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ALAS, I RUE THE ADO

by Ruth Minshull

 

            I’ve never met a cruciverbalist I really liked.

            Obviously I don’t have Will Rogers’ generosity of spirit.  Of course, he probably didn’t do crossword puzzles.  If he had, it might have changed his entire outlook on life, as well as his opinion of his fellow human beings.

            I have to admit I’ve never met a cruciverbalist in person, but I don’t have to.  I encounter them almost daily through their products and I am a victim of their diabolical machinations.

            Of course, I can understand what they are up against.  They’re trying to entertain us, challenge us, and maintain our interest.  That’s what they claim anyway.  I really suspect that they’re sadistic polecats bent on making us feel like drooling morons, just because we don’t know the French word for summer, we’ve forgotten how to write the year 1537 in Roman numerals, we’re stumped when asked to remember the names of all seven dwarfs or Santa’s reindeer, we’ve don’t remember what comes after “tau” in the Greek alphabet and we can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Swahili. 

            In my kinder moments, I do appreciate some of their problems.  In fact, when I feel really generous, I admit that I’m amazed by their ingenuity in juggling those interlocking words, to end up with a complete puzzle–and no leftover parts. 

            In those same generous moments (brief, mind you) I realize that when we encounter a puzzle that is too easy, we don’t want that any more than we want a super tough one.  We want one that’s just right–for us. 

            I could sum it up with a paraphrase of the old rhyme by Frank Gelett Burgess: I never saw a crusiverbalist.  I never hope to see one, but I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.

Puzzle makers always have trouble finding enough three-letter words to fill their needs, often resorting to ROE, RAH, REO, and RUE.  When have you ever heard someone say, “I rue the day I married that dimwit”?  Sure, a person may regret it–passionately perhaps–but I have never observed anybody in the middle of a “rue”.

Other favorites are SPA, TSP, TAR, PER, BAA, DNA and NEE.  Some of these appear in almost every puzzle.

Short vowel words are the hardest.  EVA Gabor, AVA Gardner and UMA Thurman will live in perpetuity within those little squares—not because of their talent or beauty or accomplishments, but because of their vowel-beginning, three-letter names.  I hope those glamorous ladies don’t mind.

Especially challenging are the “e” words.  It is the most frequently used letter, but there are a limited number of “e” words in the language.  ERGO, ERA, ESSE, ESTA, ERA, EWE, EVE, EON, ERA, EMU, ELI and the poetic E’ER come to mind.  Puzzle constructors obviously borrow frequently from Latin.

And, of course, it’s no simple matter to deal with the “a” words, thus we find AGE, ART, ARC, ARK, ALE, ADE, AID and the all-time favorite ADO.  Now, I have never been personally involved in an ado (Has anyone since Shakespeare?) and I’m not sure I would recognize it if I were.

Quite a few words slip into obsolescence when no one is paying attention.  But some of them must live on, if only so that cruciverbalists can dig themselves out of a hole when necessary.  Thus we run across: ASEA, ALAS and ALIT, which don’t pop up much in everyday life.  Have you every heard anyone say “alas” even when asea?

The letter “o” is also challenging.  The same few words occur repeatedly:  ODE, ORE, OVA, OLD, OLEO, OREO and the big favorite OLÉ. 

I should be grateful to the puzzle makers.  Should I ever find myself at a bullfight in Spain I will know just how to show my support for the bull–or should it be the matador?

Of course, if they happen to put a cruciverbalist in the ring with the bull I’d have no trouble at all choosing sides.

 “Olé, Torro, Olé!”

 

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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull

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