SUNDAY VARIETY COLUMN
David Balton and Jane Stewart expand our intelligence with a scintillating puzzle.
By Caitlin Lovinger
ACROSTIC — This will be one of those puzzles I recommend to anyone who’s curious about acrostics. The passage and the clue set are fascinating and seem perfect for starting a conversation. (It’s also a good solve, doable but full of suspense and little ahas.)
The overarching topic here is “intelligence,” whatever that is, and whether it can be developed or if you’re just born with it. The passage is by a favorite writer of mine, Stephen Jay Gould, from his 1981 book “The Mismeasure of Man.” In the book, Mr. Gould explores the history of attempts to categorize people's inborn intelligence and how discriminatory and arbitrary they were. The passage refers to important, fate-defining “tests” of intelligence that involved skull measurements or required one to know the parts of a Victrola, for example.
I started solving with “Psychologist who used symmetrical drawings,” or Hermann RORSCHACH, and knew several other bits of trivia. “Headwear for W. C. Fields” is a TOP HAT, and the “Ballpark that’s home to the Green Monster” is FENWAY PARK. The “1954 Audrey Hepburn title role; 1990s-2000s sitcom witch” solves to SABRINA, and the “Woody Allen film that spawned a ‘menswear’ fashion craze for women” is ANNIE HALL. These entries provided just enough letters to allow me to make some more guesses at words in the passage, but it wasn’t until I remembered that a wood-turning “Tool for creating rolling pins” is a LATHE that I deduced the word “intelligence” in the passage — which is when the gist of the puzzle dawned on me.
With that, some theme-related clues hit especially hard. “Study of supposed improvements to the human race” is EUGENICS, which uses arbitrary tests and measurements to disastrous effect. “Generously skulled being; slow-witted or crude person” solves to NEANDERTHAL, a word that comes from the valley in Germany where fossils of the extinct hominid were found in the 19th century. Neanderthals actually formed complex societies, painted caves and contributed to the human genome, so using the name as an insult is misguided, according to many scientists. (That reminds me — I was surprised to learn that the “Term introduced in 1834 that superseded ‘natural philosopher’” was SCIENTIST. I thought classical figures like Galileo and Linnaeus went by that title during their lifetimes, but it’s far too recent, and was even argued over for decades after its coinage.)
With the puzzle nearly finished, I stumbled on this very clever clue: A “Baker’s dozen minus an ennead plus a foursome” is eight, right? Well, in this puzzle, the entry is OCTET. If this had been an intelligence test, my score would have taken a hit!
What did you think?