Monday, October 19, 2009
I currently subscribe to my local paper, the Oakland Tribune. During down time on weekdays, riding on BART or during office hours when no students are asking questions, I fill in the Sudoku. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Sudoku puzzles are ridiculously easy, so I usually have time to do the crossword puzzle as well.
I don't normally do crosswords. I never got in the habit, though I learned about them when I was a kid. My Grandma Hubbard loved the crosswords, and sometimes, even though I was just a kid, I could actually help her. I was crazy about natural science, so if it was the name of some exotic species, sometimes I could let Grandma Hubbard know about an ibis or gnu or anole.
My grandma was born on July 4, 1906. When I was a little kid before I attended school, I thought the fireworks were just everybody's way of celebrating her birthday. I also thought it was really cool that she was born before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, though she was born in Kansas and would have been a babe in arms when it happened, so she had no memory of it.
I remember I asked her when I was five how old she was. My mom let me know that it was rude to ask, but grandma gladly offered that she was 55. Though I was pretty good at math even back then, for the rest of my life, I would say my grandma was 55. After all, she answered the question once truthfully and that should be good enough for a loving grandson.
I'm now almost as old as Grandma Hubbard. She's long gone now, but solving the crossword is like having a conversation with her. She taught me to fill in the "easy" stuff you know has only one answer, using those letters added in to see if that helps make other nearby clues clearer. Sometimes in my head, I hear myself saying, "Okay, Grandma, what about 32 across?" Modern crosswords use clues with modern usage, and I'll think "Oh, yeah, Grandma Hubbard wouldn't know about Britney Spears or the Internet. I'll have to get those clues on my own."
This week, the New York Times is running a series of new crosswords written by people who have been writing crosswords that paper for at least fifty years. Today's puzzle was written by a woman who had her first published in 1955. My grandma may have worked on some of her stuff.
There were four long answers with tricky clues about possessives. Is the answer supposed to be "Oliver's tone" or "Oliver Stone"? Since crosswords ignore punctuation, they both turn out the same. Grandma wouldn't have known about Oliver Stone, since she died before he became famous. But the other three long answers were Margaret Sanger, Tom Smothers and George Shearing. Grandma Hubbard would have known those.
There was also a question about "Basso Pinza." Of course, Grandma Hubbard would have known that was "Enio".
Every time I do a crossword, I hear my grandma's voice a little. Today, it was a little clearer than usual.