City Desk

What In the Name of All That Is Holy Is Ron Rosenbaum Going on About?

Every journalist, at some point in his or her life, must write the "I've seen something out in the world which confuses me" piece. Andy Rooney does it every week. Me, I've publicly scratched my head about umbrellas. But I tried to keep my whining to a couple of sentences, and Rooney's done gassing in a couple minutes. Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum, by all accounts otherwise a man with a fine brain, has dedicated more than 2,000 words to his confusion about crosswords and sudoku.

Rosenbaum's thesis, such as it is, is that people who do such puzzles are somehow doing harm to their own intelligence. To argue this point, he opens with the deadliest lede in creation, then frosts this dry cupcake with punny sprinkles for us to gag on:

Doing puzzles reflects not an elevated literary sensibility but a degraded letter-ary sensibility

What are some of the other defenses of the puzzle people? "It trains the mind.".... I'd say that instead it drains the mind.

Rosenbaum's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer shtick would be funny if he revealed any effort to actually understand what he's discussing. He picks up a copy of Will Shortz' Funniest Crossword Puzzles, then expresses bafflement because he read the first five clues and didn't crap himself with laughter. [Nerd hat on]To the extent crosswords are funny, the humor is in the answers to the themed clues.[Nerd hat off] Later, Rosenbaum congratulates himself on his intellectual superiority after watching a fellow working a crossword that has the clue "Mauna ___." "Whew, though one, dude," bleats Rosenbaum. [Nerd hat on]The answer could be either LOA or KEA, and it's perfectly sensible to delay filling out the answer there.[Nerd hat off]

The running theme in Rosenbaum's piece is that people who do puzzles could better spend their time reading. "Need I suggest that those who spend time doing crossword puzzles (or sudoku)...could be doing something else that involves words and letters? It's called reading," he writes. (Here's a fun puzzle: Imagine you're Ron Rosenbaum and try to write about something without egregiously overusing italics. If you can do it, you win!) Is it too much to ask that reporters writing a piece spend a little time doing more research before embarrassing themselves in public? Rosenbaum, surely tugging on his suspenders as he guffaws, notes that the Times crossword offers a toll number for people to call to "buy a clue." This is the Comstock Lode of pun-rich hilarity to him. "But couldn't it be said that even people who don't have to buy a clue, but spend their time pursuing clues to the meaningless puzzles, are clueless?"

Oh, Ron. Just drop me a line. I'll clue you in for free.

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  • Arthur Delaney

    I doff my nerd hat to you, Athitakis.

    Rosenbaum, consider yourself PWNED.

  • Jon88

    As rants go (per your tag), this is pretty mild. Much nicer than the vituperation that's been floating through the puzzle community.

  • RP

    I don't know, this is more withering than almost anything I've read (or written). "Punny sprinkles for us to gag on"? Wish I'd thought of that.