Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yesterday's Crossword was One Worth Saving (Wink, Wink)

I love a good crossword puzzle. I get this from my parents, their one intellectual activity aside from discussing politics and listening to NPR. The New York Times, of course, is my hands down favorite but it is rare that I get to work those because I typically read the it online and don’t have a credit card or the money to purchase the crossword portion of that paper. So when I get to do the Times’ puzzle, usually days my female companion brings the paper home from her work, it is a nice little treat for me. Yesterday’s puzzle (10/6/2008) by Patrick Blindauer was one of these little indulgences and it was one of the cooler puzzles I have ever completed and has also excited crossword aficianados.

When I first opened the paper up to the puzzle, I thought about how weird it was that instead of a perfect square, which is what I have always seen, the box was rectangular in shape, wider than it was long. I pointed this out to female companion even, noting on how bizarre this was. I also noticed that some of the answers had circles within the boxes that highlighted some of the letters in a given answer. I didn’t pay much attention to where these were placed and didn’t spend much time considering what they might mean. Assuming they had something to do with a jumble or something, it didn’t dawn on me for sometime that the Times doesn’t have a jumble despite the fact that a minute before when I told female companion that “I always forget where in the Times the crossword is,” and she tried to help by saying “it’s always next to the funnies,” I commented that it doesn’t have comic strips like most other papers, “just the crossword.” But I didn’t really dwell on it as this led her to make a few remarks on the highbrow paper she called “snooty” asking what kind of paper “doesn’t carry the funnies.”[*] So it wasn’t until I was finished that I noticed the significance of both the rectangle and the circles within it, which were pretty ingenious and original innovations in the art of creating a crossword puzzle, an art form that you don’t see much variation in that I would imagine gets pretty tedious.

The first clue of the puzzle, 1-Across, was “Blood type, briefly,” a clue with several possible answers. When I work a puzzle, I fill in the answers with pen, in which case, I don’t write in answers with multiple answers until I get more clues as to what that answer might be and so I move down the list to the next clue. If I don’t know the answer to that clue I move on to the first one I can, I do this for the entire puzzle. Once I have made my first swipe at it, the thing is a patchy bunch of words that I then go back over to see what else I can fill in I didn’t know the first time and then see if I can start to make sense of the really long ones and ones that are dependent on other answers or clues—pretty standard strategy we are talking about here.

The first clue I got that had circle in it ended up being 64-Across: Ryan of “Love Storey” the answer of which was O-N-E-A-L, O’Neal. Still thinking the only significance of the circles was for some jumble or something, I didn’t pay any mind to the fact that the letters circled were O-N-E. After finishing my first pass, I went back to 1-Across, the answer now, it was clear, had to be O-N-E-G since 1-Down: Choose (to) was O-P-T and 4-Down: Lowly soldier was G-R-U-N-T. If you were paying attention, you would have noticed that the three letters circled in this word were the same three circled in the other, O-N-E. But I wasn’t. You can probably already see where this is going but at that point I did not have a clue.

Mixed in with the bunch of regular clues, there were also the ones that were dependent on other clues like 8-Across: Source of all the tender words in this puzzle, 26-Across: 8-Across issuer, 35-Across: Motto of 26-Across found on the 8-Across, 53-Across: Symbol of 26-Across found on the 8-Across, and again 58-Across: Symbol of 26-Across found on the 8-Across the answers of which are 8: D-O-L-L-A-R, 26: T-H-E-U-N-I-T-E-D-S-T-A-T-E-S-O-F-A-M-E-R-I-C-A, 35: I-N-G-O-D-W-E-T-R-U-S-T, 53: G-R-E-A-T-S-E-A-L, and 58: B-A-L-D-E-A-G-L-E, all having to do with currency. It was after figuring the puzzle out in its entirety that I noticed the significance of the shape and the circles. In the four corners of the puzzle there were the letters O-N-E. ONE. One! It was the back of a dollar bill! Upon closer inspection, the puzzle was even more genius in that all of those previously stated answers lined up to their corresponding positions on a fed note. The end result looking something like this:






Very sophisticated, very cool, Blindauer’s crossword puzzle was pretty slick.

[*] Keep in mind that in rural Arkansas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Winston Salem, North Carolina, the paper of choose is not any that come from up north and until recently, when Starbucks started carrying it, the Times was pretty hard to come by. I myself didn’t get my news from that source until high school when someone told me I would really find their movie and book reviews most helpful, which I did/do for the most part, but I didn’t really like reading online at that point† so I still got most my dailies from The Indianapolis Star or The Chicago Herald, the most widely and third most widely read papers in Indianapolis, my hometown, with the second being USA Today that, like the Star, was too conservative for my tastes, but unlike the local publication, there was no local stuff to read about. Even then, the Times was probably a close fourth to the Herald and that was before everyone had the internet it being in the late 1990s, luckily (or possibly unluckily) though, my family had always been one to get the cool new technological advancement with a reasonable price tag‡ and so too were both of my high schools so I haven’t been internet free (excluding my year at Tilton School) since 1996 and I have had it at my disposal ever since. Then, in college, living with a kid from New York for a couple years, who was so notorious for his antics and being an asshole and being dirty, one of many of my friends who were and to be completely honest I was too,
though to me he was the most generous, loyal, and hilarious people I have ever met, with an incredibly New Yorkish name, Benjamin Abraham Golden, only read the Times. All other news was shit. So I too ended up reading it more and more. Since my college days in Ohio, moving all over the East Coast/Midwest from Indianapolis/Bloomington to New Hampshire just outside Boston back to IN and now to NC, I tend to read the Times for my daily news because it is the most available paper that I don’t consider shit and is one of the few consistent things in my life after so much change over the years. So the point of all this is to say that people in the South are not big into Northern publications, the causes for this are probably deep seeded and as old as the colonies, but neither were the people in the Midwest until recently and forget about people in New England, The Boston Globes’ crossword puzzle had its answers in that day’s same daily issue if that is any indicator.

† Still prefer holding an actual paper but I have accepted reading things online as just something I have to get used to which is actually ok since I am trying to save paper anyway.

‡ Things my family got when I was growing up that were cutting edge at the time but under say $500 and when they got them were as follows: Atari/VCR- circa around 1982 as I was too young to remember, Nintendo with Powerpad- 1988, Compact Disc Player- 1991 (my dad loves grunge), CD Burner- 1997, Digital Video Recorder- 1998, DVD Player- 1999, Tivo- 1999. I don’t really even remember why I was putting this in here, though I think it had something to do with how my parents sure do have a lot of technological gadgets for people so closely connected who are deeply environmentally conscious, simple-living, and anti-capitalists. So yeah.

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