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Joe Strummer, Candice Bergen, and William Shakespeare

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This morning’s New York Times had even less worth reading than usual, so as the New Jersey Transit train approached Newark, I turned without much enthusiasm to the crossword puzzle. As is my custom, I first looked at the puzzle’s long words, which usually have a common theme, to see if I could guess them. This time it wasn’t too difficult:

17 Across:  With 61-Across, 1982 question from the Clash  [11 letters x 2]

23 Across:  With 54-Across, old advertising question from Clairol  [9 letters x 2]

37 Across:  Soliloquy question from Hamlet  [13 letters]

“I know Monday puzzles are supposed to be easy,” I thought, “but these are child’s play — particularly the last one, which is perhaps the most famous line Shakespeare ever wrote.”

“Child’s play” may have been more apposite than I knew, because a glance at the nearby stories reminded me that today’s Times is written for 27-year-old Williamsburg artist/waiters who are too young to remember “the only band that mattered,” and even less likely to have heard of Clairol’s endlessly parodied and snickered-over 1960s tagline (or, indeed, to recall the days when dark roots were embarrassing instead of hip). As for Hamlet’s wishy-washy monologue, if they went to an American public school in the last three decades, they probably drew a blank on his name.

So I guess you could say that the Times knows its audience. When I was young, in the heart of the Clairol-Clash Era, the Times crossword used to frustrate me with its references to obscure people and events like Glenn Miller and the 1948 election. Now I complain because the references are too easy. That’s life.

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