lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Occupational hazards

Jerome K Jerome is a wonderful writer:

"...I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was house-maid's knee."

Jerome's young man's aggrieved feeling is only too well understandable. Hypochondria is an easily acquired thing. I just have to read about symptoms of any disease and it seems to me I probably have it. It was not until I read J K J that I realised it is universal, though.

Other than imagined or feared maladies, we all go through life nursing some minor and assorted problems.

Doing a thing, any thing, tends to make our bodies attuned towards doing it long-term, and our bodies cope with the latest demand by either developing the muscles involved or registering a complaint.

Repetitive injury syndrome, they can call it, but it is basically what you get if you are at your computer about 6 hours a day or so; they call it carpal tunnel syndrome but what it translates to, is the fact that you can't stop yourself playing Minesweeper(in my case). What we do on a regular basis always has an added risk factor.

Think about cooking three meals a day(:D), and you'll get what I am trying to say. Graters scrape more than vegetables or cheese, they leave scratches on fingers. Seasonings or oil have a way of splattering, and a careless stroke of knife when chopping vegetables... and you get to wear your badge of honour in form of a blister, a burn or a band-aid plaster.

What we do shows on our bodies. When I used to play the veena, I had callouses on fingers, and my ankles, from sitting cross-legged with the weight of the veena adding to the pressure.

People whose jobs involve a lot of standing develop corns; door-to-door sales-persons probably get blisters from all the walking; tennis players get the tennis elbow (I am not mentioning famous non-tennis players who got it); writers, apart from writer's block, used to get writer's cramp; and key-board users get stiff fingers and gritty eyes and possibly spondylosis.

It is the interminable repetitions of a single activity that cause problems.

But on the other hand, those who jog get a healthy metabolism, those who pump iron get sculpted bodies, yoga enthusiasts get to twist themselves into human pretzels and regular walkers get a trade-off of stamina.

Jerome's young man who went through a list of diseases and imagined that he had all of them except the house-maid's knee, was lucky to be in a different age from now; he was lucky not to have a syndrome I have discovered, and given a name.

I discovered it, because I suffer from it and found that it is not listed anywhere.

Reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books causes it.

Actually, reading paper-backs that are 700 or more pages long and hence heavy, causes it. Holding them and reading them, in Jordan's case with a fatalistic stoicism, because the man won't see his way to ending the series, puts a lot of strain on wrists. I actually wear wrist supports when I read Jordan. :D

I have named this particular ailment the 'reader's wrist'. I am sure there are many of us who suffer from it, and now we have a name for the syndrome. :D


Monday, February 20, 2006

What does she see in him?

I wonder what criteria all these magazine polls use to decide somebody is sexy.

Truly, I am bemused to read that so and so is the hottest celebrity body, or is the person the world wants to go on a date with. I mean, the man or woman may have perfect features, a great body, but what do you know about the person? Granted, he or she is famous, but does that guarantee that you wouldn't to be bored to death during the date? What will you talk about? Their celebrity?

Sexiness is surely in the mind of a person, and their personality?

A young friend of mine has a crush on the actor who plays Harry Potter. I asked her once if she would date him; she thought about it a while and said, 'Well, obviously, once." So I asked her why only once. She said that though she has read tons about him, she can't be sure if that is all true, and she might find him unimpressive in reality. She added that if he didn't think she was great, too, there would be no point in going out with him again. Smart girl. :D

For all said and done, you don't know a person from reading gossip columns and articles in film magazines. You know what the columnists think, that is all. Desirability develops from knowing a person's quirks and propinquity.

After the reading in the Times of India that young India wants to date John Abraham or Abhishek Bachchan, or may Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu, I tried to make a list of men I'd like to have an affair with. (Come on, mature women don't stop with a dinner date. :D)

Sadly, my list is woefully short, and impossible to achieve in a mundane world.

There are two men I'd like to have had an affair with: Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork city state, and Sherlock Holmes, the world famous detective. Brilliant minds, both of them, and wonderful personalities.

Alas, they are both fictional characters!


Sunday, February 19, 2006

One man's fish is another's poisson

Here is a nice clue I came across: Pain (6,5).

Hey, don't worry, this is just an itsy bitsy teeny tiny crossword reference to jog your little grey cells a la Poirot.

The solution is: French Bread.

So is the fish in my title of the post a poisson, in French. :D

As to why I am bringing pain into the picture, whether English or French, is simply this: do people hear what you say, or what they want to hear? (That is what cryptic clues are about, and solving them is about.)

I think I am a reasonable person. My son begs to differ. I think I am a long-suffering and patient mother and he thinks I have an extremely short fuse.

Our perceptions, and those of others differ so markedly, that it's a wonder we can communicate at all. I say 'gray', and my friend calls it 'ash blue'. I say 'tangy', and my husband says 'too sour'.

We all experience the world differently.

Even what is said and what is heard are not the same, sometimes. When a friend says, 'you are looking well', I hear 'you have put on weight'. When I say, 'you have lost weight', she probably hears 'you are looking dreadful'. Our own perceptions, pre-conceived ideas, our mind-sets colour our reception of these remarks.

If this is universal, how do we manage to communicate? Note something. All the examples I have used are concepts and perceptions.

'It is raining' is unequivocal. So is a statement of time (depending on where on the globe you are, :D), or cricket scores. It is the intangibles that are troublesome.

I perceive something, but I have no guarantee that I can ever adequately describe it, or make it known to another person. When a person says something, I am never sure I understand what exactly was meant. I hear what my perception and experience and mood primes me to hear.

If I am having a bad hair day, and a friend says 'you are looking good', most likely I will interpret the remark as a white lie, or a sympathetic gesture; that is, if I am a pessimistic person. If I am an optimist, I might feel cheered and reassured by the same remark and think, hey, perhaps my bad hair day is not so bad after all.

Our attitudes and personalities tend to set us up to receive inputs in our ways.

Take noise, for instance. What I think of as ear-splitting levels is what my son thinks of as the right level of volume for his music, or the television. When I remonstrate with him about it, in a reasonable fashion, giving justified arguments for lowering the volume, he hears that as a criticism and a rant. :D

He has this habit of fiddling with things, tossing things up and catching them while conversing; not to mention the demolition derbies he plays with clothes-pegs, and leaving a litter of soda caps and badly opened packets of chips. And I am not even starting on how my pens disappear and/or miss their caps when he is around. :D

The other day, as we were chatting, he was playing with my pencil sharpener. It was a nice sharpener, it had a nifty little cap to catch the pencil shavings, and it is an indispensable tool for really tough crosswords. What with my latest book of crosswords, and the weekly toughies, I need my pencils and eraser and yes, the sharpener. Well, the conversation done with, he went back to the mess he calls his room.

But, alas, when he left the room, the cap, the nifty little thingie from my sharpener, was missing. I looked high and low for it, and finally lost my temper and vented. (Okay, even moms are allowed to let off steam once in a while. :D)

He was baffled. Flabbergasted, even. It still works, doesn't it? So what is the big deal, was his attitude towards the whole thing.

For me, it was a matter of interfering with my possessions, and being inconsiderate. I had been saying 'don't play with my things' for a decade, but obviously I was not putting it forth clearly enough. It took an assault on my most needed items for me to erupt in imitation of the Kraktoa. :D

He kept saying that he will buy me a dozen sharpeners, but even he could see that was not the point. The point was that he finally got his mother hopping mad. About a trivial thing, maybe.

But it illustrates my point. When I say, ' hey, stop fingering my things', and variations on the theme thereof, for a decade, I am ignored. When I lose my temper royally and get worked up, it finally makes an impression.

So how does one go about saying fish is poisson? It is all perception, anyhow; a deal of experience mingled with the influences of the environment you are nurtured in. Today if I say, "You went and lost my sharpener's cap", my son will say, "You fly off the handle at trivial things", and we are both right in our perceptions and reactions.

As long as it is not governments who are laying down laws, incompatibility, being at odds, never agreeing on any topic and all such traits become part of how we deal with our world.

Like Nash said, a little incompatibility is the spice of life, particularly if he has income and she is pattable. :D

I got mad, and I said 'I will blog about this you know', and my son smiled. Indulgently! Arrgh!

One man's fish being another's poisson.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Stern grammarian or Queen of comedy?

That is a toughie. I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves with as much amusement as the next person, if with a sneaking admiration and in total agreement with her rants.

But Lynne Truss, for me, is more memorable as being the most funny writer of the last decade, and you are reading a Terry Pratchett fan saying so, folks.

So she is something special.

Wodehouse fans will appreciate the intricate plots, the wonderful grasp on language and her scholarship, and the mad-cap situations. But what is truly marvellous about Truss is her absolute refusal to dumb herself down.

Writing farce is not an easy thing. Writing about historical figures, known history and making a farce of it is doubly hard. Truss manages it beautifully.

Tennyson's Gift is a hilarious novel. If you know your Victoriana, your Tennyson and Lewis Carroll, the story takes on an added element of mirth. If you know about phrenology and stage figures, and if you know nineteenth century art-world, it becomes delicious.

Truss is a truly amazing comic writer. I recommend Tennyson's Gift to anybody who enjoys wicked humour and well-crafted writing.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lady Bountiful

It's depressing to read the Sunday supplements that come with the papers nowadays. Every other page carries an advert for body shops. Vibes, VLCC, Bodycare... You name it. They have 'before and after' pictures of satisfied clients who claim their life has become enhanced after shedding umpteen kilos with some programme, package, regime... Arrrgh!

Not enough to wax ourselves to neoteny, we have to be super-slim too, as if curves are anathema just because fashion photographers like anorexic, neurotic looking women to pose for them in incongruous stances. Seen any pictures in Man's World lately? I rest my case.

Okay, I am getting carried away a bit with the rant. :D

But why do all media choose to celebrate skinny 'could do with a bit of feeding up' kind of girls? That is not how real women are, after all. Real women are curvaceous.

Real women enjoy good food in substantial portions (until they start worrying about their figure and weight). Real women try to get by with as little excercise as possible. Good grief, life is tough enough without having to add a gym routine to it!

I find it scary when I see these beanpole women in their undies in magazines like Man's World. Where are the curves, the contours and guessed at secrets? These young ladies are dressed in what amounts to shoelaces and hankies, and their bodies bring me close to weeping. With pity.
I find myself wanting to invite them home and feeding them a good meal.

The strange thing is, the young people, the ones I see in the city malls, streets and cafes aren't anything like these models that grace the magazines. They are normal, come in all sizes, from slender to plump, willowy to obese; they look real.

And the outfits! Don't let me get started. :D

I was sorting things out a few days ago, and came across an old book of hymns I had. It had the thousand names of the goddess I was named after. That is an ode of praise, and details the goddess feature by feature, body part by body part.

By the description, the goddess has an abundant figure, and saddle-bags, folds in her belly, a big bosom, a lined neck, and hips like sand dunes. That doesn't sound like these modern beauties.

Oh, and she likes her pleasures: eats well, likes her wine, enjoys her music and dance.

'She who has a three folded mid-riff due to the weight of her breasts' doesn't evoke an image of our modern pin-up girls, by any stretch of imagination.

But on the other hand, if the goddess were a real woman, she would have the magazines and adverts, body-shops and salons, gym instructors, all telling her that her BMI is wrong, and she should start shedding some weight pronto. :D

Came across a lovely clue: Funny number? (8,3) The answer is Laughing gas.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Be my Valentine, Charlie Brown.

Ever wondered about the discrepancy in adages?

If a dog is man's best friend, how come diamonds are a girl's best friend?

What does that signify? That men want adoration from their women and women want rock solid stability and security from men?

(Dogs are the most genetically engineered creatures, anyhow. We have bred them for hunting, tracking, shepherding or fighting in pits to amuse us, whatever. Just look at some of the breeds. They are a joke. Give me a good mongrel any day. But I am digressing. )

Men and women look for different things in a relationship. While I can't pontificate on what men want, I could say a lot about what women want. :D

Most women want trust. Reliability, a sense of humour, a healthy respect for their talents and abilities, among other things would be welcome, too. A healthy bank-balance and a good career wouldn't hurt, either. :D Ability to take care of things has always been a major hook when women choose mates, however subconsciously.

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, women don't set much store by good looks. Hunks have greater chances to stray, and vying for a man's attention is such an exhausting job. :D

Most basically, though, women want a good friend. Someone who will be there through thick and thin. Like Oprah put it, many people would go for a ride with you in a limo, but you want someone who will walk with you to the bus-stand when the limo breaks down.

Valentine's day is a depressing affair for those who are not currently madly in love, I guess. All the valentines I got were for being a sport, a brick, a good friend. :(

Wait a bit. That a woman of my age still receives valentines at all, is a great boost, right? So why am I nitpicking about the quality of love lavished on me? Hmm.

There is a thought.

At least, I don't have the angst of having to make my feelings known for the first time, or racking my brains to think of a good and meaningful gift. The male population has it tougher.

You poor lads! My heart goes out to you in your predicament. :D

But my advice is to go for it, and tell the pretty young thing that you like her, come on, don't be like Charlie Brown with his pash for the redhead. :D


Friday, February 10, 2006

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs!

No, I am not going on a binge. :D

Like 'the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog', it is a pangram, which uses all the letters of the alphabet. These sentences were used to practice correct keystrokes when typing.

When I learnt typing way back when the world was young, it was a skill taught in typing schools; fast and accurate typists were still prized. One was taught to type using all fingers and both thumbs.

asdfgf space ;lkjhj was the first thing you learned, and the teachers would watch hawk-eyed to make sure your fingering was correct. This was torture for me, as I had already taught myself a six-finger shuffle method of typing, and I was reasonably fast with it too. But I was made to unlearn it, and the right fingering was drummed into me by unending hours of practice at the typing school.

It didn't stick, though.

I used to have long nails on my right hand, as I played veena those days and needed the nails for plucking the strings. (My guru used to quote Marilyn Monroe, saying plectra were like falsies, needed by those whom the nature didn't endow sufficiently. Needless to say, I wouldn't be caught dead playing with plectra after that remark!) And, my left index and middle fingers used to be so heavily calloused, that it used to be uncomfortable hitting the keys with them. I needed my own patented six-finger shuffle. And I had trouble using my pinkies. After a couple of months, I gave up on the lessons as a waste of time. I had learned all I needed, anyway.

Nowadays, nobody is actually taught fingering methods or punctuation in typing, I think. Children peck away at keyboards, and everybody evolves their own hunt and peck techniques. I don't know if any youngsters of nowadays can type without an occasional peek at the keyboard, though. (If there are touch-typing wizards out there in the young world, my apologies for maligning you. :D)

But people seem to ignore simple punctuation rules, such as a space after a comma, two spaces after a period, etc. These are not just conventional niceties, though. They give visual aid, help make a document look neater and make reading easier.

I am not even going go into the texting argot. I just accept that language evolves, and mores change. If it saves time, energy and a few rupees to type gr8, and other such hybrid words and people do so, well, it is a free world. I'll do it my way, and they can do it theirs. :)

It doesn't stop me from wondering, though. Why develop lazy habits? If you don't bother with the shift key in casual writing, you might forget it when you are writing something serious. And how many people bother to check their spelling, grammar and punctuation before hitting the send button? Emails and Instant Messages may have shrunk the world, but they have also made bad writing practices acceptable.

The one nice thing about the computer keyboards is that you don't have to pound them. The old typewriters were like Model T Fords compared to the Ferraris of the latest keyboards . :D

That reminds me of Oscar Wilde, who said "The typewriting machine, when played with expression, is no more annoying than the piano played by a sister or a near relation." :)


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Good clean fun

Do you know what good clean fun is?

I give up, what good is it?

Somehow, things aren't as interesting or fun unless they are somewhat guilt-inducing.

Anything that we do, on balance, is only fun if we feel slightly guilty doing it. If it feels somewhat illicit, wrong or self-indulgent, it is fun. :D

I know I ought to finish cooking, any market chores, all or any urgent errands before I tackle my crosswords, but everyday I scan the headlines and fold the papers to the crossword section. Oh, I feel guilty, combining preparing breakfast with solving the rather easy The Daily Telegraph crosswords, both quick and cryptic; it just doesn't stop me from doing it. :D

Doing crosswords at breakfast is a habit I developed early in my marriage, and it has been a part of my early morning rituals ever since. "The Sacred Duty", I call it, only half joking. The knowledge that it could wait till say, afternoon when I am at a loose end, just makes it more enticing.

The pleasure has become somewhat diluted since The Statesman stopped carrying The Times crosswords. But never mind, I got my revenge. I stopped reading The Statesman.

When I surf and read online instead of checking my mail and composing replies, it is the same principle at work. You ought to be doing something, but you'd rather do something else. So you do the something else, feeling slightly guilty.

As Obelix would say, Human beings are crazy! (tap, tap, tap)

On the other hand, the crosswords I do online are serious business; so I finish all my chores, including clearing my mail-box, make sure there won't be interruptions before I log on to The times, or The Guardian. I don't need residual guilt warping my enjoyment then. After all, these crosswords are business, not good clean fun. :D


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

To think around corners

I am in a great mood today.

Paul has that effect on me. After Araucaria, he is my next favourite compiler.

He had a lovely clue today: Listen! Record isn't medium for an artist. (3, 5)

The first thing to do is to figure out which is the definition; here 'medium for artist' is. Next, we have to get the elements figured out. 'Listen!' could be hear, or psst. It has to be fairly short, as the clue is only 8 letters. Oi is another option. Then 'Record' could be EP, LP, disc, log or enter.

Eureka! Oi, LP. Ah, ha. If slang is being employed, then 'isn't' is ain't.

Ergo. Oil Paint. Medium for artist! :D

This is why I love cryptic crosswords. They make you think out of the box.

Or take 'Red duck that is neither red nor duck (8): It took me a while to get that. Until I remembered that red could mean blushing, or furious. Flaming, in fact. Duck is zero, or O. Flamingo. Which is pink, and a bird but not a duck. :)

I solved some beauties by Taupi yesterday, in the Genius crossword, but I won't talk about them until next month, when the solution is out, as it is a prize crossword and I can't dissect the clues now. I still have to finish it, anyhow.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

To be or not to be

I am mulling the question.

Should I go ahead and relinquish my cherished ignorance and learn HTML or should carry on blissfully as I am?

This dilemma arose out of my curiosity about site meters. I wanted to add a counter, and checked some out. Horrors! They expect me to copy and paste scary looking stuff in my template. What if I made a mistake? What if my blog vanished in a puff of smoke and ceased to be?

Well, if I want to jazz up my blog and make it more attractive, or add counters and links or maybe images, I am going to have to learn a few new tricks. I can't even put in smilies, for pity's sake!

I have to stop writing and start learning, then. As soon as I finish today's crosswords, read news, surf, play minesweeper, contemplate my navel... Ah well.

Inertia seems the better option for today.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Difficult? I Give You More...

If a thing is esoteric, do you need to make it more complicated?

If we are talking about crosswords, yes! Absolutely.

Araucaria invented (though he says he is not sure he did,) a tweak on the regular cryptic crosswords. He invented alphabetical jigsaws. Which is to say, the poor sap, a.k.a me, has not only to solve all the clues, but figure out where they will go in the grid. Because there are no numbers. You solve all the clues, decide where they fit, and that's it.

Oh, Araucaria is fair. The clues are listed in alphabetical order of their solutions. So one knows that the beginning few clues have their solutions starting with the top order of the alphabet. :D

The first time I came across a themed cryptic crossword, my heart sank. I didn't even know about themes in crosswords, then. All I saw was that just about every other clue said see some other clue. And that one clue would turn out to be some 30 or more letters; all witty and clever no doubt, but daunting all the same for a tyro.

But then I realised that a themed puzzle is easier to solve, if one has figured out the theme. There have been crosswords where every across solution is a bird, or a sport. There have been Shakespeare plays, or characters in a particular play. It could be the signs of the zodiac, or the elements.

Last month's genius crossword in The Guardian by Brummie had another twist. 11 of the 12 9 letter clues had their definition elements shuffled, so that 10 across might have the definition proper to 14 down and so on.

Taupi, another complier, once set a crossword where all the across clues had the definition backwards. For example: Taboo to swallow one vegetable(5) No-no, with an i in it, and the answer is onion. :-)

Araucaria also compiles a perimetrical jigsaw now and then. The squares of the perimeter make up a proverb, or a witty saying or a quotation, which has it's own clue. You have to figure it out, fill it in and then fit the rest of the solutions wherever they go. I find this easier than the regular alphabetical jigsaws, somehow.

Now I am off to solve today's prize puzzle. Which is an alphabetical jigsaw, with 26 clues, starting with each letter of the alphabet. It is by Araucaria. My cup runneth over. :D

Friday, February 03, 2006

You can call me madam, young man!

Living in Calcutta, well, living in India, one gets used to being everybody's aunt or sister. Indians feel uncomfortable calling their seniors by name alone and feel they need to attach an honorific.

A mature woman can't escape being a total stranger's aunt in India.

My son's friends all call me auntie, I don't mind that. They are being polite as they were taught. My son addresses his friends' mothers auntie, too; he picked that up from his friends. Fair enough.

But shopkeepers, hawkers, bank staff... the list is endless, they all address me as didi. I grit my teeth and put up with it. I tell myself that they are being polite. But why can't hey be polite and call me missus Em or madam? Why do they have to address me as didi, auntie or worse, auntiji?

At least in up-market shops, one gets addressed as madam, but that's small consolation. I don't buy my groceries and vegetables in malls. So I remain didi to the woman who sells me eggs, vegetable-stall owners, confectioners.

I was griping about this to a friend one day. She said, "Look on the bright side. They call you didi. You would be mortified if they called you maashima." I had to agree. I'd have to face the fact that I no longer look youthful enough to merit the didi, but am looking definitely middle-aged, on top of the annoyance of being some stranger's aunt.

I wonder why the auntie is slightly more palatable than the vernacular maashima, though. :D

But I got my revenge. When the ubiquitous Eureka Forbes salesman came to extol the virtues of the latest model of vacuum cleaner that I simply must buy, and addressed me as auntie, I informed him in icy tones that he may address me as madam. And added for good measure that any faint chance I might have been interested vanished with that auntie.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blowing One's Own Trumpet

A new salon opened round the corner. It's practically next-door, but I am not going to patronise it, ever.

Why? They advertise themselves as 'Professional Unisex Salon' on their signboard.

I have no trouble with the 'Unisex' part of it. My regular salon is unisex, too.

My issue is with the "Professional" bit. Are they trying to convince the clientele or themselves? They started the business because they are professionals, surely? Or did they invest in fancy equipment and premises in the hope of learning as they went?

That is the reason why I am wary of ever patronising a confectionery that calls it 'high class', too. A truly high-class establishment wouldn't feel the need to call itself that. It doesn't have to.

Such adjectives ought to be bestowed on places by the users, or critics. If a business pointedly says it is special, I refuse to believe it. It is up to me to make that judgment, and I resent that right being usurped.

Okay, folks. Having vented my ire, I will move on to a lovely clue I solved recently.

Proverbially prince on river with fool excels aristocrat at study (4,1,4,2,6,4,2,5)

Solution: Half a loaf is better than no bread.

Explanations are necessary, I think. The feedback I got is that I ought to explain how the solution is arrived at.

Prince= Hal. A short form of Henry.

Fal= A river in England.

Oaf= A fool.

Is better than= Excels.

Nob= An aristocrat.

Read= Study.

The clue's definition 'Proverbially' is all the help you get. :D.

This is one of Araucaria's, of course.

I was asked about 'Fat girl lit up?', too.

'Broad', as in the American usage is the girl; 'in the beam' as in under the lights; which leads to the phrase 'broad in the beam', which is fat. Okay?


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