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.