Are you puzzled? And loving it? Are friends and family preparing for an intervention?
Tell them crossword puzzles are helping exercise your brain, keeping you mentally spry! But they are also so much more. As broadcaster Dean Olsher has suggested, “When beautifully executed, a crossword can bring about the same response as a work of art.”
Olsher continues: “When immersed in the grid, the Emancipation Proclamation rubs elbows with HAL 9000. Thoughts bounce from the birthright of ESAU (convention dictates that crossword answers be rendered in all capital letters) to that Sunday afternoon 30 years ago when my mother, on the couch, awed by a particularly clever piece of crossword misdirection, exclaimed, “What an amazing language,” prompting me to wonder, Is that true? More amazing than the others? If we tire of the GALAPAGOS Islands, we can skip over to EMO music in no time flat. While we may not be omniscient, it is the closest we can come to approaching omnipresence.”
Still, there’s always a good reason to take a brief break. Check out the work of mystery writer Parnell Hall. His creation, Cora Felton, is a syndicated newspaper crossword creator, a skewed Miss Marple sort who’s lost track of her multiple divorces and sips bloody Marys at 10 a.m. – and woe anyone who tries to keep her from that morning fixer-upper.
Felton will remind cruciverbalists (crossword fanatics) of what it’s like for those who are not. Because Felton is, it turns out, a fraud. She’s a front for her puzzle-creating niece Sherry, a small-town sort who chose her aunt to peddle her work while Sherry lives a life outside the limelight.
Felton loves her job, and the fame that comes with.
But this time, Auntie may be trouble. In Puzzled To Death (2001, filed in adult fiction), Felton’s about to be exposed as she gets manoeuvred into hosting a crossword competition where she’s expected to walk the walk. Except she can’t. She’s never looked twice at a crossword in her life, much less knowing the sex-letter answer to the clue “classroom delivery” (LESSON).
Thankfully, multiple murders keep her busy and away from the competition, though not from the competitors, one of whom may well be a killer. This mystery is filled with puzzle lore and small-town politics, a police chief who tells her to buzz off, and a defence lawyer desperate to get her onside. Can Felton find a six-letter word for “solution”? You know, an ANSWER.
If you’re looking for other authors who love crosswords, begin with Kurt Vonnegut.
To pass on a love of puzzles to the next generation, consider Martin Handford and his Where’s Waldo children’s series. Kids love Waldo.
Or how about The Usborne Big Book Of Picture Puzzles (by Jane Bingham, Rosie Heywood, Kamini Khanduri, Dominic Groebner, David Hancock, Inklink Firenze and Studio Gallante, 2005, filed with a yellow dot). This oversized tome begins in 15,000 BC, where young readers are asked to find leather bags packed with berries, flint tips for hunting, and lamps made of fur soaked in animal fat. (No cats, though.)
A few pages later, we’re in 450 BC, at an Athenian market — filled with pottery and actors’ masks, not to mention felines. “Cats were rare pets for rich people. Find four cats which have escaped.” (They’re hard to find, it’s a busy agora!)
By 1100 AD, the village, and its market, had changed dramatically. And there were more cats (nine, in fact, all hunting for mice).
An Indian wedding in 1600 is cat-free; perhaps because of the emperor’s peacocks. And still no cats at Louis XV’s 1750 ball, although we all know they’re lurking, somewhere!
There’s another chapter on castles (which includes a samurai fortress) and a delightful bit on dinosaurs. This is chock full of great detail about everyday life in different periods, in different parts of the world, and a lot of fun. (Thanks to Lillian Rider for adopting this book in 2006.)
– Eleanor Brown, July 12, 2013