March 2, 2007
A few years ago I read an article about how to keep your brain in good working order well into old age. One of the suggestions was doing crossword puzzles, or other kinds of puzzles, to give yourself a mental workout. Since I don’t want to end up being one of those guys who pulls his Bermuda shorts up to his nipples and wanders around the beach with a metal detector I took the article’s advice and started doing crossword puzzles. I’m still not sure how exactly this is supposed to help me stay lucid, especially since the average crossword puzzle drives me insane. It’s bad enough when the clue for 18 across is something like, "It’s… (4 words)". That’s a huge help. How many four-word phrases can you think of that start with "It’s"? Technically I guess that would be a five-word phrase. Maybe I should ask someone who makes crossword puzzles, but what do you call that person? A crossworder? That sounds like a goofy Batman villain. I can just see The Crossworder, his body covered with black and white boxes, diabolically overacting. "You can’t escape my Crossword of Death, derring duo," he would say, "unless you come up with a five-letter synonym for ‘dry’ that starts with ‘x’!" And Batman would pull his trusty Bat-Oxford English Dictionary from his utility belt and drop it on the Crossworder’s foot with a mighty PIFF!
But I digress. It was a matter of pure luck that I knew that the answer to 9 diagonal, where the clue was "navel gazing", was "omphaloskepsis". If I keep going like this by the time I hit eighty I might be in possession of all my faculties but no one will know because I’ll be convinced I’m an idiot and might as well buy a metal detector. The worst one was 36 across where the clue was "Eskimos live in these." And I thought, hey, I know that, except 36 across had seven squares so I ended up filling it with the word "iglooos". Twenty minutes later I realized I’d filled in 39 across. Not that it really makes any difference, because I don’t think Eskimos really live in igloos, or iglooos. Through twelve years of schooling I believed, and was told on many occasions, that Eskimos live in igloos. Then I got to college and took courses in anthropology and even though we studied the Tlingit and the Netsilik no one mentioned Eskimos or igloos. That’s the way it goes: we graduate from high school knowing everything, then we graduate from college and the only thing we really know is that being able to name five major tribes of the Pacific Northwest isn’t going to help us get ahead in the fast food industry. Most people give college graduates gifts of pens or books when maybe what they should really be giving them is Bermuda shorts and metal detectors.