Friday, January 2, 2009

CrosswordMan & Me

I'm sitting in front of the wood stove -- a beautiful soapstone stove that burns hotter fires because the stone lets the heat seep out more gradually; we love it! -- and I have a cat on the back of my chair, a dog at my feet, and a husband working on his new blog!

Yup, Starman (whose name is revealed in his blog, so I suppose I could start calling him Ross here, but old habits die hard) has his own blog, CrosswordManBlog. It's one of those blogs that does the New York Times daily crossword puzzle (plus others he works on) and comments on it. He's very clever and word-y, which shouldn't be a surprise to me, but to see it in print is somehow unexpected. Charming, though.

The downside is that it took him forever to get the first puzzle-specific post published yesterday. It doesn't help that the puzzles at the end of the week are the harder ones. Yesterday was the first Thursday puzzle he'd done on his own, and today's is even harder. You don't think about all the things that are culturally specific in these puzzles: football teams and terms, baseball, food products, automobiles, and the letter salad of our governmental agencies' abbreviations, for example. I'd feel bad but for a couple things: he asked for it (I'd have been happy to help him solve the harder puzzles -- the two of us together make even the Saturday puzzle seem quite tame), and now he knows how I felt learning to do cryptic puzzles.

I was introduced to cryptic crosswords decades ago when Hub 1.0 showed me the weekend puzzle (it was the Observer then; the Listener came later for Hub 1.0 and his dad) that he worked on. These are puzzles that require dictionaries -- you're not expected to know the word, so often you figure out a letter string and then look it up to see if it's a word that means what the clue says it means! For an American used to the NYTimes puzzle, which I would solve sometimes with my mother, all this was craziness. I couldn't stop thinking, "Okay, what's a six-letter word meaning hazel?" Well, I didn't know that cobnut is the European hazel, so I'd never solve anything.

I can probably solve a relatively easy English cryptic crossword on my own now, but I wouldn't be fast. My brain still doesn't work that way; there is something about the English psyche that likes untying the intricate knots of good cryptic clues. One of my brothers solves the daily Times puzzle when he's over there, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't attempt the thematic puzzles like the Listener.

The Listener has been called the most difficult crossword puzzle in the English language, and I can well believe it. (There's a couple of cryptic puzzle aficionados in the UK who think the Listener isn't hard enough [!], so they devised a monthly publication with even harder puzzles. One solver I know described the experience as "homework." Even if hard, the Listener is still supposed to be fun.)

And, of course, I wouldn't be married to Starman without these puzzles. If it hadn't been for Hub 1.0's fondness for the Listener, he wouldn't have met Starman or become a customer of the CrosswordMan line of products, which would have meant I'd have never met him, and so some alternate universe goes.

Plus, the three of us enjoy puzzles together. Hub 1.0 was here for the trial in late October, for Thanksgiving, for Cookie Weekend, and for Christmas. Over Christmas, we worked on a diabolical jigsaw puzzle (six dalmatian puppies on a background of white with black splodges), tried to answer questions in this year's King William College test from England (v. hard -- of 180 questions, we got 37 maybe right in the first effort), and hosted a dinner party. And we worked on crossword puzzles.

Everyday is a crossword puzzle of some sort (or relation; I got a su doku puzzle-a-day calendar for Christmas). We'll be out in the world and Starman will announce an anagram of some sign along the highway. I'll see cryptic wordplay where none was intended. I live in a house with several dozen dictionaries.

For better or worse, in sickness and health, in definition-only or cryptic style . . . I'm married to CrosswordMan. What else was I going to get?

1 comment:

  1. Another reason to stop through again--I'd like to sit by a fire (or the pool) and participate in this crossword madness some time. 2009 is already going so well that I'm sure it will include a visit.