“I Speak for the Trees”

by Lucy Howard & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty: 3.5/5

I started making crosswords with Lucy in spring of 2020. Since then we’ve published multiple puzzles together (including a particularly saccharine Times Sunday), shared countless geeked-out afternoons talking grid, gone on wine tasting Zoom double dates, and, well. We’re friends. And just a month ago, Lucy and her husband Ryan welcomed a brand new prospective puzzle head into the world, one Henry Jordan Howard, 7 lbs. to the oz.

Today’s puzzle is for Henry. You’ll appreciate why after you solve. Thoughts and spoilers below.

step AWAY from the truffula tree

Well, it’s a quip puzzle. These ones divide opinion probably more than even rebuses. Perhaps you recall this recent one from the Times. The thing about a quip puzzle: either you know the quip or you don’t. And the conventional wisdom about single trivia answers in crosswords is that you can render them fair and perhaps satisfyingly educational with a good clue and fair crossings. But quip puzzles? Well, there are seven (7!) associated theme answers here, which will necessarily slow down even seasoned solvers who aren’t familiar with the subject matter.

That said, the satisfying element of a quip puzzle, for me, is the symmetry of the layout and the sentiment of the message. And in the case of Dr. Seuss, the symmetry becomes less incidental than with other quip puzzles in that he was writing in verse, and perhaps even with page layout in the back of his mind.

Anyway! We do hope you enjoy this one. And do drop Lucy, Ryan, and little Hank some love in the comments.

Happy solving, friends!


20 thoughts on ““I Speak for the Trees”

  1. Two beautiful collaborations with my daughter – little grandson Henry with Ryan and crosswords with Ross! Love to all!
    Proud dad and granddad, KellyJordan

  2. Sigh. Don’t get me wrong, I remain a fan… but once again, I can’t help but wonder why you didn’t double-check the spelling of 58d with someone who actually speaks the language (since a final S is missing in the grid entry).

    And while I also remain a big fan of the Lorax, I’m also aware that large chunks of Dr. Seuss’s material have been mired in controversy lately. Since you’ve been an outspoken proponent of banning certain artists from crossword grids altogether if *some* of their deeds are unsavory (Woody Allen, anyone?), I’d be curious to know what your rationale is in this particular instance.

    • Hey, Charles. One of my test solvers this week is a native French speaker and did in fact note that! Are you solving via PDF/applet/.puz? I can’t find the version for which that update wasn’t made.

      As for crossword suitability: these questions have to be answered on a case by case basis, no? Woody Allen is the subject of an open and ongoing conversation about sexual abuse, so I personally will pass on including him in puzzles. Mark Twain? Dr. Seuss? Certainly I think anyone producing Lorax or Huck Finn remakes, or putting them in crosswords, needs to be open to the important conversation about racism in art in the 19th and 20th centuries, but I don’t personally propose “banning” these individuals from mention in puzzles. (FWIW, SEUSS has appeared as an answer word 15 times in mainstream puzzles since 2020, and LORAX 8 times, in outlets from The New Yorker to Universal to Times to WSJ.)

      That said, I’m open to changing my mind on this one! I’m interested to hear more opinions on the subject.

        • To clarify: I personally do not support the wholesale ban of an entire body of work (and I am certainly not trying to push anyone in that direction). And I do respect the decision of any cruciverbalist who chooses to exclude a controversial artist from his own grids, as you have done in the past (in fact, as recently as two weeks ago when you eliminated a Dustin Hoffman reference from “Chap Shtick” grid). I’m just curious about the consistency of such decisions. Even if we approach the issues on a case-by-case basis, I honestly don’t get why references to, say, “Annie Hall” (Allen) or “Kung Fu Panda” (Hoffman) get a thumbs-down from you, while Seuss gets a pass in spite of repeated instances of xenophobia, which his own publisher deemed grave enough to retire several books. Are we to infer that an unsettled sexual offence is worse than proven racism?

          P.S.: I fail to see what Twain has to do with this. Using certain words to depict historical contexts in which they were widely used is not evidence pertaining to the author’s own views – at least, not in my book.

          • Yeah, I think we’re largely in agreement here. If memory serves, it wasn’t a reference to “Annie Hall” or “Kung-Fu Panda” that I avoided, but rather direct references to (as I understand it) credibly accused sexual abusers of this day and age. Those issues and wounds cross some hard-to-define boundary for me that the Lorax/Seuss does not, abhorrent as some of his WWII era propaganda was.

  3. Hi Ross, thanks once again for the Sunday morning challenge. Small typo in the 5D clue. 16D clue very clever. I thought 16A was going to be EDIT, maybe that was an intentional misdirect (although maybe that would have required a question mark after the clue)? Congrats, growing Howard clan! PS I vote against cancelling anyone from grids or practically anywhere else. Just because there are blemishes on an artist’s oeuvre does not mean that we have nothing to learn from them, and as always historical context is important.

    • Thanks for the catch, Rich! Fat finger Sunday in full effect. Lucy hasn’t yet had time (surprise surprise) to get on the Zoom with baby, but I’ll pass along your congrats when she does!

  4. I normally don’t love quip puzzles, but this is one of the better ones I’ve encountered. First of all, I’m guessing Dr Seuss verse is pretty easy to figure out even if you aren’t familiar with it, and second of all this phrase is pretty burned into the brain of a ton of people (including me) who grew up with The Lorax. And it’s all common language, nothing super tricky in the theme answers. And the crosses weren’t too difficult. What’s annoying is when an obscure quip is crossed with really tricky down answers (proper names, especially), making the whole thing almost impossible. This one had just the right level of difficulty. Well done!

    • Thanks Zef! I think you’re probably right about the inputs: quotation obscurity (/inferability) mixed with more challenging crossings is a recipe for a less-than-satisfying jaunt.

  5. Welcome, Henry Jordan! And do thank your Mom and her friend Ross for sharing your sweet puzzle with us all! Such elegant construction — I enjoyed it very much.

  6. I used to be a big fan of Merle Reagle, who was a big fan of quip puzzles. His puzzles contain a huge amount of theme material, but his fill is usually reasonable. I don’t think they’re all that unlike other themes–you either catch it right away and the solve is a walk in the park, or you don’t and it’s a morass. But the skill required s much the same as that needed to solve an acrostic, and similarly you’re filling in sentences, not isolated phrases, and they are interesting. As these puzzles have waned in popularity, so has the skill required to solve them.

    Merle Reagle’s puzzles can be found on the Washington Post’s puzzle page. Be prepared for lots of really bad puns (in a good way) as well as quips.

    Hi Henry!

    • Hi, Margaret! Also a big Merl Reagle fan. Like fan solvers of my generation, I was introduced to him via the Wordplay documentary. I think of him, perhaps more than anyone else, as never one to use theme material that wasn’t very clever or very funny.

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