Friday, May 17, 2013

A Living Laptop?

Since our retirement, roughly—we ignored them altogether during the many decades of our active lives—we’ve gone through relatively brief periods of engagement with crossword puzzles. It all began one time during a late fall vacation near Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes resort. We rented a house there on Glen Lake and used to solve the easy puzzles that came with the local paper which we worked on the lake shore itself with breakfast—and the later, laid out on the sand of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Yes. Michigan has a West Coast too. This madness soon escalated. My Mother’s eightieth birthday was approaching. I decided to make a crossword puzzle for her—and the extended family—of the size and complexity typical of the New York Times Sunday version. In no time at all I was in deep trouble—but Brigitte then joined the effort and we spent much of that vacation—and also some time after coming home again—creating the puzzle. Thus began our “cooperative” approach to this game. The puzzle was a great success—and taught us what it takes to make these wondrous art-for-art’s-sake artefacts.

We entered another period like that a few days ago, having decided to enjoy early spring evenings doing something other than watching movies. Now, of course, in this relentlessly pragmatic era, the pure enjoyment of solving puzzles must be, absolutely must be, justified by such motivations as keeping Alzheimer’s at bay—although, sure enough, some ultra-stupid techno-guru urges the elderly to play computer games instead. Not so for us. We enjoy crosswords—as we enjoy our own Olympic style MyWord (on  sheets of our own creation—with eleven letter words being entirely acceptable along with the shorter ones). We also still play crosswords cooperatively, working on separate sheets of the same game and helping each other.  No ego games here. The pleasure comes when we’ve done the thing with never more help than using an ordinary dictionary.

As in the past so in the present. We are again rediscovering the cunning ways of crossword puzzle makers. Most puzzles are quite easy—if the clues are straight-forward. To make a puzzle difficult, make the clues as deceptively vague as possible. Last night one clue resisted us to the very end. It was “Old laptop instruments.” Such a clue—once it has been penetrated—teaches deeper lessons, namely that most of us, most of the time, have a rigidly limited framework of associations when seeing a word. Laptop, for us, meant a little computer, and we never got past that—until, at last, with the help of other words the answer itself was simply there, on the paper. The cunning crossword maker, in this case one Randolph Ross, had used the word “LYRES” and clued it with the deceptive “laptop” clue. At once I made notes in my still existing Crossword Notebook. Use the clue “A living laptop?” (that question mark is a dead giveaway, of course). And for the answer put in the four-letter “BABY.”

Avaunt, Alzheimer’s! Avaunt!


  1. From the crossword in a now defunct but once important magazine (might have been The Reporter): clue "a hundred and one fish"

  2. Oh, such fun with language! Living laptop, I love it. And I'm happy to hear about another chapter of intense crosswording.


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