Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Ink Soup

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.

Printable version of this story

SEATTLE, Wash. -- It is humiliating for an old newspaper veteran such as your humble servant to learn so late in life a saying that might have eased his burden far sooner. I pass it along, since it concerns you as much as it does me, for you, the newspaper reader, are in fact the party meant by "they."

"They come for the news, they stay for the features."

Lovely, isn't it? Sandy Balfour, from whose new book I take it, attributes this "old newspaper maxim" to "an eminent managing editor of the [London] Times."

I do wish he had been more generous in identifying "features," which he limits to obituaries and the crosswords. Would it have killed him to mention columns?

But then we columnists are democratic to a fault and have nothing against rubbing shoulders with morticians and enigmatologists. Just so long as you stay for the features.

The book by Sandy Balfour from which I derive this is entitled (and neither the absence of capitals nor the numeral in what follows is a mistake): "pretty girl in crimson rose (8)."

The subtitle is also typographically eccentric: "a memoir of love, exile, and crosswords."

The crucial word, no pun, is crosswords, and it explains what you solvers of so-called "cryptic" puzzles have probably already guessed, that the main title is the clue to a word in eight letters. And if you think I'm about to spoil your fun by giving the solution, think again. One reason why you come back for features is that features never kiss on a first date.

Balfour, who is now a Londoner, was born and grew up in South Africa. Though white, he fled into self-exile from the apartheid regime and the culture that supported it.

He is now a television journalist whom you have probably seen on CNN, the Discovery channel, or the BBC.

When he is on camera or writing for others who will be, he must (I imagine) severely control the mad eccentricity that gave rise to this book, which really is, believe it or not, a narrative of hitching rides through Africa with his girlfriend, and then trotting all over the globe, while never ceasing to relate actual life to the 15 X 15 grid of my favorite pastime. He, or the persona that he adopts for this work, is obsessed with the crossword puzzle.

In this way if in this way only it reminds me of Vladimir Nabokov's superb novel, "The Defense." This is the story of a Russian boy who is a chess genius, goes on to become a Grandmaster in international competition, and finally succumbs to a kind of chess insanity in which all of reality strikes him as a board divided into 64 squares upon which all the drama of the royal game can be played out in demented parody, with a lamppost holding a hydrant in check. It ends in... but I would no more tell you how it ends than I would give you the answer to the clue spelled out in the title.

This might help. It is another clue in this book and helps one understand the rules of the cryptic crossword. Clue: Country with its capital in Czechoslovakia (6). Answer: Norway. The letters O-S-L-O are "in" Czechoslovakia, the word, not the country.

Okay, I will give you the answer to the title clue. It is: Rebelled. Get it? Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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