Since mid-winter crossword puzzles and Spelling Bee word play have become daily activities. They’re both challenging and perplexing, while being creative and relaxing. And let me add addictive and fun. When I learned that crossword puzzles including the New York Times crossword puzzles are really just a learning experience and not an intelligence test or something for me to compare myself to, I tentatively inched up to try it. I learned other things too: there’s an art to solving crossword. Furthermore the NYT Monday crossword is the easiest one of the week and the crosswords become progressively harder as the week progresses. (The one exception is the Sunday NYT crossword. It’s more like a mid-week difficulty level crossword but it’s a little bigger in size than the daily one). While one of the tricks of the puzzle is to figure out what the clue really means, it’s still totally acceptable to look up a word or two to help solve the puzzle. So next time, if the clue comes up again, you’ve learned something new and don’t have to look it up again. To build my confidence in working the NYT crossword I’m simply concentrating on Monday puzzles for now. There’s also a mini-puzzle for each day of the week. Either one is a fun way to exercise the brain.
Puzzles were not entirely foreign to me before I tried the NYT. As noted in other blog posts at offthehook (“see “Elegant codes makes me happy”) as a former copywriter at a software firm that marketed to programmers, one of my direct response campaigns was nicknamed “Puzzles”. The series focused on the difficulty in evaluating an enterprise software technology platform.
Puzzles and being puzzled was the “big idea” which wove through the five colored mailers which were dropped (mailed) to the same audience about every three weeks over a four month period. To drive home the point, there was a 3/4” die cut of an irregular jig saw puzzle piece removed from the customized brightly colored outer mailing envelope. A colorful foam puzzle cube with company name and slogan silk screened on it was offered to generate demand along with the standard fare of application notes, case studies, industry white paper. (And like the NYT crossword puzzles, the knocked down red foam cube offered in the first mailer was the easiest one to assemble; each subsequent colored green, blue, yellow and purple puzzle cubes offered were progressively more difficult to assemble.) Overall it was an enticing psychological offer for programmers to receive given their affinity to algorithms and problem solving. There was an incentive too to collect all five puzzles and then to leave them on one’s workdesk; the messaging carried on beyond the four month cycle.
Later in my career I kept on running into puzzles. I worked for a small family-owned and operated niche database publishing company. My supervisor was the great grandson of Lester Schuster of Simon & Schuster, the well-known publishers. S&S published the first collection of crossword puzzles in 1924. (The first crossword puzzle originally known as “word cross” puzzles were invented by an Arthur Wynn in 1913.)
The other game I really like is the NYT Spelling Bee. It’s a puzzle whereby you make words from a set of 7 unique letters. The letters are pictured in an oval sort of shaped like a donut. In the center of the oval space is a unique letter colored in yellow. The other six letters are set around it. You create words that must include the center letter. Words must be at least four letters in length. Letters may be duplicated in forming a word. One other fact: the letters are not entirely randomly chosen because each 7 letters can be arranged into a real pangram, a seven letter word. In the digital version points are earned based on the length of words created and a ranking is assigned as your point total increases. Four letter words earn 1 point, 5 letter words earn 5 points, and the pangram earns 15 points.
In my family of origin word play and mental arithmetic was shared by my brother. Around age 11 or 12, he could recite up to 40 different nouns given in random order, ie #13: house, #26: gorilla, #7: table. Using a mnemonic method he could recite them back in order from 1 to 40. There was also a time about a year or two later when he was enthralled with learning polysyllabic words and using them in regular conversations. Just for sport he would use words like “supererogatorily” in conversation as if the rest of us instinctually knew what it meant. This word is particularly interesting because it’s sixteen letters make it the longest word in the English language that alternates consonants and vowels.
Today I’m not so much enthralled by words like “supererogatorily” (and not because I can hardly pronounce it) but words like “qi”, “qat”, “qirsh”, “qabbalah” and “yaqona” which are a few of the rare “q words” that do not follow the norm we learned in school that “q” is always followed by a “u”. These new “q words” learned may help me solve a crossword. Bring it on!