A Crossword Dropout Says His Buh-Bye

  • Sumo

Puzzled No More


By Jesse Mullins

The old crossword puzzle game. Where did it originate? Who first constructed one? What are its sociological implications?

These are all questions I cannot answer. They are very dull and pointless questions also, so I will proceed at once to the meat of this little commentary.

I am swearing off crossword puzzles. Indefinitely. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Another wretched little puzzle-dodger. But I have my reasons. No longer will I mindlessly (and ever-so-neatly) fill in “a-l-o-e” when prompted by the clue “medicinal plant.” It is hard to put into words (no pun intended) the relief I will know. Newspapers (a vanishing breed themselves) will become for me a window to the world rather than hour-long embarrassments in vocabulary skills.

Of course, I cannot say that working crossword puzzles has been entirely compulsive and wasteful for me. There have been benefits. My vocabulary has been expanded, even if the additions are a little odd. Where would I be today without such words as “ort” (crumb) or “erose” (irregular)? And I do know that the crested plover (family Charadriidae) is also called a “lapwing.” But these insights notwithstanding, I have made my decision. And now I am committing to paper my thoughts on the art, for the sake of posterity, or as a fallback to myself, should I ever be moved to attempt a comeback.

My Nine Tips for the Crossword Novice

1.  Know your Eastern European Rivers.

2.  Stay fluent in your Romance languages. Brush up on your German, Gaelic, and Hebrew. Dabble in Bengali.

3.  Don’t worry about turning your brain into some vast repository of famous names. There have only been seven great personages in the civilized world. These seven are Joanne Dru, Edie Gorme, Angelina Jolie, Bert Lahr, Kobe Bryant, Elsa Lanchester, and Bert Convy.

4.  The egger is any of various tree moths of the family Lasiocampidae, of which the larvae often construct tent-like webs.

5.  No matter how much you may object to it, the five-letter answer to “Corroded” is “eaten.”

6.  Know your rivers of Eastern Europe.

7.  In the early days of American history, there were tribes of Native Americans who inhabited our continent. These two tribes were called the Ute and the Oto.

8.  There is a five-letter word meaning “Mythical man of brass.” The first letter is “t” and the third letter is most likely “l.”

9.  Finally, to stay sharp, turn more of those family fun times into Eastern European river name-game times.

A Word about Crossword Constructors

Who are these people? Whence came they? What is this thing they have about “Beard, to Cicero?”

I first began to have suspicions about crossword authors, or constructors, when I noticed they all have the same first names. Crossword men are Justin or Eugene. The women are Yvonne or Trudy. Hmm. Occasionally—very occasionally—one sees a different name, but it is never a good crossword name, like Jim or Marsha. The name in my daily paper is I. Judah Koolyk. Yesterday he wanted me to tell him what a “gopher’s vessel” is. I don’t know and don’t want to know. I do not like to think about gophers or what they are doing with vessels.

On occasions of acute crossword perplexity my thoughts turn to Justin and Trudy, and in my mind’s eye I see them thumbing worn volumes of Etruscan history or digging through Webster’s for another word ending with “n-y-t.” Sometimes I imagine them conversing at a crossword constructors’ dinner party, where they brush the orts from their laps and exchange what must be typical crosswordian banter:

Quelle agreable reunion!” says Trudy. “Les invites sont tres interessants.”

Usted es muy amable,” replies Justin. “Yes, times like these take me back to the days of my youth in Bulgaria, where I worked the ferries on the Iskur, a tributary of the Danube.”

But enough of this. I have thought too long and too hard about crossword puzzles. These days, instead, I’ll find an outlet in the daily cryptoquote. Now there’s a diversion. Interesting challenges and fascinating sayings about unique places and things by great authors in America, England, France, East Europe, Bulgaria…

On second thought, maybe I ort not.

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