A Conversation with Kori Schake


Experience. Insight. Taking the long view. In national security, few things matter more– and few people can provide perspective on them like Kori Schake can.

Schake’s experience in government spans multiple administrations and agencies. Her career includes time in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as the director for Defense Strategy and Requirements on the National Security Council, and as the deputy director for policy planning at the State Department. She has seen the policy process firsthand from various viewpoints, at key moments in America’s post-Cold War history– and this week, Popular Discourse had the opportunity to reach out to her with three questions on some more current issues.

Popular Discourse: You, along with many other conservative national security experts, have signed a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and promising not to work for him. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is welcoming the support of disillusioned Republicans. Do you think this campaign trend will create opportunities for a more bipartisan approach to foreign policy if she is elected? What might that look like?

Kori Schake: It could, but it’s too soon to tell.  Because Clinton is getting conservative national security types for free — the campaign isn’t making any policy compromises to secure our support, she’s just benefitting from our abhorrence of Trump.  But a bipartisan policy would require her to give us reasons for supporting her policies. I’d love to see her stop talking nonsense about TPP as the bellwether.  Stop relying on Republican votes to deliver a trade deal that, if it’s not passed, will be both an economic and foreign policy debacle during her presidency.  

I also think we conservatives have a lot of work to do with our own voters, who have soured on internationalism, both economic and security.  Republican voters are actually more opposed to trade than are Democrats.  And, of course, it’s conservatives who’ve put Donald Trump on the masthead of the party of Lincoln.  It will be insufficient to ignore or repudiate their views; we actually need to win the argument about how engagement with the world benefits Americans.  Because we can’t have sensible bipartisan policies until we reestablish the basis for them on our own team.

PD: What do you see as the most important foreign policy challenge the United States faces in the short term– the next 5-10 years? What about in the long term–10+ years?

KS: I’d say the principal short term challenge is helping the American people to understand how the economy is changing.  Technology is sweeping through economies like a wildfire, and even with all its benefits, people are scared by the rate of change.  Not only are peoples’ jobs going away, entire professions are going away. People are right to be scared, and political leaders aren’t helping them find paths to new work.  We won’t be able to engage confidently in the world until we succeed at that, and there are lots of foreign policy problems that need our engagement if they are not to burgeon into crises or take directions damaging to our security and prosperity.

For the longer term, I worry that we’ve lost the art of building norms and institutions.  Post-Cold War triumphalism at the expense of our power led us to reject lots of modes of cooperation that, tiresome as the doing of them may be, are cost-effective ways for the U.S. to ensure international order and practice that are beneficial to us.  And President Obama’s just as guilty of it as Presidents Clinton and Bush and the Congresses they dealt with were — drone policy is just one example where we’ve over a decade conducted ourselves in ways we will find objectionable in others, yet we made no attempt to position ourselves for a future in which we weren’t the only possessors of the capability.  We don’t compromise enough with others, we don’t utilize the means they favor for getting things done, we don’t enshrine in law or institutions things we want to have done.  It’s drawing down reserves instead of building them up.

PD: What advice would you offer to young people hoping to work in foreign policy and national security?

KS: Don’t worry too much about failure.  I’m struck at the number of young professionals who are preoccupied with making a mistake that derails their career.  Failure is just data.  Don’t give it outsized importance — your career isn’t a medieval morality play.  And you aren’t the only person whose behavior is being judged in any given circumstance, so don’t preoccupy yourself.  Dust yourself off and get back to work.  If you’re tailoring your actions to prevent failure, you’ll sail too close to the shore to achieve all your talents can give.  And while I wouldn’t advise making as many mistakes as I have, it’s emboldening to outrun hostile fortune.  Give yourself license to take risks.


Monday, August 22, 2016: “Taste Makers”

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Solving time: 11:37, marking the first time that I’ve surpassed 10 minutes on a Monday puzzle in a long time. Hard for a Monday.

Puzzle quality:


Theme: The first word in each of the theme answers (or, in the case of 39A, the first half of the first word) is a type of taste, resulting in the revealer TASTE MAKERS (61A: Influential sorts … or a hint to the starts of 17-, 23-, 39-, and 50-Across). Theme answers include:

  • BITTER ENEMY (17A: Archfoe)
  • SALTY LANGUAGE (23A: Profanity)
  • SWEETHEART DEALS (39A: Golden parachutes, e.g.)
  • SOUR PATCH KIDS (50A: Popular movie theater candy)

Welcome to the last-ever Popular Discourse blogpost on the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s been a pleasure serving all of the zero average daily readers of our crossword blog.

I actually wasn’t familiar with the phrase in one of the theme clues, specifically 39A. Apparently, a “golden parachute,” which I’ve never heard of before, is “an agreement between a company and an employee (usually upper executive) specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated,” according to Mr. Wikipedia. I didn’t know of the phrase SWEETHEART DEALS either, which are “abnormally favorable contractual agreements.” Mr. Wikipedia actually gives a golden parachute as an example of a SWEETHEART DEAL, so the theme answer is clearly very fitting for the clue.

While I have definitely heard of the phrase SALTY LANGUAGE before, it took me a long time to get that answer from the clue 23A: Profanity, even when I had the letters SALT filled in and a couple of the letters in LANGUAGE filled in as well. I also had SOUR PATCH but was missing the last four letters, until it finally hit me that there’s a specific type of the candy called SOUR PATCH KIDS. My struggles in getting the theme answers were probably the primary cause of my above-average solving time today.

On top of that, there were some rather outdated non-theme answers, including ALL WET (35A: Completely wrong), which I couldn’t seem to get right (hah!) until I had all but one of the letters filled in from the surrounding downs. I’m used to seeing ELIA in crossword grids, but typically paired with the clue “Director Kazan” or something else referring to ELIA Kazan. This time, the clue came in the form of 37D: Charles Lamb’s “Essays of __,” which is apparently a collection of – you guessed it – essays that I’m unacquainted with. Apparently “Put up your DUKES!” is a phrase? If somebody told me to do that, I’d be like what? I’ve heard “duke it out” before, meaning to exchange fists, and apparently “putting up your dukes” has a similar definition of putting up your fists.


Having LEAK instead of DRIP for 44A: Faucet problem and forgetting the word GELD (26D: Neuter, as a stud) didn’t help my time either.

Resigning from the post,
Kenneth, eternally lowly serf of Crossworld

Sunday, August 21, 2016: “Wonder-Ful!”


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Solving time: 55:34, under-average but with the help of several Internet cheats. Medium-ish.

Puzzle quality:



Theme: This puzzle commemorates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. It includes several landmarks from the US National Parks, which are represented in circled letters that have the same shape as the landmark itself. For example,

  • Denali is in the shape of a mountain, I suppose … except the left side of the mountain is longer than the right one because the first letter, D, hangs outward.
  • Old Faithful literally erupts upwards through YELLOWSTONE at 32A.
  • Half-Dome is shaped like … a half-dome. Actually, not really. Compare the shape of the crossword’s circled letters to that of the actual Half-Dome in Yosemite, and you will soon realize that the crossword has the image flipped vertically. Anyway, among the landmarks, we have:
  • Arches National Park is represented here in the shape of, you guessed it, arches!
  • And the Grand Canyon looks like a… basket.

Not much time today, and also the Internet was super slow so I didn’t even finish the crossword until much later than usual.

The reason why the “puzzle quality” image is that of Half-Dome is not just because Half-Dome is one of the puzzle’s circled phrases and not because this puzzle is anywhere near as beautiful or majestic as that natural landmark, but instead because this puzzle was “half” of what I thought it could be. I did appreciate the overall bear-like image of the grid, but virtually everything else about this crossword was mediocre; see above for my problems with the circled “theme” phrases.

To meet the requirements of the grid, there’s a ridiculous number of three-letter answers, which inevitably results in tons of ugly crosswordese, including two words which literally just consist of one letter repeated three times – AAA (58A: Highly rated Bond) and OOO (28D: It’s as good as XXX). Seriously, OOO? The clue was a good attempt at a raunchy pun, but when your options are so constrained that even a skilled crossword constructor like Jeff Chen has to resort to OOO, that’s when you know that the proverbial sh*t may have hit the fan.

There’s also a ton – and I mean a ton – of arcana peppered throughout the puzzle. W. BOSON (102A: Subatomic particle named for the weak force) is really esoteric scientific knowledge, even for the standards of the New York Times crossword. I doubt that anyone who isn’t a quantum physicist will be able to get that answer from reading the clue alone. Who on God’s green earth is SLOCUM (14D: Henry W. __, Union major general during the Civil War)?? Here’s a good test: search “Henry W. Union major general” on Google and you will literally find the last name of a different general for the entirety of the first page.

With the exception of LADY PALMS (48D: Indoor plants popular in waiting rooms) and VEGAN DIET (84D: Regimen adopted by Bill Clinton in 2010), not a single answer was memorable enough for me to write about here, nor were any of the clues punny or witty enough to make me laugh. It’s possible that I’m just being too harsh, but when you’ve got a grid filled with ERITU VII SEI NIH it’s hard to be creative.

Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Saturday, August 20, 2016: “Watertight Azalea Tree”

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Solving time: 39:25, nearly 40 minutes under average with relatively few cheats. Fácil.

Puzzle quality:



AMES (41A: Hawkeye State city) is one of the entries in today’s puzzle. But besides a space-grant research university and the birth-site of the world’s first electronic computer, this college town boasts relatively little. Oh, it’s also home to the largest federal animal disease center in the US. But besides that, there’s really nothing that spectacular about this town; its downtown main street carries that same brand of dreary charm as any other in the country. It’s a convenient crossword answer, much like some of the answers in today’s puzzle feel like they belong in a crossword more than they do in a real-life context. There are some landmarks here and there, but other than that, the grid is just a passing attraction.

By landmarks, I mean AZALEA TREE (15A: Colorful ornamental with a trunk), which is obscure but in a delightful way and sounds like just about the prettiest thing that anybody could ever have in his garden.


I want that.

Reading Rex Parker’s blogpost on today’s puzzle, I was once again struck by the arbitrary nature of his evaluations; what qualifies a certain answer to be “clever” or “enjoyable,” given that only a clue and not an answer can ever possibly be a pun? Does such an answer have to have lots of “high-value” letters – in other words, letters like “X” and “Z” that score you more points on Scrabble? Rex mentioned that he thought there were too many “adjective-noun” combinations in today’s long answers; METAL STAMP (12D: Imprinting tool) and RUMBLE SEAT (57A: Old-fashioned auto feature) satisfy that pattern, for example. But what’s wrong with adjective-noun two-word phrases? It seems totally groundless to discriminate against them. I think that answers with bounce or spice consist of rare-but-common words. What do I mean by that?  SMOKY TOPAZ has some nice bite to it because of the cool sound of the phrase in general and the rare-but-common nature of the word “topaz”; in other words, the word topaz hardly comes up in our day-to-day lives, but it sounds familiar to all of us because we’ve definitely seen it before somewhere. It sounds exotic, but imminently accessible. That rare-but-common vibe should characterize all the long answers in themeless puzzles, in my opinion. Phrases like ART BOARD (20A: Backing for a cartoonist) because both of the words inside them are too ordinary. Sure, if you juxtapose them together, they might result in a semi-obscure combination, but the sum of the parts isn’t worth much more than the parts themselves in this case.

What else? 1A: Like a Navy seal (WATERTIGHT) was a funny pun; notice how the letters in “seal” aren’t capitalized, meaning that the word isn’t referring to the special operations force but instead any type of substance that binds two things together. That clue, coupled with its adjacent across – 11A: Tall tale producer (IMAX, whose screens are really tall) – resulted in a fairly humorous top row. But DTEN (18A: Battleship guess) was arbitrary af, given that it’s just a random spot on the “Battleship” board, and references to ANSON Williams (22A: __ Williams, Potsie player on “Happy Days”) and ’50s cowboy character HONDO (42A: John Wayne title role) reminded me that Will Shortz and his crossword constructors are from the STONE AGE (50A: Primitive). OK, maybe not the STONE AGE, but at least several generations ago.

It’s only been six days since the last mention of MERINO (31A: Quality wool source) and nine days since that of Edmond DANTES (43D: Edmond __, the Count of Monte Cristo). Where’s the originality??

Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Friday, August 19, 2016: “Bring It On, It’s Go Time”

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Solving time: 36:10. Well under average – about 20 minutes or so – although I closed the puzzle for quite a long time after attempting to solve it the first time, rather than trying to solve the grid in one go. Anyway, breezy.

Puzzle quality:



As evidenced by the fact that this blogpost probably won’t be published until after midnight, I’m low on time today, so this one will be a quickie. Actually, maybe I can indeed publish this before the clock strikes 12. Let’s try.

The NE corner of this puzzle vanished very quickly – in under 2 minutes, actually. I knew the answer to 14D: Nonactor with cameos in 20 Marvel movies (STAN LEE) as soon as I saw it, and a clue similar to 18A: “Bleeding Love” singer Lewis (LEONA) appeared in a fairly recent puzzle (can’t remember which one). On top of that, a three-letter clue about an art medium – 25A: Medium for many 13-Down – is bound to be OIL; I mean, what else could it possibly be?

There’s a Beach Boys song called “California Feelin,'” which idealizes the Southern California landscape and weather. It has a line in it about how you have to remember sunny California when it’s cold and gray in New York. With that East Coast-West Coast contrast in mind, I was able to fill in I LOVE LA astonishingly quickly for 38D: Song that starts “Hate New York City / It’s cold and it’s damp.” I also saw through the pun in 37A: Person with a lot on his plate? and immediately knew that it had to be BIG EATER, even though that’s a phrase that I don’t use particularly often (though it is quite common, I suppose).

The UL corner had me guessing for quite a while, since I only had STEM (19A: Non-humanities acronym) in that section of the grid after my first couple go-arounds. But once I figured out WHAT’S THAT (1A: “Come again?”), it disappeared pretty fast. I don’t have enough time to check now, but I’m almost certain that ESTATE TAX (17A: Trust issue?) has been recycled from an older puzzle. I sorta frown upon that, since phrases longer than four or five characters really shouldn’t turn into banal crosswordese. There are enough permutations of vowels and consonants once you pass the threshold of five characters that you shouldn’t have to reuse particular words over and over again.

A couple of tricky clues:

  • Mostly because my family was never the type to use boxed food mixes, this was the first time that I heard of RICE-A-RONI (15A: Brand whose first commercial featured a cable car) which is apparently “pilaf-like” and “consists of rice, vermicelli, pasta, and seasonings” (Mr. Wikipedia).
  • Is it just me, or do I keep seeing references to “All My Children”? I swear that this is my fourth or fifth time this summer that the TV show has appeared in a grid, this time with ERICA (26A: Emmy-winning Susan Lucci role).
  • I thought that diner lingo in the clue [28A: “On the hoof,” in diner lingo] was referring to the answer and not the phrase “On the hoof” itself. Whatever. Anyway, “on the hoof” means “any kind of meat cooked rare,” according to this website.
  • I didn’t understand the reference in 27D: Batman? (CASEY) until I looked up the words “casey” and “bat” together. Apparently, there’s a poem called “Casey at the Bat” about baseball. I’m assuming it’s famous.
  • I don’t think anyone who doesn’t do crosswords regularly would know that a “rush” doesn’t just mean a hurry, but rather a “marsh or waterside plant with slender stemlike pith-filled leaves.” Like, do you expect me to be a plantologist, Will Shortz? What’s the actual word for plantologist? Oh right, botany. Anyway, that’s why REED is the answer to 46A: Rush, e.g.
  • I was almost certain that 8D: “On end, to Donne” was one of those foreign language clues where the constructor is asking you what a word means in the language of the person whose name is in the clue. I thought Donne might be a French name, which left me hopeless since I don’t know any phrases in French. But no! This clue was asking us to examine the relationship between “on end” and “Donne” – the two words are ANAGRAMs of each other! Bruh.
  • 56D: Beatles title girl with a “little white book” is a reference to “Lovely Rita.” I would post a link, but the song isn’t on YouTube?? Copyright issues???

Lovely Rita, meter maid…
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Thursday, August 18, 2016: “Temperamentally Noncommunicable Reconsideration”

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Solving time: 46:09. Under average but also with a little bit of help, if you know what I mean *nudge nudge wink wink.* Medium.

Puzzle quality: 

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Theme: Each of the three grid-spanning theme answers is one word that consists of three smaller words, clued by a pun that defines all three sub-words literally. Here’s what I mean:

  • RECONSIDERATION (17A: Not the main food allotment for one on an intel mission?) = RECON (intel mission) + SIDE (not the main) + RATION (food allotment).
  • 1401306296tempe1 + SlowCooker-Pork-Ramen_0 + tallymarksTEMPERAMENTALLY (36A: Noodle count in one of Arizona’s largest cities?)
  • NONCOMMUNICABLE (53A: Sarge’s “Sell my city bonds!” telegram?) = NONCOM (sarge) + MUNI (city bond) + CABLE (telegram). This theme answer was probably the most difficult one to get, especially if you didn’t know that noncom was actually an abbreviation for noncommissioned officer (and not noncommercial) and that muni is short for municipal bond.

There are the types of crossword solvers who will hate today’s puzzle, and there are the types of solver who will find it funny and then move on with their lives. I think I’m in the latter boat. I certainly get why there are people in the first camp; all you see is three different 15-letter words that have no thematic coherence (in other words, there’s no inherent relationship between the words RECONSIDERATIONTEMPERAMENTALLY, and NONCOMMUNICABLE other than their equivalent length) and were taken literally by their sub-parts. I imagine, however, that it’s fairly difficult to find 15-letter words that can be divided into three intelligible words that are actually defined in the dictionary. And, on top of that, the clues were great examples of the wacky nonsense that the NYTimes crossword frequently engages in, so utterly bizarre that they proved rather enjoyable. NONCOMMUNICABLE was a bit of a stretch with its two abbreviated sub-parts, but still took a long time to figure out with a rather pleasing payoff at the end.

The top third of the grid offered little to no resistance, with gimmes like 5A: __ Elba and 14A: Kind of flute. It wasn’t until the middle that I started to groan a little, especially when today’s pair of constructors, Parker Lewis and Jeff Chen, threw a curveball with 31A: Pianist Rubinstein. I don’t think anyone knows him as ARTUR. Everyone, even my classical music nerd friends, call him ARTHUR Rubinstein. The Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention this alternate spelling of his name in its introductory paragraph. Seeing that there were only five spaces in the answer rather than six, I filled in ANTON for the clue, another famous pianist who happens to share the same last name as ARTUR. That cost me some time. Tricky tricky!

In a moment of late-Wednesday-night idiocy, I forgot what upholstery was, so 25D: Upholstery’s stock had me like:


Double references to culinary delicacies, with 22A: Like the cinnamon in babka and 25A: Ingredient in Christmas pudding, and double references to religious “mounts,” with 39A: Mount in Greek myth and 27D: Biblical mount, had me like:


And then ROSHAMBO (37D: Rock-paper-scissors, by another name) was just like…


“Am I a rock in this alternate universe? Or a paper?”

See you tomorrow,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld

Wednesday, August 17, 2016: “Dark Arts”

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Solving time: 21:01, which – although comfortably under my overall average for Wednesdays – is still quite high relative to my recent times for Wednesdays in the past month or so. Some cheating went on in the middle section of the grid for me, so I’m going to peg this one as somewhere between medium and challenging.

Puzzle quality:


Theme: As usual, the NYTimes crossword takes some phrases too literally sometimes, and today’s grid is no exception. Our phrase of the day is DARK ARTS (38D: What sorcerers practice … or a hint to interpreting five clues in this puzzle). Each of the theme clues contains a five-letter word whose last four letters, -ARTS, are literally blacked out by a bar or, if you’re solving the puzzle online, by four # signs. As such, the clues are literally “dark arts.” Hah. Our five theme clues, and their corresponding answers, are as follows:

  • MARTS -> 20A: M 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> EXCHANGES. If the black squares were removed, the clue would just be MARTS. “Marts” is sort of a weak clue for EXCHANGES, since I view an “exchange” as a market for currency transactions and a “mart” as just a general type of market. But, of course, today’s constructor, Mark McClain (apparently debuting his first-ever puzzle today) had a pretty limited basket of clues due to his theme – keep in mind that all of theme have to be five-letter words that end in ARTS *and* the theme answers have to be symmetric. So, inevitably, some clues are going to be weaker than others.
  • WARTS -> 51A: W 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> BLEMISHES.
  • TARTS -> 10D: T 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> PASTRIES. 
  • PARTS -> 11D: P 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> MOVIE ROLES.
  • DARTS -> 28D: D 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg 4544827697_6f73866999_b.jpg -> PUB PASTIME. What a fantastic answer. I love how “pub pastime,” at least to my knowledge, is not a very commonly-used phrase, but it fits the clue – DARTS – perfectly.

I think there are two ways that most people view “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – either a) a magical work of art or b) a movie that didn’t quite live up to expectations but was competently done nonetheless. I can’t really decide between those two options when evaluating today’s puzzle. Part of me really enjoys the theme, which is a break from a lot of the conventional trash that the NYTimes throws around early in the week. But the other part of me has gotten over its originality; I just see four black squares in the place of the theme’s supposed ingenuity. So idk.


I got stuck for quite a bit in the middle, hence the longer solving time. I’ve heard the phrase DOILIES (38A: Dining table decorations) maybe once or twice in my life before, if at all, mainly because I don’t eat at fancy dining tables unlike Will Shortz, who has probably been an aristocrat in one of his incarnations during his EONs-long existence and eaten lots of nice dinners with exquisite nobility in three-piece suits and top hats. Sorry Will. I’m just not at your level yet. Twitter is all atwitter about TRUMP these days but not its homophone TROMPE [34A: __-l’oeil (illusion)], a word that you probably didn’t know unless you’re French or you eat at a bunch of fancy dinners like Sir Shortz and you bandy about phrases like TROMPE l’oeil in your fancy conversations. That and two other musical references (neither of which were that obscure but just served to reveal my own cultural jejunosity) – ARNE (25A: Composer Thomas) and EMIL (30D: Pianist Gilels) – had me mired.

The only other part of the grid that offered much resistance was the bottom middle and right. I misread 52D: Big nits for you-know-what and did a double-take before I realized that fancy-schmancy Sir Shortz would never include such vulgar phrases in his Aristocratic puzzles. I’m very familiar with Kunta Kinte from Roots but not with LEVAR Burton (47D), the actor who played him. I’m not very familiar with baseball and certainly not with STAN Musial (55D). I made a blunder with 42D: Blunder and wrote MISTAKE instead of MISSTEP, and I wanted to answer PEON for 65A: Common laborer but I got its definition confused with that of “paean.” Typical crossword struggles. #thestruggleisreal.

Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld


Tuesday, August 16, 2016: “Artoo Detoo”

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Solving time: 7:16, which might be my fastest time ever for a Tuesday crossword. This puzzle is as easy as they come.

Puzzle quality:


Sadly, you can’t see R2D2 in this poster.

Theme: Each of the theme answers consists of two words. The first has two R‘s in it, and the second has two D‘s in it. This results in the theme revealer ARTOO DETOO (65A: “Star Wars” droid … or a phonetic hint to what’s found in 17-, 26-, 41-, and 52-Across), which literally has two R’s and two D’s. Theme answers include…

  • SURFER DUD(17A: Guy shouting “Cowabunga!,” say)
  • ROGER MUDD (26A: Onetime CBS News anchor) Factoid of the day: Roger Mudd was the journalist who conducted this famous botched interview with Ted Kennedy, where he struggled to explain why he wanted to be president:
  • NARROWLY DEFINE(41A: Lacking broad application). It’s pretty unusual for a Tuesday puzzle, at least from my experience, to have a theme answer that is so long that it stretches across the entire grid. Nonetheless, this clue was still quite easy to get from the surrounding downs.
  • REAR ENDE(52A: Rammed from behind)

Say hello to the final week of Popular Discourse’s blog posts on the New York Times crossword puzzle, since I have to head off to college. Say hello also to my 100-day streak on the NYT crosswords! Solving the puzzles on a daily basis has certainly been frustrating from time to time with Will Shortz’s giant Rolodex of obscure proper nouns, but overall it’s been a blast.

100 days also seems like a really long time. When I started the streak, I was still a high school senior, drifting from one class period to the next just yearning to graduate. Over the span of those 100 days, I’ve been to nine countries on trips that weren’t even planned until the very last minute, for the most part. I’ve partaken in activities that I would’ve never pictured myself doing (I’m looking right at you, flying trapeze workshop), I’ve overcome some phobias that were ingrained deeply in my psyche, I’ve had exotic cuisine like crickets (which sounds like ew! initially, but actually tastes fine) and deep-fried turtle, and I’m happy to say that I’ve pushed the boundaries of who I am. The puzzles were the one consistent aspect of a summer that was perpetually changing for me, and I appreciated the assurance of knowing that I would solve a crossword on any given day, no matter what part of the globe that I was in and no matter what new risks I was taking.

Anyway, onto today’s puzzle. I solved this as soon as my plane touched down in LAX, and I thought that I was going to take longer than usual since I was feeling under the weather, maybe from all that cold Welsh weather. To my surprise, however, this puzzle was incredibly quick for me; this is one of few Tuesdays that I’ve solved in under 10 minutes, and as I noted above, it might in fact be my fastest Tuesday ever. My only mistake was at the very end, when I thought that Trebek’s first name was ALEC and not ALEX (64A: Trebek with all the answers), which is pretty silly of me given that I used to watch Jeopardy! on a daily basis.

There are plenty of novice-friendly clues here, like 19A: Romney’s 2012 running mate (RYAN, but you already knew that) and 50A: Like rappers Wayne and Kim (LIL). The long downs added some spice to the puzzle, including CAR DEALER (34D: One offering test drives) – which hasn’t appeared in the NYTimes crossword since April 2010 – and DO YOU MIND (11D: “Um … excuse me?”) – which has only ever been used twice before as an answer. Quite original for a Tuesday. Oh, and of course, there’s the theme answer NARROWLY DEFINED, which is making its crossword debut today.

cartoon 8-16

Discounting the theme answers, the only other clues that I had some trouble with were 1A: Sounds from schnauzers (ARFS), since I wasn’t aware that the word “schnauzer” means “a medium- or small-sized dog of a German breed, and 71A: Celtic tongue of the British Isles (ERSE), even though I was closer to the British Isles this past weekend than I ever will be for a long time. Oh, and BLUTO (7D: Popeye’s brawny rival for Olive Oyl), because I just haven’t seen/read *nearly* as much Popeye as Will Shortz seems to have. Maybe I’ll get on that in my final week of summer vacation.

See you tomorrow,
Kenneth, lowly serf of Crossworld


Optimism: A Strategic Mistake

By ALEC CAMHI || August 14th, 2016

Evidently, there are two different Americas. At least, that’s what an onlooker might think after watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The Republicans painted a gloomy picture of America as a country with high unemployment, high crime levels, and weak national security, with those problems getting worse to boot. This left the door wide open for the Democrats to position themselves as the party of optimism and positivity, an opportunity of which they took full advantage. At their convention, Democrats spoke of an America full of hope and potential, a clear difference from the Republicans’ dark illustration of the state of the country. While it’s not inherently bad for the Democrats to position themselves as the optimistic party, they risk alienating a considerable part of the American public still disheartened by the direction of the country.

Admittedly, Democrats should be feeling pretty confident about their optimistic messaging right now. After all, the Republicans set a pretty low bar to surpass. The pessimism of Donald Trump’s convention speech was astonishing. Just in the span of a few minutes, he told viewers that “our president … has made America a more dangerous environment”, that “this administration has … failed [inner cities] on jobs”, and that “the damage and devastation that can be inflicted by Islamic radicals has been proven over and over,” setting a somewhat apocalyptic tone.1 On the Democratic side, the message was a sharp contrast. Not only did they repeat numerous times that “America is already great” – a not-so-subtle rebuke of Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan – but the tone of the speeches differed notably from that of Trump’s speech.2 First Lady Michelle Obama noted that every day, her African American family wakes up “in a house built by slaves” centuries ago, highlighting the progress that America has made on racial issues.3 Senator Cory Booker argued, “We are called to be a nation of love,” not just of “tolerance.”4 President Obama celebrated “all that we’ve achieved together” during his presidency, citing the economic recovery, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, and the Affordable Care Act, among other things.5 Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton praised the “the strengths we bring as Americans” in the face of the country’s challenges.6 The poll numbers make it appear that this strategy – drawing a contrast with the cynical tone of the Republicans – paid off. In the wake of her convention, Clinton has enjoyed a nice bounce: since July 25th, the first day of her convention, her RealClearPolitics polling average has surged from a 1-point deficit to an 8-point lead in national head-to-head matchups against Trump as of August 10th.7 She is also ahead in key swing states; her campaign is so confident in her leads in the usually-close states of Colorado and Virginia that they aren’t even spending on television ads there.8

Correlation does not equal causality, however. Much of Clinton’s bounce in the polls is also attributable to recent mistakes that Trump has made on the campaign trail. First, Trump made headlines by attacking Muslim gold star mother Ghazala Khan, wife of Khizr Khan, the Muslim gold star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump said that Mrs. Khan “maybe … wasn’t allowed to have anything to say” alongside her husband because of her religion.9 (In an interview before Trump made those comments, it was clear that the reason Mrs. Khan didn’t speak was that she was too grief-stricken.)10 Trump also stated in a press conference that Russia should try to hack Clinton’s deleted e-mails, a move that the New York Times called “essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage.”11 If that wasn’t enough to cause his poll numbers to plummet, Trump then gaffed again in the Stephanopoulos interview and said that Vladimir Putin “is not going into Ukraine,” despite the fact that Russia already has military forces there.12 He then tried to walk this statement back to little avail, stating that he meant that he would be able to deter Putin from Ukraine if he were president. This, coming after statements suggesting that he would consider withdrawing from NATO (which would enable Putin to pursue serious expansion into former Soviet states),13 cast serious doubt in voter’s minds regarding Trump’s knowledge of foreign policy, further contributing to his declining poll numbers.

Thus, Democrats must be cognizant of Trump’s mistakes and how they could be influencing the polling numbers before they become overconfident in their highly optimistic tone. While it may be hard to see right now, not everything is going right for Democrats in this election. Take the economy, for instance. In 1992, James Carville, a campaign strategist for Bill Clinton at the time, hung a sign in the campaign’s headquarters to explaining the campaign’s core message. The second of three bullet points read, “The economy, stupid,” and since then, “It’s the economy, stupid,” has become an exceedingly popular phrase among political junkies when discussing the most important issue in deciding elections.14 Essentially, when the economy is strong, the incumbent party has an easier time retaining power, and when the economy is weak, the opposite is true. And in America’s current economic situation – one of recovery, but sluggish recovery – Democrats risk being viewed as out-of-touch with the plight of struggling Americans for whom the economy is still not at full strength. This spells trouble for them. Indeed, a poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal from July 31st to August 3rd, which showed Clinton up by nine points over Trump nationally, still showed that voters preferred Trump on the economy by a four-point margin. Although Clinton has closed the gap on that issue since June (when the same poll showed her trailing by 10 on the economy), this nonetheless indicates that voters may be looking for an alternative to the status quo. The poll isn’t particularly kind to Clinton in that regard, either: Trump has a whopping 22-point advantage over Clinton in the category of “changing business as usual in Washington.”15 On top of that, the RealClearPolitics polling average as of August 10th shows that about 65 percent of voters believe the country is on the “wrong track,” while only 29 percent believe that the country is going in the “right direction.”16 This is another liability for Clinton. While she preaches a message of such optimism, the polls seem to show that Americans aren’t particularly optimistic about the direction of the nation.

Does this mean that Democrats should completely abandon their messaging? Of course not. But dialing it back wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, either. Yes, the polling looks awfully good for Clinton right now, but the election is still three months out, and current economic conditions don’t necessarily spell great news for the incumbent party. Many Americans are still struggling to reap the benefits of the economic recovery, so Democrats need to be careful how rosy a picture they paint in order to stay in touch with the concerns of struggling Americans. With Trump digging himself such a deep hole and not showing any signs of “getting on message” like establishment Republicans so desperately want him to, Democrats don’t need to roll the dice with a risky message. As long as they manage not to seriously alienate any groups between now and November, Clinton should coast to victory just fine.




  1. http://www.mercurynews.com/elections/ci_30155961/transcript-donald-trumps-acceptance-speech
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/28/obama-hillary-clinton-convention-speech-trump
  3. http://time.com/4421538/democratic-convention-michelle-obama-transcript/
  4. http://time.com/4421756/democratic-convention-cory-booker-transcript-speech/
  5. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-obama-2016-convention-speech-transcript-20160727-snap-story.html
  6. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-hillary-clinton-convention-speech-transcript-20160728-snap-htmlstory.html
  7. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html
  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/08/04/showing-growing-confidence-clinton-campaign-and-super-pac-pause-ads-in-colorado-and-virginia/
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/30/donald-trump-responds-to-the-khan-family-maybe-she-wasnt-allowed-to-have-anything-to-say/
  10. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/02/politics/who-is-khizr-khan-trnd/
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-clinton-emails.html?ref=topics
  12. http://time.com/4432282/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-ukraine/
  13. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-21/trump-says-u-s-may-not-defend-nato-allies-against-russia-attack-iqvw8gki
  14. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/us/1992-campaign-democrats-clinton-bush-compete-be-champion-change-democrat-fights.html
  15. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/nbc-wsj-poll-clinton-jumps-nine-point-lead-over-trump-n623131
  16. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html

Party’s Over – Why Party Affiliation Should be Left Aside This Election (and others)


By JOSHUA ZAKHAROV || August 10, 2016

Pundits and analysts like to classify the patterns of voters under four main categories – ideologues, nature-of-the-times voters, party ID voters, and character voters. The first votes based on a candidate’s policies and platform, without regard to things like character or affiliations. The second votes based on what a candidate has done for them lately – if they’ve lost their job, if they feel their taxpayer dollars are misspent, then the incumbent has to go. The third usually casts a straight ballot for all the candidates of their party, voting almost solely on partisanship. The fourth votes based on how a candidate looks, acts, interacts with others – “because s/he seems ‘presidential,’ they get my vote.”

Guess the most popular voting pattern in the United States, governing the behavior of nearly 40% of the hundred-plus million Americans voting each year. It’s not the ideologue pattern (naïve guess – that’s only about 10%); it’s not nature-of-the-times; and it’s not character. It’s party-ID. Though it might seem reasonable at first glance, this is likely the most damaging ideology behind casting a ballot, and could be what tips the election in the favor of a megalomaniac this year.

Let me say first that this isn’t meant to be a pointless hot take, and certainly not an attack on people who back their party’s candidate without a second thought. Provided that the platform established at a party’s convention is one that’s in line with your principles, and that candidates are reasonable, pragmatic people that seek to effect that platform, voting for your party rather than your candidate is a solid choice.

But not every candidate fits the mold of their party, and that’s why casting a ballot for a candidate before their party is an important consideration. Most of the time, voting for your party is safe. Candidates are, more often than not, people that live up to the principles of their party, have a record of defending them, and focus on practicality and compromise in office. In times of political turmoil, such as those before critical elections, however, party ideology and principles become less important than choosing a candidate above political affiliation that can deal with a country’s issues.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 win over Hoover, for example, moved Democrats much further left than they had ever gone with New Deal social welfare reforms, even while the Democratic party continued to represent white Southerners above all else. In doing so, Roosevelt was able to build up a new Democratic voting coalition that would reelect him three times; his shaking up of traditional party politics proved effective during the Great Depression and spurred millions of voters to cast party aside to vote for the functional candidate over Hoover, who presided over the start of the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan’s critical election and reelection in 1980 and 1984, to bring up a Republican example, were also able to shuffle traditional voting patterns. After demonstrating strong leadership during the Cold War and convincing Americans that Reaganomics could work, Reagan was able to win 49 (49!) states in his reelection, changing nearly every blue state but his opponent (Walter Mondale’s) home state to a red one.

As Hillary Clinton put it in her acceptance speech, we face a moment of reckoning this November. The economic success of our current president is undeniable, with his center-left economics from the stimulus package to infrastructure funding having made our economy rebound since the Great Recession in 2008. Unemployment is lower now than it was under Reagan, relations with Cuba and Iran have been normalized, and dozens of progressive goals have been realized by our Supreme Court. Clinton promises to build even higher on Obama’s goals, spending more on infrastructure, reshaping a Supreme Court to deal with the corruption of campaign finance regulations and the now-banal reality of gun violence.

Even if these are goals you disagree with, they are still real, clear-cut, nuanced, and understandable policy positions. Donald Trump has none. After refusing to disavow the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, after demonizing Muslims, Mexicans, black youth, America’s disabled, after accusing a Gold Star mother stricken with grief of not speaking because her Muslim faith prevented her from doing so, after claiming the Constitution had 12 articles and people had “no right” to say things he disagreed with, after spurning free trade deals that passed with bipartisan support, after exporting jobs from the US for his own gain, after claiming police deaths have gone up 50% from last year when there’s been one fewer death, it is clear that not only does Trump lack a basic understanding of the state of our nation, but that he lacks a basic understanding of the principles of his party.

This is no longer the party of John McCain, a man who, in his 2008 election, pointed out that Obama is a God-loving Christian and a family man, and disagreed with him only politically. This is no longer the party of Mitt Romney, who championed his party’s platform to the letter, and this is certainly no longer the party of Ronald Reagan.

This is a party being led astray from its original principles of keeping government small, not tyrannical against minorities, of protecting individual liberties rather than stripping them away, of abiding by the Constitution rather than never having read it.

If you’re a Republican, and you’re voting for whomever your party has selected for this general election, make sure you think twice – you might not even be voting for a Republican at all.

Josh Zakharov is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and an incoming freshman at the University of Chicago.

Ethan Gelfer contributed editing.