Thursday, August 30, 2007

Unimportant things that are wrong with the world (1)

The prize for the Observer cryptic crossword is a dictionary. The prize for the Sunday Times cryptic crossword is a pen.

I have been unable to come up with a scenario in which someone who can complete a prize cryptic crossword does not already own a dictionary and a pen.

Ms Melancholy is rather good at cryptic crosswords. She popped down to the treehouse a couple of weeks ago to visit Badger and I, and we did so many crosswords that when I read a sports headline this week saying "Kelly wins our first (and last) medal?" I immediately started unscrambling it.

I am no longer able to interpret meaning literally, but instead am looking for obscure alternative contexts. The cyberneticist Gregory Bateson wrote a wonderful paper on Schizophrenia which is included in "Steps to an Ecology of Mind", which talks about the Schizophrenic experience as being one of taking the information but shifting the context. I have no direct personal experience of the condition, which is of course really just a blanket term for a set of experiences, as we have no 'piss-on-a-stick' test for it as far as I know, but I have met quite a few people with differences in perception or communication which would be loosely lassoed into the 'Schizophrenia' pen, and it does feel like cryptic crosswords are quite a good fit.

On the other hand, Badger's interpretation of the world can often involve the sort of literal meaning-taking that produces similarly bizarre interpretations. Ms Melancholy and I had been out and about, and were coming back to eat some lovely Thai Green Prawn curry that super-chef Badger was whizzing up for us all. Ms Melancholy made a quick phone call to Badger once we knew we were about 15 minutes away ...

Ms M: Hi Badger! Yes, we're not far away - just on the M25 about to hit the A3, do you want us to pick anything up for you?

Badger: Off the M25? Pick me something up off the M25? I don't think so ... no ...

Bless. I suppose Badger was just answering the exact question Ms M had asked!

Funnily enough we didn't come home with a traffic cone, road kill or a single shoe. Speaking of which - why do people throw shoes into the central reservation? Is it because they left the other one on the top of a bus shelter?

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15 Comments:

Blogger Badger said...

Hee... I was confused because in my last life I thought I was a rabbit and I lived at the Wisley junction on the M25 and so when Ms M said you were at that junction I thought she was refering to my rabbithood years. Hence my confusion about picking something up. She could have meant mixy, a carrot, some fresh grass. It was like a rabbit cross badger fog.

Badger x

30 August, 2007 11:59  
Anonymous trousers said...

I used to struggle with the Guardian cryptic - I could do maybe half of it on a good day, or on a rare VERY good day, about two thirds.

Then one night I came back from the pub and finished it in (comparatively) no time.

I wonder if there's any research about taking the "wrong" things literally and the "right" things metaphorically, if you see what I mean. Something in Oliver Sacks territory (not literally).

Interesting thoughts about schizophrenia.

Nice to see you posting regularly again - would you give Ms Melancholy a call and ask her to do the same? :-)

30 August, 2007 17:39  
Blogger Stray said...

Hey Badger :)

Aw! I'd forgotten about your past life as a road-side rabbit. It explains a lot doesn't it?

Hello trousers!

It very much depends who has set the Guardian Cryptic for me ... and whether Arucaria has made it some themed bizarre circular referencing exercise at the same time! I seem to either get none or about half. I don't think I've ever managed over half the Guardian on my own. The Observer Everyman is a different kettle of ball games of course.

Ah yes ... been tooooo busy for blogging recently. Work is really really really full on - which is fab because I run my own business and the bank manager will be rather chuffed, but does leave little time for blogging, and as I mostly do online things for work I do try to look away from the screen from time to time :)

As for Ms Melancholy ... I imagine she's in that post-holiday pre-back-to-school cyclone that whips up around parents at the end of the summer hols.

That research sounds interesting - if there isn't any, perhaps we could do some? That's exactly what Bateson's stuff was about - that there are many levels of message in a message ... including some information about whether it is a joke, a riddle, a question, a statement, ironic, self-aware, developing thought, teasing etc etc. His argument is broadly that people with certain types of psychosis (define that how you wish, as it seems to be rather dependent not on the nature of your thought but the number of other people who will stand up and say they share it) are twisting the meta-information about the nature of the message.

Lx

30 August, 2007 17:58  
Blogger Caroline said...

please please please promise that you will never ever ever ever buy me a cryptic crossword book. Please.
I can not see how you can have fun with cryptic crosswords ... would you care to explain? ;-0
I'm with Badger on the M25 pick-up. I would have thought hitchhiker. People should always be clear!
I'm a bit jealous that you, Badger and Ms M have met up again. I miss you all
:(
x

30 August, 2007 18:40  
Blogger Stray said...

Aw! Cas - I promise not to buy you any cryptic crosswords ever!

I don't think I would like a book. I like the newspaper ... it means that a few days later it is definitely old news and I don't have to worry about it any more.

Yes, Badger and I are very lucky that Ms M's bestest oldest friend who has just had a baby lives very near to us. We get all the free therapy you could ever need!

Sx

30 August, 2007 18:45  
Blogger Jon M said...

I was trying to think up a really clever cryptic response to this but I'm not a very cryptic person, nor am I clever really so.... Packed at the end of the one who came first after Homer's expletive!

It's quite fun to just write in any words you want, especially in public cos everyone looks on in awe!

30 August, 2007 19:14  
Blogger Misssy M said...

Shoes are one thing.... But for years an old tree down our street had a pair of pants hanging from the high branches. There's a story behind that. And I want to know it.

30 August, 2007 19:24  
Anonymous Daisy-Winifred said...

And some of us take years to get one sentance out with punctuation and capitalization in the right places and still the sense is in the spaces:0) Isn't cryptic how everyone thinks and talks or is that why people looked coinfused around me?

30 August, 2007 19:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh how I wish there was a piss on a stick test for various things!! stories of single shoes always remind me of the ghandi-sandal story...xF

30 August, 2007 22:02  
Blogger That's so pants said...

Hi Stray,

Cryptic crosswords just annoy me. The other day I managed to crack a 'Hard' Guardian sudoku puzzle for the first time. I already own five calculators so I had to content myself with a glass of wine as a prize. It worked perfectly well.

xxx

Pants

30 August, 2007 22:09  
Blogger Ms Melancholy said...

Frankly I would be so delighted to win something that I wouldn't care if it was a poxy pen or another dictionary. The only problem is how we would then share said prize between us? Shared custody might work, but would cost us in postage. You could buy me out I suppose, and I could buy something more useful with my half. Like a Star Bar.

Thanks for your lovely hospitality, Stray and Badger. The tree house is a fab place to rest up, so long as the snakes stay where they belong.

31 August, 2007 09:23  
Blogger Stray said...

jon m - I have no idea if that is a viable cryptic clue or just the first 15 random words that came out of your head :)

Misssy M - What are you waiting for? Surely there's a novel in the finding out, even if you never reach the bottom of the mystery of the hanging pants. (pardon the pun).

DW - ah yes, the spaces between are what hold the pattern in place, whether architecture or chemistry or conversation :)

F - me too! Right now I'd like a piss-on-a-stick test for whether I am going to get my work finished before the deadline. Or do I mean a crystal ball?

Pants - well done! A fine prize indeed. My ex just used to shove any old numbers in the boxes, refusing to acknowledge that there was any sense to sudoku solutions at all. She said any old numpty could write the numbers 1-9 down in boxes :)

Ms M - shared custody might be more viable once Badger and I have relocated further north, though the idea of buying you out with a StarBar is quite appealing, except that I've already got several dictionaries and quite a few pens. Hmmm. Would you like a StarBar anyway? A prize from me for being clever :)

31 August, 2007 10:42  
Blogger Jon M said...

It was meant to be: 'wonderful' I'll stick to trying to stay cheerful! :-)

31 August, 2007 20:17  
Blogger Caroline said...

what's a Starbar????
x

01 September, 2007 16:05  
Blogger Stray said...

Jon M - ah! Ok, see we usually have a 'clue' as well - so the beginning or the end of the whole cryptic statement is a hint at what the meaning is. And when you're using a 'sounds like' (as in der / duh) then you'd give an indication of that as well.

So ... to be legal, you'd have to rewrite it as something like "Awesome one is packed after hearing homer's expletive". The "!" means that you need to use a part of the clue twice, so unless you intended it then you'd leave that out :) Good clue though!

Lovely Cas a StarBar is a chocolate bar from Cadburys that was my favourite as a child, and not many people are familiar with. Bizarrely it is also Ms M's favourite :) It's basically chunky peanut butter wrapped in caramel and chocolate. Yum yum! They were really hard to get hold of for about 15 years, and suddenly they've made a come back!

02 September, 2007 11:47  

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