Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Apr 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Size Matters

Lisa_JensenEmerging freshly scrubbed from the bathroom one recent morning, I found Art Boy with a more devilish smile than usual. “You’re going to be in Hog Heaven,” he promised, flourishing a paper bearing arcane markings and the implement with which to indulge. I know an enabler when I see one.

 

It’s an old addiction, one I carry in my genetic make-up. Everyone in my family shares it. Somehow I managed to put it all behind me, get a grip, start a new life in Santa Cruz. Or so I thought. Now it turns out the urge is dormant, lying in wait like Sleeping Beauty for the catalyst to come along and spark it to life again, that all-consuming rush into mania. I should have realized I was bound to backslide, accepted that I can never really be clean. But I never meant to drag Art Boy down with me.

Yet there he stood, pencil in one hand, the Sunday Chronicle Magazine in the other. “It’s about pirates!” he enthused, handing me the weekly Merl Reagle crossword puzzle.

My name is Lisa, and I’m a solver.

In our house, my mom always had a puzzle in progress on a side table. Her two older brothers, both university professors from the Midwest who visited us during their summer vacations, were inveterate solvers too. Uncle Bobby and Uncle Ernie came to California to lounge around in shorts and white T-shirts, eat the green grapes my mom always had on the coffee table, and work crossword puzzles, an interactive sport in those days: someone would sing out a troublesome clue and what, if anything, they’d managed to write in so far, and we’d all try to fill in the blanks. Bobby (who liked to cap a hard day’s puzzling with a little “martooni”) was beguiled and infuriated by someone named Margaret, the editor whose name appeared on sophisticated puzzles found in The Saturday Review. “Oh, Margaret, you devil!” he’d chortle, scribbling merrily away when he finally cracked some obscure clue.

But I outgrew the habit in later life. Nobody does puzzles in Art Boy’s family, and as our lives together became increasingly busy and booked, I couldn’t imagine wasting precious time on a puzzle. (Except for an occasional hilarious hour spent with my mom over one of hers.) Until last year at about this time, when the movie Wordplay came out.

Back when us kids were lobbing words about like ping-pong balls, idling away those summer afternoons, I never realized what a voracious cult the puzzle world is. People like me are the solvers, and our name is legion. We’re in thrall to our gods, the puzzlers, writers like Reagle, and Will Shortz (heir to Margaret Farrar, Uncle Bobby’s nemesis), current editor of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Like any cult, there are strict rules. Words rude or scatological are verboten, or anything that might cause a genteel solver to go off his poached egg, like “enema.” The top and bottom halves of the puzzle must be mirror images in the arrangement of black and white squares.

Not only did Wordplay remind me how addicting it is to fill in those little squares, it had an unexpected aftershock; a week later, Art Boy started doing crosswords in the paper. He started out with the daily “Commuter” in the Chron; now we generally polish off “The Commuter” and the puzzle in the Datebook section by the end of breakfast. We’ve discovered that Monday puzzles are the easiest, building daily in difficulty to the damn near incomprehensible (to journeyman solvers like us) Saturday puzzles. It’s not the answer words that get harder, it’s the clues. A humble word like “rice” might answer the clue “__ a-Roni” on Monday, “Wedding shower” on Thursday, and “Food in a bed” on Saturday.

Words of four letters are a puzzle’s worker bees. If you can’t identify “emir” as a Middle Eastern leader, “ecru” as a shade of beige, or “etui” as an antique sewing case, you better switch to Sudoku. A smattering of French, Spanish, Latin, and German helps too, along with celebrity names from showbiz, literature, and pop culture.

Precious time is still at a premium around here. But it can’t be called wasted when puzzles give Art Boy and me something new to laugh over every day—and I don’t just mean his unique spelling. (When he wrote “mirth” for the clue “Magi gift,” he was obviously confusing the Three Wise Men with the Three Stooges.) Clue-mongering is an art form in the hands of a clever jokester like Reagle (his clue for “Karl” is “Unfunny Marx”), whose Sunday theme puzzles always crack us up. And once when we were delayed in an airport, we seized a USA Today discarded by some suit and worked the puzzle—saving the puzzles we’d packed for the long flight to Chicago. (There’s nowhere to run on a plane, and I’d rather flex my brain figuring out a 5-letter word for “Art able to,” than abuse it with an in-flight rerun of Tallegeda Nights.) Crosswords, like dark chocolate, are said to be good for the memory, and while my relationship to the latter is best concealed from the light of day, puzzling is something Art Boy and I can do together.

After all, addiction loves company.

(Send four-letter words to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Forty Years of Good Times

When I came on board as the publisher of Good Times a year ago, the lease was up at the office where the paper had resided for nearly 20 years, and a move to new offices was imminent.

 

Pluto Retrograde, Aries New Moon, Lyrid Meteor Showers

As the Lyrid meteors, radiating from the star Vega in the Harp constellation, begin showering heaven and earth with light, Pluto, planet of transformation (or die) turns stationary retrograde (Thursday, April 16), 15 degrees Capricorn. Retrogrades have purpose, allowing humanity time to review, reassess, research and reinvent while returning to previous situations. Retrogrades are times of inner activity, seeds sown in bio-dynamically prepared soil. Pluto retrograde is the most serious and resolute of retrogrades—a pure tincture, or, as in homeopathy, a “constitutional” touching the essences of all that matters. Pluto offers deep insight into confusion or puzzlement and areas where transformation is still incomplete. It’s valuable to have one’s astrology chart to follow what area of life the major planets— especially Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto—are influencing. These outer planets have long-term and lasting effects on our psyche, inner/outer life events, how people see us and how we see and process our world. Pluto, retrograde for five months (until Sept. 24) offers deep earthquakes of change, awakens humanity to the task of building (Capricorn) the new culture and civilization, flailing our inner world about, deepening us until we transform and do things differently. Pluto is an unrelenting teacher. New moon (29 Aries) is Saturday, April 18. With the personality-building keynote, “Let form again be sought.” Mars anchors the new creative fires of Aries into our world. The New Group of World Servers participates together in the new moon festival, while also preparing for the Taurus Wesak, Buddha Full Moon Festival (May 3). Join us everyone.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

What would you like to see a TED talk about?

Hydrogen-gas cars that are coming this summer. Scott Oliver, Santa Cruz, Professor

 

37th Parallel Wines

I visited the Capitola Mall recently to check out the newly launched Third Fridays Walking Art Tour, and was surprised to find an impressive assortment of artwork from local artists.

 

Mighty Leaf

Radicchio from Dirty Girl Produce, wine etiquette fail, and a treat from Gayle’s

 

What’s your favorite happy hour downtown?

The 515. I like their french fries, and they've got great cocktails. Spring Carver, Santa Cruz, Cashier