Crash Blossom Quiz of the Week

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Courtesy of Stephen Bullon in East Sussex, here's a headline to test your crash blossom mettle:

Bright sparks weather gala night power cut to party on

Stephen didn't send a scan, and the article doesn't appear (yet?) on the paper's web site, but apparently it was actually printed in the physical version. It took me four or five readings to figure out what (I think) it means.

Here's a picture of the print version, complete with a baker's dozen of bright-spark photos:

And the start of the article:

The wind was blowing so hard on Battle's Gala Night last Thursday (December 8) that the Chamber of Commerce volunteer lighting team was called out to stabilise the town's Christmas tree and the publicised entertainment on the Abbey Green had to be cancelled.

A power cut early in the evening plunged the High Street into darkness for some minutes and threatened to spoil the event entirely.

But fortunately for the traders and shoppers, the lights were restored quickly and the Christmas spirit triumphed.

It may have been wet and gusty outside, but the shops and businesses seemed all the more warm and welcoming by comparison and traders reported a successful and enjoyable night with visitors staying longer and taking advantage of the hospitality on offer.

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42 Comments »

  1. Rube said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    Hmm…I'm guessing it means "Happy young people continued with their big party despite an electricty outage".

    But I wouldn't wager more than a quarter on it.

  2. Kahomono said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

    What Rube said. Mainly because it seems to be the only interpretation that doesn't require being set in a painting by Dali or Magritte.

    Can't wait to see the real answer.

  3. #Ron said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    Second Rube. The "bright sparks" weathered a power cut, on gala night, in order to continue their partying.

  4. Stan said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    Same as Rube, but instead of "happy young people" I'm going to guess the partying party are electrical engineering graduates. Weather is the surprise verb from which the crash blossoms.

  5. Herostratus said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    It has to be that. The only other meaning that comes to me would be: "Mr Bright initiated, at the evening Weatherman's Ball, a power outage in order to prolong his enjoyment of the soirée." But power outages usually end, not prolong, parties. So it's got to be the first poster's interpretation.

  6. grackle said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Thank you, Stan. I might have labored for hours without realizing that weather is a verb here. No way to even guess who the young sparks are.

  7. LDavidH said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    Well, there is a wedding music band called Bright Sparks (http://gigzmanagement.com), and an electrical services company called Bright Sparks (http://www.brightsparks-services.com), either of which could be what the headline refers to (my guess is the band). It's still pretty obscure, though!

  8. CIngram said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    What grackle said. Despite being English and therefore fluent in headlinese of the wilder sort, I tried this backwards, forwards, upside down and inside out without realising 'weather' was the verb.

  9. Dw said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    The use of "to" to mean something like "and then" is also confusing.

  10. Ellen K. said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    Was "sparks" uncapitalized? Because I'm wanting to interpret "Bright Sparks" as a name of some sort, but that doesn't fit with the capitalization.

  11. Victor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    Mr. Bright encourages the weather-related event to proceed despite power-cut at night.

    OR

    The weather-themed even by Bright Sparks (foundation) to party on despite late evening power cut-off.

  12. Victor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    Alternatively,

    "Bright sparks" (whatever they are) weather "gala night" loss of power, will continue to party.

    This one is more like Rube.

  13. Victor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

    Here's another version of "bright sparks"==fireworks:

    http://goo.gl/Rzxox
    Bright sparks raised £4K for Mayor's appeal

    A REINVENTED firework display – which returned this year after a three-year absence – raised £4,000 to help Bristol children enjoy a brighter Christmas.

    The family-friendly fireworks spectacular took place at Canford Park in Westbury-on-Trym on Bonfire Night.

    This suggests another interpretation:

    The fireworks display survives the late power cut-off on gala night, revelers party on

  14. will said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    I give up. How is a power outage supposed to "party on"?

  15. Electric Dragon said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

    "Bright sparks" is an idiom meaning "clever people" (is it mostly British?), but is often used pejoratively or ironically.

  16. JR said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    Bright sparks weather-gala night power cut, to party on

    Mr. Bright caused a power cut on the night of the weather gala, which caused the gala to continue (somehow). Was excessive power causing problems at the gala?

  17. Peter Taylor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    It may be because I was primed that it was a crash blossom, but I had no problem with it. What I'm not sure about is whether there's a pun, and the intelligent party-goers improvised lighting using a van der Graaf generator.

  18. John Baker said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

    Wow, this one is even worse than "Asset Drops Fuel Expense Ratio Rise," which Arnold Zwicky blogged about at http://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/another-imparseable-dream/.

    It's all very well to have a crash blossom that leads the reader down the garden path, but for true impenetrability you need a pile of words that can be used as either nouns or verbs. In the older example, four of the six words (drops, fuel, expense, and rise) can serve in either capacity, and of those, three have their less common uses while the fourth, expense, is in its usual status as a noun but is used attributively. In the current example, assuming the reading offered by Rube is correct, five of the ten words (sparks, weather, power, cut, and party) could be either nouns or verbs and there are very few clues as to which they are.

  19. Janice Byer said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

    "Weather" strikes me as an infelicitous figurative word here, in light of "bright sparks" suggesting lightning and its potential to cut not only power but down outdoor partiers, presumably in the flower of their youth, lending new meaning to "crash blossoms".

  20. Rob Grayson said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    I got it on first reading. Perhaps it's because I'm a Brit and therefore more used to reading these types of headlines?

  21. TonyK said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    To ageing brits like me, "bright sparks" simply means "clever young things". So the meaning is transparent.

  22. Janice Byer said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    P.S. It follows that, having weathered a loss of electrons to some low-down power line, it's the storm that partied on.

  23. Janice Byer said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    P.P.S. In some places storms do make headlines

  24. Jamie said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    A good job they didn't include the name of the town in the headline. I'm sure "Battle bright sparks weather gala night power cut to party on" would have been even more confusing.

    (As a Brit, I can't understand why it is confusing at all :-) )

  25. Ken Brown said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

    Without reading any other comments or the rest of the OP my first thought was that "Bright Sparks" are some sort of club or society, they were organising a social event called a "Gala Night", the weather was bad, but they did it anyway.

    I'd guess that the BS are either kids or old folk, and possibly based in Brighton in East Sussex.

    That's my first and natural reading.

    I'm from Brighton myself, in my 50s, and a native speaker of so-called "estuary English".

  26. Adrian said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    I'm not sure why Mark thinks he should be able to understand British headlines. We Brits understand them, so there's no problem. (CIngram is the exception that proves the rule.)

    Are Americans similarly surprised when they don't understand Sarah Millican?

  27. dw said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

    @Rob Grayson:

    I grew up in Britain and generally never have any trouble with these (and I'm familiar with the meaning of "bright sparks"), but this one threw me.

    Maybe living in the USA has dulled my crash-blossom-parsing module. The metaphor of "weathering" a power cut also feels wrong to me. Oh well.

  28. msH said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    I had no problem with it, but I'm guessing the problem is people don't automatically see 'weather' as the verb, as in, to weather the storm or to weather the mark? Perhaps that the writer is the same as me and doesn't see any other possible interpretation – and has no idea that it might be a usage restricted to sailing families.

  29. Sevly said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

    My problem, assume that my current interpretation (which is the Rube's one) is correct, was that I kept wanting to treat "sparks" as the verb, so I sat there reading it over and over wondering about this oddity of a "weather gala night" (a gala for meteorologists?) and who this enigmatic agent "Bright" might have been. It was Mark's use of "bright-spark" that gave me the clue. Aha! I thought. So "bright sparks" must be a compound noun. The rest follows quite naturally.

    What, exactly, a "bright spark" is, on the other hand, I'm still not sure. It may be metaphoric for bubbly youth, as Rube suggests and as matches with the photos. Or this interpretation might be completely off the mark, although if it is then I have no clue what else the headline could be (sensibly) saying.

    Some British people (TonyK, Jamie) have mentioned that bright spark is quite a transparent construction to them. It seems to me this is the key to understanding the crash blossom, rather than the use of "weather" as a verb. Well, I guess, rather, it's that we have two words–"sparks" and "weather"–that both easily lend themselves to verbal use, sitting right beside each other, and without the experience to know that the former is supposed to be the head of the subject noun, then things get messy.

  30. Janice Byer said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

    ??…but, but, Adrian, this Yank understands Ms. Millican's writing just fine and not only because we both speak misanthropic felinophilia.

  31. Victor said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    You have to be an over-the-hill Brit to understand "bright sparks" in its intended meaning. "Gala night power cut" is relatively transparent despite distractions. That leaves "weather" and "party on" as verbs, if one can stomach that. But knowing "bright sparks" idiom is crucial. That's why some–but not all–Brits had no problem with it.

    My four examples were mostly in jest–especially for those who don't see a problem–even though one of them was correct (as long as youcan get past the "even" for "event" typo).

  32. Vireya said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

    Possibly over-the-hill Australian here. I understood the headline when I got to "weather" on my second reading. Having read all the words once, I was able to recognise weather as the verb on the second run-through.

  33. Janice Byer said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    "Bright sparks" weathering a power cut at night doesn't suggest party-time to one, who stupidly plugged a two-pronged cord sideways in the dark once into a three-prong outlet.

    Let's just say an overload of figurative language and their associations tripped me up :)

  34. CIngram said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    @Adrian

    I don't usually have trouble with the headline pile-ups published here, but for some reason I couldn't parse this one. And it wasn't a problem with 'bright sparks', either, which is transparent to me, despite not being (quite) over the hill (teetering on the brow, perhaps).

  35. Warsaw Will said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    Easy, but I have to admit this is one of the better ones. It looks exactly like a clue in a cryptic crossword. Perhaps you need a crossword mind -
    First clause:
    Subject: bright sparks – lively young people
    Verb: weather – to successfully endure (eg weather the storm)
    Direct object: gala night power cut – outage (for non-Brits) during a special celebration
    Second clause:
    Verb: (in order) to party on – continue partying

  36. Sarah Glover said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    Being familiar with the expression "weather the storm" and being English, I read it correctly first time. In fact, it seems obvious to me and I wouldn't have thought of it as a crash blossom.

  37. Daniel Barkalow said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    Obviously, if the power stayed on, the computers would have completed another model run and Mr. Bright would have had to leave the weather gala and update the forecast.

  38. Mark Mandel said,

    December 18, 2011 @ 12:54 am

    I got it on 2nd or 3rd try, once I fixed on "weather" as verb.

    @Dw, The use of "to" to mean something like "and then" is also confusing.
    I don't see it that way; rather, that they held out against the difficulties caused by the power cut and (more "thereby" than "then") succeeded in partying on.

  39. Ellen K. said,

    December 18, 2011 @ 8:45 am

    I think the key to parsing it is understanding "weather" to be a verb. Once one does that, the string of words falls into place as a grammatical string. Understanding what "Bright sparks" are isn't necessary, though I suspect it's necessary for being able to understand the headline on one's first reading of it. Of course, understanding what "Bright sparks" are is necessary for fully understanding the headline, but not for parsing it.

  40. Graeme said,

    December 18, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    This made immediate sense to this Australian English speaker. It's a Crash but not really a Blossom is it? A CB is marked by being overly tight; this headline is too long; too many metaphors jumbling together. "Party survives blackout" would do it in 3; or "Revellers defy power outage". But either more descriptive title admits that this is a non-story, at least outside 'local' 'news'.

  41. Richard Crawley said,

    December 18, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    There is an additional complication, I don't think I saw mentioned above that adds to the punning possibilities. "Sparks" can be theatrical and/or building trade slang for an electrician. Maybe some of these were involved in reconnecting the power?

  42. rwmg said,

    December 18, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

    Perhaps I've been outside the UK too long, but I must admit I had problems with this one till I saw the picture of the print version, at which point the interpretation became obvious. But then again I don't suppose whoever composed the headline meant anyone to interpret it without seeing the pictures underneath. Do linguists generally expect to be able to interpret any piece of language without its context?

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