during WWI, taken by the US government as enemy property.

Or maybe they were just careless.

Robert Cook said...

I'm younger than you, Prof. Althouse, but I remember the term "Dempster Dumpster."

tcrosse said...

The international cachet of the NYT Crossword

Le NYT à Montréal

Chuck said...

Is Wu Tang Klan spelled with a "C" or a "K"?

How does the OED direct the spelling of "Fo shizzle"?

Is "Tha shi cray" a correct usage?

I have so many non-white crossword questions.

Chuck said...

Robert Cook said...
I'm younger than you, Prof. Althouse, but I remember the term "Dempster Dumpster."


Me too.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Of course "Dumpster" is a brand name. What did you think it was, a generic like Kleenex or Hoover? /sarc

Howard said...

Dumpster diving is great fun. I started my first business dumpster diving for industrial equipment, some of which still makes me money 25-years later. My 12 yo son got our first and only VCR from a dumpster... It was missing it's case and the boy figured out that he had to place a medium-size cobble on the circuit board to make it run. Now he's a MIT and Harvard trained mechanical engineer.

rhhardin said...

Eskokomos live in Indiana. They're retired Eskimos.

rhhardin said...

Eskimos have a thousand words for indian.

James K said...

So the crossword is old and white.

Ironic that some of the hardest clues (for me) involve the names of rappers.

Rick Turley said...

rhhardin said...

"Eskokomos live in Indiana. They're retired Eskimos."

Dang. I wish somebody had told me that when I graduated from Eskokomo High School back in the day. I probably could've gotten an affirmative action full ride Ivy League scholarship!

PS - I am still puzzled by that "Kokomo" song.

Howard said...

Are you referring to Blond Eskimos?

Charlie Currie said...

I'm with Godfather and Birkel - we knew them as a mispronunciation of the company/founder's name - Dempsey for Dempster. Ha

Yancey Ward said...

Kokomo is an island near Florida if you listen to the lyrics, but I don't think it is a real place.

Curious George said...

I went to Dempster Junior High in Mt. Prospect, IL. It was, not surprisingly, on Dempster Street, which runs from Algonquin Road in Mount Prospect all the way to Lake Michigan in Evanston, IL. No idea who it was named after.

tcrosse said...

To learn more about the Dempsters, I refer you to Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy

SeanF said...

Big Mike: How we guys are supposed to understand women ... we shouldn't even bother to try.

As a wise man once said, "Don't try to understand women, son - women understand women, and they hate each other."

wildswan said...

Cross words ensue
When you don't get a clue
And when you do.

Ann Althouse said...

"Not really. The clue was "Raccoon in a Dumpster, e.g.", which is very different from just "Raccoon in a Dumpster," i.e., it did not refer to a specific thing but a class of things."

The "e.g." doesn't mean the example can't be a proper name. For example "actor" could be clued "Brad Pitt, e.g."

Ann Althouse said...

"The "e.g." doesn't mean the example can't be a proper name. For example "actor" could be clued "Brad Pitt, e.g.""

So, for example. if "Raccoon in a Dumpster" were a specific character, say a comic strip character, then "Raccoon in a Dumpster, e.g." might be a clue for "cartoon."

Rick Turley said...

Curious George -

Reverend John Dempster

https://forums.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=223393&GRid=59841582&

Christy said...

Dumpster Dumpsters were developed here in Knoxville. Didn't know they were ever called anything else for years.

Sam L. said...

Oh, that evil, evil, evil, EVIL NYT crossword. How can the Gray Lady be so DANGED WHITE?

Al said...

If the first letter of any non-first word noun in a clue is capitalized, it is a proper noun.
For example, the clue "Country music Hall" for a four letter word, turned out to be "TomT."

Carter Wood said...

When I sat on a grand jury a while back, I was surprised at the number of PCP cases.

Never did the term embalming fluid came up. PCP was more typically called "water" or "juice" or "apple juice."

Embalming fluid makes sense, though. Marijuana soaked in embalming fluid has an extra kick (as I learned on one of the Law & Order franchises). PCP is generally consumed by soaking a cigarette or joint in the drug.


Howard said...

Angel Dust

jaydub said...

Interesting. I made a post at 9:17 which elicited two responses from AA, and I also subsequently replied to AA. But, both of AA's posts and my reply have been disappeared. Is a puzzlement, so to speak.

Skookum John said...

Preachy white liberal do-gooders have deprecated "Eskimo" in favor of "Inuit" for a couple of decades know. That's fine for people who really are Inuit, but there are many Alaskan natives who are not Inuit, for example the Yupik Eskimos, the tribe to which Todd Palin belongs. They much prefer Eskimo to Inuit.