Friday, March 2, 2012

Typos as Brain Teasers

The other day, @obitsman Tweeted a reference to a NYT story on their process and experience of making corrections to articles they've published. This can also be known as acknowledging their boo-boos.

It's a big paper, with lots of words and references, so mistakes are bound to creep in. Any steady reader has, I'm sure, spotted some over the years. For myself, it's been in the Sports section that I've encountered most errors, some of them real "beauts", as New York City's long-time-ago mayor, Fiorello La Guardia said about some of his mistakes.

One of the best ones I ever read was the sportswriter who claimed the horses went into the Clubhouse turn during the running of the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont. Since Belmont is a large track, the start for the mile is on the backstretch, with no involvement of the clubhouse turn. My theory was the poor fellow was watching the race while standing on his head and looking in a mirror. It's the same reporter who claimed the Kentucky Derby was run at a mile and an eighth, when even non-horse racing fans might know it's run at a testing mile and a quarter. The fellow's byline at the paper seems to have survived, however.

The Times reports in their correction story that most of the corrections that wind up being needed occur because of mistakes in the obituaries. Lots of names, dates, places and relationships go into those pieces, so this is not surprising. One recent obituary I read didn't have a factual error, but rather what I guess was a plain typo. But the typo was so subtle, it actually became a brain teaser. It turned out to be sort of fun.

The lengthy obituary was on Ken Price, a sculptor whose ceramic pieces apparently elevated ceramics into more of an art form. Toward the end of the piece is the following sentence, reproduced as it appears in column format:

"...He also continued tore-
sist explaining his work's mean-
ing. As he said..."

Some may quickly see the intended spacing, but what I thought was the word "toresist" sent me on a two dictionary chase, plus search engine lookup, that yielded no such word. I rescanned the entire story, looking for a technique that might be called "toresist" that he developed.

One search engine did ask me something about "to resist." And of course, sure enough, the parsing should be "to resist..."

So, Mr. Price was doing what lots of us do when asked to explain something. We resist telling the questioner an answer they'd like to hear. Artists in particular, are like that.

Take Mary Chapin Carpenter and her early career song 'Heroes and Heroines.' It's easy to know she's singing about Charles Lindbergh as the hero, but who is the heroine? I've guessed Annie Oakley, or maybe Calamity Jane, maybe even Mary's great-grandmother?

To resist. Mary's not telling.

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