April 24, 2020

I loved today's NYT crossword — thought it was especially enjoyable... full of challenging, interesting words...

... but my favorite NYT crossword blogger, Rex Parker, hated it:
Before I was half done, I had exclaimed "what?" or else audibly groaned something like half a dozen times. This thing was stale the second I bit into it (i.e. at TIETACK), and though parts of it are decent, the overall taste was unpleasant, for sure. Fitting that it has ARCHAISM in it, because it felt old and ... old. In a bad way. In the way where ... like in the olden days, when you just had to know random biological trivia or you were ****ed. BRISTLECONE PINE? SHAGBARK? News to me and *real* news to me, respectively. Take your botanical fetish back to the Maleskan era, thank you kindly....
Wait! My favorite thing was bristlecone pine. The clue was: "Tree that's among the oldest known life forms on earth (4,800+ years)." How can that be a mere "fetish"? There's a kind of tree on earth that was alive in 2700 B.C. — the end of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt, the time of the mythical Yellow Emperor in China and the construction of the Caral metropolis in Peru...
No trace of warfare has been found at Caral: no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Shady's findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure. In one of the temples, they uncovered 32 flutes made of condor and pelican bones and 37 cornetts of deer and llama bones. One find revealed the remains of a baby, wrapped and buried with a necklace made of stone beads....
I knew bristlecone pine because I had just read the January 20th New Yorker article "The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees/Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity" by Alex Ross. A great read!
About forty-five hundred years ago, not long after the completion of the Great Pyramid at Giza, a seed of Pinus longaeva, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, landed on a steep slope in what are now known as the White Mountains, in eastern California...

After four or five years, the seedling on the steep slope would have been just a few inches higher, sprouting needles in place of the embryonic shoots. The needles are a deep green, tough, resinous, and closely bunched, in groups of five. On a mature tree, they live for fifty years or more. Decades may have passed before the tree was human height, and decades more before it resembled a conventional pine. Bristlecone saplings grow straight up, with relatively sparse foliage, looking like undernourished Christmas trees. After a few hundred years—by which time the Old Kingdom of Egypt had fallen—it was probably forty or fifty feet in height....

As the millennia go by, bristlecones become contorted and wraithlike. The main stem, or leader, dies back. Entire branches, even the trunk itself, become fossils. At first glance, the tree may look dead. Such is the case of the forty-five-hundred-year-old tree that clings to life near the tourist path that now runs through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Spears of dead wood jut into the air. The trunk is a marbled hulk stripped of bark, like driftwood thrown from a vanished ocean. A ribbon of live bark runs up one side, funnelling water and nutrients to clumps of green needles high above. All told, the tree is an unprepossessing specimen; most people march past it without giving it a second glance. When I sat by the tree for an hour last July, the only visitor who took any notice of it was a dog named Dougie, who briefly sniffed the trunk and then darted away....
Rex Parker has an aversion to oldness.  The "Maleskan era" refers to the time when Eugene Maleska was the NYT crossword editor, 1977-1993. Maleska was born in 1916, so he was still deciding what a NYT crossword should be when he was 77 years old. There's a fear that young people won't take up crossword solving, because they'll run into clues about things from an era that older solvers actually lived through, making it seem as though the puzzle is constructed for old people. As an older person myself, I can see I sometimes have an advantage, but I don't feel a special warmth when, say, a 60s TV show comes up in the clues. I am, though, embarrassed for the NYT when it strains to look up to date by referencing a rap artist (almost always Dr. Dre, because "DRE" is an easy to cross sequence of letters), computer stuff (ETAIL!), and slang (YOLO!).

It's one thing to fuss over the problem of oldness when you're asking for things that came up during the life of some but not all crossword solvers. But that problem crumbles to nothing when you're talking about truly old things... and all honor and glory to the bristlecone pine.

35 comments:

Ken B said...

How odd, to think knowing which is the oldest tree is a fetish but knowing what “maleskan” means isn’t.

Wince said...

The clue was: "Tree that's among the oldest known life forms on earth (4,800+ years)."

Isn't that in 'Jesus hopped a ride on a dinosaur' territory?

Bill Crawford said...

Bristlecone Pine

Barry Dauphin said...

Bristlecone pine-- Michael Mann thinks there's a "hockey stick" in there somewhere.

Original Mike said...

We CTed bristlecone pine logs once. They had high-Z material inside them, which puzzled us at first, but we concluded it was probably sand grains (the atomic number of Si is 14) that got into crevasses and then the tree grew around them.

Original Mike said...

"Bristlecone pine-- Michael Mann thinks there's a "hockey stick" in there somewhere."

The problem with using bristlecones as temperature proxies is that propensity for so much die back. There's a term for this which escapes me right now. It didn't faze Mann, though it should have.

Lucid-Ideas said...

"Shady's findings suggest it was a gentle society..."

Sure. That's what they want you to believe.

rcocean said...

What is the NYT doing to address the issue of race and gender in its crossword puzzle? It seems to be a very white thing. Not only that, it seems to be a very female thing. I wonder if there's any data on how many young, black men are doing the NYT puzzle? How many women? How many Puerto Ricans?

rcocean said...

Actually, lots of young people know about 60's TV shows because of cable TV and DVD's. My daughter was a big fan of the Andy Griffith show for some reason.

Rick.T. said...

I'll stand up for the shagbark (hickory). I have two magificent specimens I ponder every day. The caterpillar of Citheronia regalis - for which they are one of the host plants - is called the Hickory Horned Devil and is the stuff of nightmares while the adult moth is a thing of beauty. A lesson in there somewhere, likely.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Actually, lots of young people know about 60's TV shows because of cable TV and DVD's. My daughter was a big fan of the Andy Griffith show for some reason.

Perhaps because it was a good show, well written and with engaging characters?

rhhardin said...

They haven't gone clickbait yet. Wait for 4 down, CUNT. Starts with V.

robother said...

Is Rex the model for Sheldon?

dbzdak said...

I started reading Rex Parker once when you linked to him and find him smart and interesting. But he's relentlessly negative, which eventually drove me away. I'm old enough to remember the Maleska era puzzles (lots of questions about the genus of various organisms - in Latin!). The Shortz era is vastly preferable.

Whirred Whacks said...

Michael Sharp is a douchebag. It’s his act.

Christy said...

I'm obsessed with the Norte Chico civilization. Did you know it developed in a rain shadow? And has communities well away from the shore or any river with middens full of the remains of shellfish. We know almost nothing about Caral, probably why it fascinates me. They and the Sea Peoples.

Ann Althouse said...

I think I enjoy reading Rex Parker in part because he does get so annoyed at various things. The exaggerated annoyance is good theater.

It's least amusing when it's political.

Fernandinande said...

Perhaps because it was a good show, well written and with engaging characters?

It was a clever trick to make Andy seem like a "good guy" after he hired his cousin as an incompetent abusive deputy.

Disclaimer: I was a big fan.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

It was a clever trick to make Andy seem like a "good guy" after he hired his cousin as an incompetent abusive deputy.

I think it was Aunt Bea of all people who once told Andy something to the effect that Barney was no prize, bless his heart.

The cousin thing only lasted for one episode as I recall.

traditionalguy said...

Pine trees are a nuisance. Exterminate them all. Cut down and burn up the bristle cone dodos first. How dare they get to live 100 human length lives. Thank God they don't draw Social Security.

traditionalguy said...

That was my attempt at " exaggerated annoyance." I need practice.

jaydub said...

It was a decent puzzle. Rex is still a douche bag.

tim maguire said...

Shady's findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure.

Then they probably had woke idiots too.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The annoying thing about crossword puzzles. It seems that at the beginning of the week all of the puzzle makers are given a list of words to work into their puzzles. You see a common thread of word and various definitions. It makes the solving too easy when every puzzle is going to include those listed words.

rcocean said...

Bristlecone has a nice "woody" sound. A nice woody name.

rcocean said...

What's all this fuss about Puerto Rico being a steak?

Glida Radner being annoyed.

rcocean said...

Maybe Andy killed his first wife, we didn't hear much about her, did we?

rcocean said...

Clue: Many parts are edible.

Solution: Pine Trees.

Fernandinande said...

I think it was Aunt Bea of all people who once told Andy something to the effect that Barney was no prize, bless his heart.
The cousin thing only lasted for one episode as I recall.


Yeah, I think there was one mention of the "cousin" relationship in Ep 1 or 2, but Barney also had a "cousin Virgil", played by the weird Michael Pollard, who would then also be Andy's cousin...or brother(!)

Peter said...

Why don’t Americans do *proper* crosswords — cryptics?

Whiskeybum said...

"Crossword blogger" - talk about your non-essential jobs!

robother said...

I worry that Rex is taking Crossword too literally. I was raised on the Great Plains, where seldom was heard a cross word, and the skies were not cloudy all day.

PM said...

1. Rex Parker is a deft xsolver, a cruel, gayishly funny, reviewer and a retarded political commenter.

2. Hiked the Eastern Sierra since the 70s. Almost as long as those White Mtn trees been around. State just cancelled opening day at Crowley. Lucky trout.

MD Greene said...

The puzzles have become twee and downright annoying.

We had cut back to only the Sunday NYT, but two weeks ago my diehard Democrat spouse told me not to bring the paper into the house anymore. His complaint: The news department is actually rooting for the coronavirus to kill more people AND the economy because that will be bad for Donald Trump.

No big loss.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

"The exaggerated annoyance is good theater." What annoys me is that the virtue signaling is always so predictably politically correct - so that bloody monster Che always gets a pass. But I'm not so annoyed I don't always click over to see what he has to say.