13 August 2009

Mathematicians in today's New York Times crossword

A clue from today's New York Times crossword puzzle: "Mathematician Post or Artin". (Four letters. If you don't know the answer, click on the links.)

The crossword blogs (here, here, here) think this was an unfair clue; this one says that "Neither [...] will be familiar to most solvers, or even to all mathematicians."

I got this with no problem. But it took me a moment, because the son of the Artin the clue was about was one of my professors as an undergrad. A few commenters here and there say they needed some of the crossing letters to decide which Artin the clue referred to.

16 comments:

Todd Trimble said...

I'd think the answer ought to be familiar to most mathematicians (Post was a famous logician whose name is often linked with Turing), but hardly to the general public. To make it easier, they might have clued a certain German actor who was the first to be presented an Oscar.

unapologetic said...

No mathematician to whom both of those names are familiar is worthy of the title.

Michael Lugo said...

John, I think you meant "unfamiliar" there?

Mark Dominus said...

I don't see what's unfair about that question. Maybe it's a little too easy for a Thursday puzzle clue, but hardly unfair.

You know what's unfair? All those questions about Grammy winners and sitcom actors, that's what.

(Small shameful confession: My mental picture of Emil Post is actually Ron Post.)

thecooper said...

It strikes me as petty and strange for a crossword enthusiast to complain about a clue that's *just too obscure*, in the Thursday New York Times.

The whole point of crosswords is that they demand a polymathic, encyclopedic sort of knowledge. Especially NYT.

unapologetic said...

Indeed I did mean "unfamiliar". That'll teach me to read blog comments before noon...

Todd Trimble said...

Mark: are you kidding? That clue's too easy?

A standard clue for this answer (which I had avoided saying directly, but now the answer 'Emil' has been given away) might be Actor ____ Jannings. For seasoned crossword puzzle solvers, that might be too easy.

Michael Lugo said...

thecooper: We should remember that most polymaths don't know much math.

Michael Lugo said...

For what it's worth, there's a database online of the last sixteen years' worth of NYT crosswords; EMIL has been used 84 times. Usually it's clued in reference to the actor Jannings. It's also been clued in reference to the runner Zátopek, the movie "Emil and the Detectives", the Napoleon biographer Ludwig, the artist Nolde, the Law and Order character Skoda, the pianist Gilels, the author Brunner, and the physiologist Behring.

I'm kind of disappointed that it never appears to have been clued as "citrus fruit backwards" or something like that.

Todd Trimble said...

I'd also add (to thecooper's remark) that the ones complaining also seem to be the one timing themselves. They probably groan because they were slowed down by not knowing that factoid.

I agree: it's nothing to get upset about, although the clue is maybe more appropriate for a Friday or a Saturday puzzle.

Mark Dominus said...

I was partly kidding about it being too easy. But yes, I did find it easy, whereas I have never heard of Emil Jannings. ("What theorems did he prove?")

As Michael's statistics show, the Times is much more likely to use some actor from 1929 than a mathematical luminary like Emil Post.

Sorry about posting the spoiler. I didn't know the etiquette for discussing crossword puzzles.

Michael Lugo said...

Mark, I think the etiquette around crosswords is that it's okay to talk about answers in the comments but not the post (no pun intended) itself. My thinking here is that people don't necessarily choose to read this particular post (it just shows up in their RSS reader, for example) but they should have the good sense to know that there could be spoilers in the comments, because otherwise what would people talk about?

Michael Lugo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Trimble said...

I think I agree with Michael here; I was merely being cautious before. In any case, it's no big deal.

Mark Dominus said...

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.

CarlBrannen said...

I thought the whole purpose of crossword puzzles was to give you something other than money or sex to do with the internet.