The Dickerson-Zimmermann household tends to work collaboratively on crossword puzzles, and the other day somebody picked up the Sunday New York Times magazine and expressed mild astonishment that I had filled in "TUES" as the answer to the cryptic clue "January 27, 1756 (Mystery Person's birthdate), e.g.". It's known around here that I've been trying to learn a perpetual calendar system, the John Horton Conway "Doomsday Algorithm". So the assumption was that I had mentally computed what day of the week the puzzle referred to. One of our house rules forbids looking up answers to clues, so I couldn't have checked any online or on-paper references.

Sadly, however, I shattered the momentary illusion of mental prowess that had been attributed to me when I confessed that no, I hadn't actually calculated that Mozart's birthday fell on a Tuesday. A previously-entered crossing word had fixed the third letter of the four-letter answer as "E", and the only weekday abbreviation that fits the "_ _ E _" template is "Tues." Instead of mental gymnastics I had simply done a not-too-exhaustive search through seven obvious possibilities.

The immediate deflation of my stature brought to mind the comment that a visitor to Sherlock Holmes made after the Great Detective explained a bit of his logic:

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. "Well, I never!" said he. "I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all."

"I begin to think, Watson," said Holmes, "that I make a mistake in explaining. Omne ignotum pro magnifico, you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid."

(quote from "The Red-headed League" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891); the Latin is from Tacitus and translates more-or-less as "Everything unknown is assumed to be grand"; cf. CrossWords (15 Oct 2003), ...)

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicHumor - TopicLiterature - 2006-01-25

(correlates: SherlockHolmes, Comments on Gibbon - Thoughts Upon Reading, ListenToHim, ...)