Sunday, March 18, 2007

What I've Learned from Crosswords: A Partial List

As much as I love words, I guess it's not surprising I enjoy crossword puzzles. In grade school, I looked forward to the Sunday paper not so much for the comics, but for the big crossword puzzle in the Sunday magazine. The solution to the previous week's puzzle was there, too, so first I checked what I'd missed the Sunday before, and then began the new puzzle. I always did crossword puzzles in pen, but not because I was confident I wouldn't make mistakes. My hatred of writing in pencil was caused by those fat, unwieldy pencils first-graders were forced to use; they were too big for my hand, and I never could write as neatly as I wanted with them. By third grade, when I started doing the Sunday puzzle, school pencils had slimmed down to the standard No. 2, but I'd already discovered the joys of ballpoint and felt-tip pens, which I used at home because my teacher, the writing-implement Nazi, confiscated them if I tried to use them at school.

All week, I looked forward to the Sunday puzzle, but I wanted more than one a week. Then one day, during a trip to the grocery with my mom, I found whole magazines full of puzzles. After pestering my mom all the way through frozen foods until she gave in and bought it, I used my allowance to buy subsequent issues. I dabbled in other puzzles the variety magazines offered; I liked coloring in the squares for diagramless crosswords, but word searches bored me. Eventually, I discovered logic puzzles, which I love even more than crosswords, and I'm one the nerdy subscribers to a bimonthly logic puzzles magazine.

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, now I do crossword puzzles online, although I still like doing them on paper now and then. The other day, I was thinking about the stray facts and odd words I've learned from years of doing puzzles that are completely useless except in the context of crosswords. So if you ever decide to take up crosswords to ward off The Senility, here's a short list to help you:
  • edda: An Icelandic literary work
  • iter: A Roman road
  • sten: A type of British gun
  • Pele: Some guy who played soccer
  • alb: A garment priests wear
  • erose: Irregularly notched
  • Edo: Tokyo's original name
  • ogee: A type of architectural molding
  • Orono: Where the University of Maine is located
  • alate: Having wings
  • epee: A type of fencing sword
  • Ott: Baseball player Mel (and no idea on what team or in which decade he played)
  • Volga: Longest river in Europe
I've never used one of these words in conversation, with the exception of mentioning "The Volga Boatmen" song (which can't be mentioned often enough, as far as I'm concerned). If I took up fencing or remodeled a house, possibly "epee" or "ogee" would come in handy, and one day, I might find myself in Maine, asking for directions to Orono. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I'll never discuss sports, so I can't foresee using Pele or Ott's names for any reason. Nevertheless, these words and many more occupy space in my brain that could probably be put to use for, say, making sense of the stock market or figuring out why fools fall in love. Neither activity fits as well with my morning coffee, however, so I guess I'll continue amassing useless trivia and remain ignorant of other, more puzzling topics. Hey, it's the iter I've chosen!