The Schlemiel and Schlemiel Theory Appear in “Wordplay: The Crossword Blog of The New York Times”


On January 13th Wordplay: The Crossword Blog of the New York Times brought up the schlemiel and hyperlinked “who else might cause a spill at the cafeteria” to this blog post on Schlemiel Theory.   The article is entitled “Fire Suppressing Compound” and subtitled “Jeffrey Wechsler gets tripped up.”   The author of the article, Deb Amlen, points out how Jeffrey Wechsler, who constructed the last New York Times crossword, gave a clue that made her think of the schlemiel:

Jeffrey Wechsler returns with a set of spoonerized versions of BEATLES songs, and they are funny. I didn’t catch on at first, and tried to fit SCHLEMIEL into 18 Across, because who else might cause a spill at a cafeteria? Fortunately for us, the answer is TRAY DIPPER, reversed from “Day Tripper.”

The irony that Amlen articulates in the subtitle is that, in theory, the schlemiel is the one who “might cause a spill at a cafeteria” (based on the celebrated joke of the schlemiel who spills soup on the schlimazel).   The right word, “tray dipper,” is a “spoonerized” version of the Beatles song (“day tripper”).   But she’s really the one who “tripped up” insofar as she missed the clue.  (I would, too.)

What I love most about the subtitle is that it also suggests – at least for me – that the schlemiel should have been in the crossword. He tripped up by not having it there and is, in the end, a schlemiel!   But, ironically, the word and the link to Schlemiel Theory (on the “Essentially…Existential” schlemiel) made it into the commentary of the crossword.   I find it amusing that it ends up in the commentary. After all, the Jewish tradition loves commentary. And the schlemiel is often in the margins. Even so, when the schlemiel trips he must fall somewhere and I’m very happy to see that he fell into the New York Times “Wordplay” blog!


* On a personal note, my dad will be proud of this slip-and-fall. He’s been doing the New York Times crossword since I was in diapers.

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