WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — If you spend as much time on social media as I do (it’s part of the job), sooner or later you are going to run into a person who wants to argue with you.
Arguing with strangers on the internet has largely replaced hobbies in people’s lives because seriously, how can you just sit there sticking stamps in albums when there is a chance that someone on the internet might be wrong about something?!
The thing is, it’s a fruitless pursuit. Everyone knows that no one in the entire history of the internet has ever been known to win an online argument. And that’s why we argue, right? To win? I mean, what is the point, otherwise?
What I find fascinating is that it can happen for no particular reason. You might be happily scrolling through Twitter and then, like a fish to a worm, someone you don’t even know chomps down on your latest 280 characters of brilliance and wants to have a go at you. For being wrong in their eyes, for having a contrary opinion, for having more “likes” than they do, it doesn’t matter. All they are concerned with, to be perfectly honest, is showing you how smart they are.
Internet experts say that you should not under any circumstances engage with them, because that’s when they get out the big guns. This is done by targeting a perfectly innocuous post (“LOL Pasta! Am I right? I can’t even with that stuff!”) and showing you — in extremely complex and serpentine logic — all the ways in which you are dead wrong about pasta, plus your mother wears army boots.
You are then expected to counter with an equally complex line of attack.
“Aha!” they will say accusingly. “You have clearly presented a logical fallacy, in this case (checks notes) a STRAWMAN FALLACY. Allow me to point out all the ways in which your arguing skills are vastly inferior to mine.”
If done correctly, by the time you and the arguing hobbyist are finished with your displays of intellectual dominance, you both should have forgotten what the argument was about in the first place (pasta), shaken virtual hands and wished each other well, which is known on the internet as “muting.”
Haha, just kidding! It doesn’t really end that way, does it? No, what actually happens is that the arguer continues to pick apart your flagrantly opinion-having pasta post, pointing out your supposedly flawed logic and getting even more personal (“So’s your old man!”), until you explode in fury. Over pasta. At that point, the arguer sits back and basks in his or her victory, and expresses complete puzzlement at how you could possibly get upset when he or she was simply posing a logical rebuttal to your post. Gah! Why can’t they just leave me alone?!
[Psst … the puzzle. — Ed.]
Right. Evan Mahnken returns to describe some of these types of fallacies, so you can be on the lookout for them when someone accuses you of having the wrong opinion about pasta.
Just my personal solving experience: I happened to solve from top to bottom. This puzzle solved very easily in the top half and kicked into challenging gear in the bottom half, which felt odd to me, but I enjoyed it.
22A: There are exhortations in clues that want you to do what the clue suggests, and there are those that are simply looking for a definition. If the clue does not have quotation marks, it is looking for a definition. “Step on it!,” which does not have quotation marks in the clue, is not asking us to accelerate. It is hinting at something we step on, and that is the SOLEs of our feet.
67A: A clue like “Jr. and sr.” seems as if it is asking for an abbreviated name for fathers and sons who share a name, but a three-letter abbreviation for that just doesn’t exist. So what else uses the words Jr. and sr.? School YRS. do.
26D: The OPAL is the birthstone for October.
35D: Pun alert! “NSFW” is an initialism for “not safe for work.” On the internet, when you are not arguing about pasta and you want to post something that might get the viewers in trouble with their bosses, you would label it “NSFW.” OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is charged with ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for people in the work force.
52D: Anatomy lesson! OTTERs have pouches in which they keep food and favorite rocks that they use for cracking open shells.
Mr. Mahnken has developed a theme set of four logical fallacies and clued them in a literal way. For example, at 43A, the answer to the clue “As you can tell from these few examples, Bings are better than maraschinos” is CHERRY PICKING. In logic, CHERRY PICKING really refers to picking out and using just the elements of information that confirm your point of view. In this clue, however, the speaker is actually picking out a type of cherry.
Similarly, at 58A, the answer to the clue “Expanding the bleachers isn’t enough. We need to relocate the whole stadium” is MOVING GOAL POSTS. In logic, LogicallyFallacious.com says, MOVING GOAL POSTS means to demand “from an opponent that he or she address more and more points after the initial counterargument has been satisfied refusing to concede or accept the opponent’s argument.”
This was a very fun puzzle to write and brainstorm. I looked through hundreds of logical fallacies to find a good set and learned a lot in the process. Did you know there’s a Fallacy Fallacy that says that just because someone used a logical fallacy doesn’t mean their argument is inherently wrong? Has the word “fallacy” lost all meaning yet?
My favorite that was left on the cutting room floor: “I’m not bad at running a movie theater, you are!” for PROJECTION.
I recently learned that there is a bot on Twitter (@NYT_first_said) that chronicles every time a new word is used in The New York Times. Here are some odd Scrabble words for the bot, in no particular order: djibbah, mycetoma, chitling, telsonic, viduity, aplanat, haftarah, qajaq.
The Tipping Point
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Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.
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