Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Crossworder's Lament

I love crossword puzzles. All kinds of them, even the weird gimmicky emo reading-group-that-meets-in-the-basement-of-the-elementary-school kind.

Despite their popularity--they're in virtually all the newspapers, after all--rabid crossword fanatics such as myself are a strange breed. There's a distinct language and style about the clues and the answers that when you step back and view them like a normal person seem remarkably laughable. And you'll become very familiar with some completely useless words like "ecru" or "fohn" that no one in the history of mankind has ever used in a non-crossword context.*

But my dirty little secret is that I'm not very good at them.

I used to think I was pretty good. I could knock out a one-star in one sitting (and possibly--daringly!--in pen) and a twofer could be got with minimal effort. (Three-star and above generally required me to "accidentally" drop the magazine answer-side up.) But then I watched a documentary called Wordplay, which details the competitive crossword market (yes, there is one, and yes, I want to be a part of it someday). And then, after reading Gridlock and Cruciverbalism, both books about crossword fans and the industry as a whole (they're both oddly fascinating in that geekout sort of way), I realized I was a midget amongst giants.

I fully realize that I was watching professional crossword artists and competitive solvers, so I was clearly looking at the best of the best (or, alternately, the most productive unemployed people in America), but I feel inordinately inadequate when I'm doing puzzles now. Mostly, it's because I don't have the will and determination to memorize obscure Italian directors or the third lead in the 1980 London Revival of Oklahoma or anyone else who by fate of the universe has a ton of vowels in their last name.

And sometimes the crossword writer and the solver are on two completely different wavelengths, and no amount of internet research or badgering your clueless coworkers will get the proper answer, which ends up being an archaic past tense version of the word you legitimately knew. Many a cross word** left my lips when I realized "senescent" was the word I was looking for--which as far as I'm concerned is a word that still doesn't exist. ("Getting older" was the clue, something I was rapidly doing at this rate, and to be fair I probably don't seem like I could get any older, what with me being in my 30's and doing crossword puzzles voluntarily for recreational purposes.) I had been dancing around "senile" and various forms of it for quite some time, so I convinced myself I got it right after all.***

Anyway, this entire post was written for the fact that I tried to make "sarane" a real word describing a type of decorative paper and in my mind an "allen horn" was a legitimate object, both fictions that were preferable than looking up the real answers. (Also, I apparently decided that "crossworder" is also a word when I cooked up the title to this post.) So while I'm not the best crossword solver out there, I'm certainly the most creative at making shit up. I should seriously start playing Scrabble for money. 

*This is also my long-standing position on the word "doggone," which no one has ever used ever in the entire world unless they were making a pun about canines. 
**Yes, this is a joke.
***Don't look at me like that. You use the same justification for what you ate for lunch today or how much you spent on those shoes.

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