Sunday, July 31, 2016

Connecting Words 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

In each sentence, two words appear in all-caps. Combine the words by adding a single letter that connects the two.


     This year, let's TRY renting a CABIN by the lake.


Sentences come in groups of seven. Keep track of the letters you add, because you will rearrange those letters to form a seven-letter word.

Our animal theme returns! Your seven-letter word will be the name of an animal.

Below are six groups of sentences, which means that upon completion, you will have a list of six animal names. Here's the bonus question:

Of your six animals, which two belong to the same taxonomic order?


Animal #1

     One of the parking VANS will give you a ride to your CAR.

     BUT if you know it's HERS, why are you keeping it?

     If ONLY you'd wiped your muddy shoes on the MAT.

     Doing reps with a curl BAR keeps the arm muscles in TONE.

     A baby cries if it WETS ITS diaper.

     We waited for AGES to catch a CAB.

     You can't USE the DORM bathroom—it's flooded.

Animal #2

     He loved to EAT chocolate MALT balls.

     The art-house horror movie wasn't GORY at ALL.

     CAN you see the man standing IDLY on the corner?

     The monster that charged out of the MIST was beyond my KEN.

     NOR, I might add, did you put your DISH in the sink.

     The GAR felt really ICKY in my hands.

     HIRE someone to tap those maple trees and collect the SAP.

Animal #3

     Are you seeing RED, or do you not much CARE?

     He CAST a wide NET in his job search.

     The DELI serves pickles with ITS sandwiches.

     FIE on you for not washing your DISH—again!

     In this video, the octopus INKS its pursuer AND escapes.

     Let's hope he TOES the line after the POT bust.

     Their disagreements were MILD until they WED.

Animal #4

     He PUT down his tools and stood IDLY against the wall.

     You should COMB that CAT more often.

     POP loved to LOLL on Sundays.

     Your ALLY will not LET you down.

     The ANT was no match for the STAG beetle.

     Tending the fire all night, SHE kept watch over the HERD.

     The dirigible began to LIST after its FIN cracked.

Animal #5

     The victorious STAG beetle quickly ATE the ant.

     The trainer gave me a long LIST of foods low in FAT.

     It was a mistake to RIDE the roller coaster with a stomach FLU.

     Believe it or not, you can rent a machine that produces MIST you can EAT.

     They built a house for the HENS using a KIT.

     His favorite bedtime drink is cocoa; HERS is TEA.

     Things looked GRIM for Jack after he raised the giant's IRE.

Animal #6

     The COP looked forward to drinking ICED tea on the porch after work.

     In summer, the SKI lodge LETS hikers use the trails.

     The rich old MAN took the CURE at Baden-Baden.

     I'll OPT against renting an edible MIST machine.

     Jakarta is a CITY of TEN million people.

     I got a pretty good TAN while I was in the Caribbean sampling RUMS.

     Why not send your MOM a CARD today?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Connecting Words 3

In each sentence below, two words appear in all-caps. Combine the words by adding a single letter that connects the two.


     This year, let's TRY renting a CABIN by the lake.


There are five sentences in all. Keep track of the letters you add, because afterwards you will rearrange those letters to form a five-letter word. Enjoy!

     Writers often POST to their blogs LATE at night.

     The mogwai had a SLY look on its face as Billy carried it out of the CURIO shop.

     The aging hedonist could no longer FIT into his DISCO pants.

     The barista EYED the customer coldly after he was CURT with her.

     A Roman COIN commemorating the IDES of March sold for $546,250 at auction.

N.B. In both previous Connecting Words puzzles, the final answers were animals; it was a sort of mild theme. So I should say up front that the answer to today's puzzle is not the name of an animal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Soft G

Find a word in which a soft g is followed by an a.

The idea behind this puzzle is that the letter g before an a is almost always hard, as in gaffe. This puzzle is looking for an exception to that general rule.

A friend gave me this puzzle with a specific word in mind, and although I didn't think of his word, I was able to think of a second solution. I don't know of any other good answers besides those two. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who Speaks in "Bantams in Pine-Woods"?

In a recent review of Paul Mariani's latest book, Helen Vendler accused Mariani of misreading the Wallace Stevens poem "Bantams in Pine-Woods." Vendler wrote: "Inexplicably, Mariani misunderstands this famous poem, saying that it is spoken by a pine tree." This is inexplicable, Vendler says, because it is common knowledge that the speaker in the poem is a bantam rooster.

Rooster talking versus tree talking—sounds like a big difference! How could there ever be a dispute about such a thing? Intrigued, I read the poem for myself. The poem's music is marvelous, but its meaning is obscure. The full text is online at, so I think it is OK to reproduce the poem here.

Bantams in Pine-Woods

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat!  Fat!  Fat!  Fat!  I am the personal.
Your world is you.  I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

I spent an hour after dinner reading the poem with a dictionary beside me. I looked up dictionary entries for bantam, point, tang, caftan, blackamoor, and a number of other words. In various cases, the dictionary helped me to sharpen the core meaning of a word, assess a range of peripheral meanings or connotations, consider a word origin, or check the pronunciation.

I was humbled by the number of words in this poem that I "basically knew," but that, in the context of this heightened reading challenge, I realized I didn't have total command of.

(One loose end: neither of my dictionaries defines hoo, or hoos. I don't like it when I'm unclear about a word in a poem—especially the word the poet chooses to end the poem with. Is hoo onomatopoetic? It's more of an owl sound than a rooster sound....)

What is going on in this poem? Based on the title, we know that the setting is a pine forest. Words are being spoken. (Perhaps silentlygiven the lack of quotation marks, I am actually picturing the communication as being more like a species of telepathy.) At first, it isn't so clear who is speaking, or even how many speakers there are. The stanzas might be parts of an extended address by one speaker, or alternating statements in a conversation, or a mix of speech and omniscient narration.

We can at least rule out the possibility that there's only one bantam—the title uses the plural bantams. Chieftain Iffucan is one bantam, hence there's at least one other bantam present.

By the way, I do think it is clear, from Stevens's tour de force of description in the first stanza, that Chieftain Iffucan is a bantam (miniature rooster).

What to make of the proper name Iffucan? I pronounce it like "If-you-can." If you can...what? Graphically, Iffucan also looks like toucan, which is a nice effect because of the way it further evokes feathered splendor. (Our Appalachian pine forest has a pretty exotic vibe altogether, what with the poem's allusions to Aztec feathered headdresses and Nubians swinging fans around.)

Getting back to the basics, how many characters speak in the poem? One, or more than one? In the first stanza, a speaker is addressing Chieftain Iffucan. The second stanza sounds to me like a continuation of that address. We next have a decision to make about the remaining three stanzas: are they the Chieftain's answer? Are they a continuation of the original speaker's address, making the poem a monologue? Something else?

I do sense a significant change in the tone of speech between stanzas two and three. This change in tone might suggest a change in speaker. However, the elevated tone returns in the fourth and fifth stanzas, and the word Fat! links stanzas three and four; so I'm not convinced there is a change in speaker between stanzas two and three. Certainly there are no explicit cues to say so.

I think we are looking at a single oration by a single character. Chieftain Iffucan never speaks, then.

Does a tree speak? I don't think so. For one thing, based only on the plural bantams in the title, it'd be peculiar for the speaker to be a tree. That would make the characters in the poem (1) a tree who talks; (2) Chieftain Iffucan, who listens; and (3) some nonzero quantity of additional, non-specified, non-speaking bantam(s), who enter the poem in no way whatsoever beyond driving pluralization in the title. That poem sounds more like "Bantam v. Pine Tree," not "Bantams in Pine-Woods."

I can understand why a person might want to consider the possibility that a tree is speaking here, primarily because the poem does attribute "Appalachian tangs" to trees, which could be read as attributing to the trees a sharp Appalachian accent (tang). However, the passage reads more naturally as attributing to the trees a sharp smell—that kind of tang. These are pines, after all. Tang could even refer to the pointed shape of trees or their needles; bristles and points are present in that vicinity of the poem. But I think of those as resonances, not as surface meanings, and I think the most natural surface meaning of tang here is the pungent smell of pine.

The bantam who speaks appears to be challenging the Chieftain, or at least projecting "attitude." There's challenge, bristling, cockiness; I get a certain feeling of mano a mano. A competition going on. Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! It certainly sounds like a taunt. My best guess is that it is a taunt, but a nonverbal one: an onomonopoetic evocation of a rooster scratching the dirt. Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!

Well, here's my attempt at a stanza-by-stanza paraphrase of the poem.
1. Whoa there, big Kahuna tiny-rooster!
2. Think you're all that, do you?
3. Pfft. You can't be too important, because you're not me, not part of my own interior reality.
4, 5. All you are is the greatest poem. But it doesn't matter. And get lost, because this whole forest was created by a poet—me, if you want to know— and I'm not intimidated by you.
That wasn't easy to do, and I doubt it's right, or even terribly close to right. To explain why I paraphrased in this way, I can start with a humble question:

Bantams are domesticated animals, so what are they doing in a pine forest?

Have they flown the coop? I don't see any evidence of that. It's an incongruity, and I'm thinking that perhaps it underlines the poet's absolute power to lay a scene and assemble his players.

There is a strutting vainglory to the poet's project. True, an artist can't create the Real, but art can endow the Real with meaning (give it a "point"). In some very complicated way, I think Stevens is projecting the poet's persona into this forest scene and picking a fight with the object of his art.

All this is ironic, or maybe even paradoxical, because Stevens the philosopher can assert the bantam's transcendence of art only to the extent that Stevens the poet is successful in using his art to convey the bantam's majesty. Anyway, this dynamic would explain the strenuous exertion evident in the first stanza's multiple poetic devices.

I'm far from believing that I "get" this poem. I have many specific questions and confusions about it. But then, "Bantams in Pine-Woods" has confused better readers than me. In the book where I found the poem, editor Joel Conarroe is silent about the poem itself, reproducing it only to illustrate the following anecdote about Stevens:
"It is not what I have written," he said in accepting the National Book Award for The Collected Poems, "but what I would like to have written that constitutes my true poems." Those who are devoted to his work, especially to the pleasure of reading it aloud and basking in the harmonious music, even when it is not completely comprehensible, obviously feel otherwise.

Connecting Words 2

In each sentence below, two words appear in all-caps. Combine the words by adding a single letter that connects the two.


     This year, let's TRY renting a CABIN by the lake.


There are seven sentences in all. Keep track of the letters you add, because afterwards you will rearrange those letters to form a seven-letter word. Enjoy!

     Will you be ABLE to finish that MEMO before lunch?

     Reach your serotonin QUOTA by using a negative-ION generator (or so they say).

     The HACK sat in his cab and EYED the fare approaching the curb.

     REDS were hounded in the 1950s for not being ideologically PURE.

     When Goody Smith's knee ACHED, she blamed an IMP.

     Apple Inc. recently became an ALLY to CORD-cutters.

     The media strategist LED a RESET of the campaign.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Connecting words

In each sentence below, two words appear in all-caps. Combine the words by adding a single letter that connects the two.


     This year, let's TRY renting a CABIN by the lake.


There are seven sentences in all. Keep track of the letters you add, because afterwards you will rearrange those letters to form a seven-letter word. Enjoy!

     CALL today for a great deal on a USED car!

     DOES Washington Nationals pitcher Bronson Arroyo have a TORN rotator cuff?

     There weren't enough SUBS in the district to cover STEM subjects.

     The playboy drove a RACY AUTO.

     They threw him in the BRIG for failing a sobriety TEST.

     ASSES CAN carry heavy loads on a backpacking trip.

     There isn't an OUNCE of truth to PRO wrestling.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Swap and Scramble

Here's how you play. I'll give you two words of the same length, stacked one atop the other like so:


Step one: Choose a position (1 through 4, in this case), and swap the letters at that position. The result of your swap must be a pair of valid words.

With reference to the example, in this case we could choose the 4th position and swap to obtain:


Step two: Find an anagram of both of your new words.

With reference to the example, we have:


That's it. First swap, then scramble. Have fun.

















The three-letter example is suitable for kids, if you first carefully explain the steps using FIRM/SOFT as an example.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Two Book Reviews: "Uncommon Ground" and "1000 Foods To Eat Before You Die"

1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover's Life List

By Mimi Sheraton

Workman Publishing, 2014

Softcover, 990 pages

(Click to see this review on the book's Amazon product page.)

Mimi Sheraton is a major food critic, and 1000 Foods, written toward the end of her career, is a monument to the world's cuisine. Sheraton's list includes guilty pleasures like a deep-fried Mars bar, humble dishes like a BLT, food spectacles like Sartu di Riso, and prized items like alphonso mangoes, Fourme d'Ambert cheese, and saffron. The list also includes renowned restaurants, beloved cafes, and sensational fish markets. The entries in the book are informative, thoroughly indexed, and often illustrated with photographs.

The book reveals similarity across cultures (we all love stew, we all love spice, and we all love dumplings of one kind or another) as well as differences: it would take a committed relativist to deny the evidence in these pages that different regions of the world differ greatly in the overall scrumptiousness of their traditional foods.

One of the pleasures of a book like 1000 Foods is kibbitzing on the list itself. How could Sheraton leave out chicken pot pie? Tres leches cake? A cold meatloaf sandwich with ketchup? And how did maple syrup not make the cut? (Canadians, it seems, were not pleased.)

I received the book as a gift and read it in one sitting, dog-earing a couple dozen pages along the way. Perhaps that is the best use of a book like 1000 Foods: to select from its bounty a wish-list all your own.

Uncommon Ground: A word-lover's guide to the British landscape

By Dominick Tyler

Guardian Books, 2015

Softcover, 247 pages

(Click to see this review on the book's Amazon product page.)

Photographer Dominick Tyler traveled the length and breadth of Britain to produce Uncommon Ground, a treasury of words that name features of the landscape. The boulder yonder that seems out of place in its meadow...the mountain on the horizon shaped like a rounded heap...those circular ripples where an unseen fish has broken the water's surface—Uncommon Ground gives us words for them. Often ancient, and sometimes unpronounceable, this lexicon evokes by turns the bucolic, the desolate, the sylvan, and even the sinister.

You'll have noticed some of these natural features before. Others, so to speak, you'll have noticed without noticing them. From now on, you'll see them more clearly, because you'll have the words for them. Tyler is interested in the way words allow us to attach to reality in general and to the landscape in particular. His pensive mini-essays, and his artful yet unpretentious photographs, offer pure browsing pleasure while advancing his proposition that "rebuilding our landscape vocabulary might enable more complicated conversations about nature to take place."

What might have been a coffee-table book signals intimacy instead, thanks to its compact format and thoughtful typography. I received the book as a gift and expect to reread it often. Here is the Guardian review including a few of the photos.