Wise Through Experience

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WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — When I talk to people who don’t solve crossword puzzles about why they don’t do crossword puzzles, the most common responses I hear are something along the lines of: “I don’t know enough trivia!” or “I’m just not good at them!”

What I always tell people who have concerns of the first variety is that trivia, and memorizing and recalling facts and names and pop culture tidbits, is truly a minor part of the solving experience. Sure, it can be helpful if you just know “who wrote ‘The Prince of Tides’ and ‘The Great Santini,’” but your ability to solve the puzzle is never going to turn on one novelist’s name.

That’s because the far more important skill isn’t total recall of books from the 1970s and 1980s, but rather the ability to recognize the “language” of crossword puzzles. A fluent solver knows that a “?” indicates a pun, or that “, say” means something along the lines of “for example,” or that an abbreviation in the clue means you’ll need an abbreviation in the entry. If you know these things, it makes that one author’s name less of a stumbling block, because you can look instead at the crossing clues to fill in the gaps.

This brings us to that second concern people have; when people say “I’m just not good at crosswords!” What this usually mean is “I don’t know the language yet!” And my response is that the language of crossword puzzles, like most other languages, can best be learned through immersion. A new solver becomes “wise through experience,” and through repeated encounters with the insider lingo that populates the puzzle. Repeated exposure to crossword puzzles also helps solvers commit to memory those bits of “glue” that constructors use to hold their brilliant themes (or themelesses) together, like, for example, 19A, 35A or 54D in today’s puzzle.

The New Yorker Unveils a New Quiz Product

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The New Yorker has added another piece to its department of puzzles and games.

Your Thursday Briefing

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Long lines for South Korean vaccines

Once a model in fighting the pandemic, South Korea has been slow to vaccinate. Supply problems plague the vaccine campaign, and the country only started inoculating people in their 50s against the coronavirus this month.

“There are 401,032 people waiting in front of you,” a government website informed one person who shared on social media the ordeal of booking an appointment. “Your expected waiting time: 111 hours, 23 minutes and 52 seconds.”

As the country faces its worst wave of infections, South Koreans are more desperate than ever for shots. The country recorded its highly daily case count on Wednesday.

Background: In November, when people accused the government of being slow to secure vaccine doses, officials told them not to worry, given South Korea’s success in controlling the spread of Covid-19. The country started vaccinations in late February, but in late June, its stockpile began to run out as a handful of vaccine makers struggled to meet global demand.