I Always wanted to be a CRUCIVERBALIST

One of my earliest recollections of my father is looking up at him at the kitchen table working his daily crossword puzzle. It was a daily routine that never varied over the entire time I was growing up and living at home. Even later visits at Mom and Dad’s home always included that somber ritual, around which all other schedules for the day revolved.

I am sure dad learned it from his father, who worked his puzzles while perched on his high-legged stool at a check-in counter at the pool hall he ran for years.

Actually, crossword puzzles were a new thing back in my grandfather’s day. A journalist named Arthur Wynne from Liverpool created the first known published crossword puzzle, and he is usually credited as the inventor of the popular word game. December 21, 1913, was the date and it appeared in a Sunday newspaper, the New York World.

One of the last to enter the world of crossword obsession was the New York Times, which first published a Sunday puzzle in 1942 and a daily puzzle in 1950. My father did them both in ink. The Daily News followed along with the trend, but the Times was always the true standard

Crossword puzzles are a family addiction. I was doing the daily puzzles in the break room at the ACME supermarket where I worked throughout high school. My sister, Nan, and I fought over the rare un-inked crossword that we would come across at home, and we often brought spares home from discarded newspapers we found during the day.

Did you know that the answer to the clue “the final selfhood” is IPSEITY? Or that a ‘bitter vetch’ is an ERS? I still cannot find out what an Ers is.

These last few years I had a crossword puzzle routine that included my daily newspaper, USA Today, the NY Times and any other I would stumble upon. No Airline magazine puzzle went undone on my shift.

I do not do crossword books. Just newspaper puzzles. It would be like not living up to my father’s standards. It is also required by my DNA that all crosswords were done in ink.

My favorite Cruciverbalist is Merle Raegle. He has a humorist’s twist to his puzzles that I have always enjoyed. I actually did buy three of his collections, which Merle autographed for me.

My father lost his sight to Macular Degeneration and in his later years and until his passing away, mom would read the NY Times Crossword clues to him and he would give her the answers to write in, still always in ink.

Until my sister passed away, her own puzzle book and pen at her bedside, we would often go out to dad’s memorial site with mom, have lunch and do a puzzle for dad.

Many years ago, when I quite smart, I worked at Cape Canaveral as a mathematician plotting and coding ICBM trajectories. That was long before satellites and GPS.

I worked with a team of like-minded intellectual misfits. We were literally locked in a secret level clearance unit that even our bosses had to go clearance procedures. During slack times we were on our own.

Of course, Chess was a big slack time filler, but every day, one of the people would make copies of the New York Times Crossword puzzle and at break time we would be off to the races to see who finished the fastest. As brilliant as I was, I was always close but no brass rings.

Then I subscribed to the local paper that posted the Times crossword. Each Morning, I would carefully do the puzzle while I ate breakfast, with a thick Crossword dictionary at my side.

From that first day on, I would speed through the office puzzle at nonstop speed and that is how I became the Team Crossword Champion and the enemy of many of co-workers. For the smartest guys in town, they sure were slow in figuring out my constant success.

Recently, I was sitting in the boarding area at PSA waiting for a flight and working on the USA Today crossword. After boarding, the cabin attendant handed out copies of the same USA Today.

A bit later and already bored, I opened the paper and redid the same puzzle I had finished in the boarding area. After I had quickly completed the crossword, the lady sitting next to me commented that she had never, ever seen anyone complete a crossword with the speed with which I had just finished this one.

I smiled and then commented quietly. “It is just a special gift I have.”



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