Limitations by Jaques
Omitted letters give I AM MASTER OF THIS COLLEGE, a line of verse about Benjamin JOWETT; the last line suggests swapping WHAT I DON’T KNOW with ISN’T KNOWLEDGE.
We’ve all been there. You’re solving a puzzle, flying through the clues with great panache, all the while knowing there’s a denouement to come. You didn’t worry too much about the third paragraph of the preamble with its talk of changing a couple of entries or highlighting 37 cells, you just wanted to get on with things and make a start.
Suddenly you realise, with the last space filled, you’re no nearer knowing what the puzzle is about than when you started. In fact, that niggle you felt, with no message emerging from the rather straightforward clues, has now become a tiny nag at the back of your mind, “But I don’t know what to do next.”
Still, never mind, surely reading the preamble more closely will help. Somewhere there’ll be a little hint as to what to look for in the grid. Patience snaps very quickly and you begin to consider the origins of the setter rather more than the origins of their puzzle. Soon phrases begin to leap into the head containing elements like “if I wanted to do a wordsearch I wouldn’t have bothered solving clues.” or any number of thoughts that include the dreaded GWIT. You’re now only a short step from saying, “I bet this is one of those ****** puzzles where you can only understand the ****** theme once you’ve already understood the ****** theme.”
There are two different outcomes to this all-too-familiar scenario. The first is the dawning of the light, that PDM where suddenly you realise you do know what the puzzle is about. The crossword was perfectly fair and its highlighting requirement reasonable. In fact, the solving experience was extremely well timed with the theme revealing itself just at the appropriate moment. All hail the setter and I’m sorry I said those things about you. But, the second outcome is far more sinister, endless days of head-bashing with no actual progress whatsoever, umpteen sessions staring blankly at an inscrutable grid. Irritation and despair.
It’s at this moment we reach for the cry of the truly desperate and accuse the setter of deploying some ridiculously obscure theme, that might be well-known to them, but is completely off the beaten track to everybody normal, like me. Or, in other words, we define general knowledge by our own experience. Everything I know displays the breadth and sweep of my learning, everything I don’t know is the pointless retreat of nerds. Hmm!
There are several scurrilous verses written by undergrads at Oxford in the 1870s about Balliol College characters. There are probably several scurrilous verses everywhere about everybody, but as these were written at Oxford somebody jotted them down and published them, at least in the ODQ. The then Master of Balliol, Benjamin Jowett, was the target of this particular barb. It accuses the Master of defining a polymath as a solid figure, the size and shape of his own head, hardly an uncommon failing. For years, whenever I fall into the trap outlined above, I’ve tended to admonish myself with the verse. Although my own range of knowledge is, of course, perfect, reasonable and replete and everybody should agree with me.
With a bit of luck, all solvers will have already met the verse, know it, use it frequently and enjoy being reminded of it. Of course, if there were solvers (and it seems unlikely) to whom this was new, I apologise for employing an unfairly known quotation from a fairly unknown source.
Perhaps, the best hope would be the puzzle has added a little General Knowledge.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.