Monday, August 15, 2011

Cross Words

I like an ambiguous title that is full of connotations.  What are we talking about here?  An argument with a family member that turned ugly?  No.  A meditation on the crucifixion?  Not quite.  Actually I'm referring to one of my summer pastimes this year.  Sometime in June a representative of our local newspaper called and said, "I see that you only receive home delivery of the paper on the weekends."

"That is correct" I responded.  During the week, the paper drops off a bunch of copies of the Tribune at my institution under the terms of some deal they reached about receiving complementary tickets to events (or something like that...  I'm sure the real motivation was to increase the circulation numbers they report to potential advertisers).  And I also got some cheap deal from the Chicago Tribune to receive home delivery on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  So I never felt the need to get the South Bend paper delivered during the week.

"Well," continued the telephone lady, "we're offering a special deal now where you can receive delivery every day for the same price you're paying now."

"Let me get this straight" I said.  "I don't pay anything more, and you have someone drive here an additional five days per week?"

"That's right."

"What's the catch?"

"No catch.  In the fall when it's time to renew, you can decide if you want to continue receiving daily delivery for a small additional charge, or go back to just weekend delivery."  Well, that's a small catch, but I decided to go for it.  The result has been a new addiction that has developed: doing the daily crossword puzzle.

I had done this occasionally before, but I never really finished them.  And the answers to Saturday's puzzle don't appear until the Monday paper, so I wasn't able to check my answers.  I've never been pleased that I'm not very good at crosswords.  I make my living with words, and I'd like to think that I have a fair amount of the sort of general knowledge (i.e., trivia) that crosswords demand.  But I've always been better at number or logic puzzles.  What I've found, though, is that with constant practice I've gotten better (go figure).  You learn to recognize the patterns of letters that is most likely to work with other words.  And there are some strange words you learn that get used over and over again because they help to make things fit (example:  5 letter word for Rodeo Noose... you'd think 'lasso' but it usually ends up being 'riata').  There is a routine (or better, rut) that I've gotten into with going through the puzzle during breakfast and filling in everything that comes to me relatively quickly.  Then it sits on the counter all day, and when I pass by it, I'll glance again and sometimes the neurons have rearranged things sufficiently in my brain that an answer comes.  That is a very curious process to me, why sometimes the answer comes and sometimes stays buried.  My good wife has tolerated the new counter decor, and even contributes to the process of filling things in from time to time.  Most days, by evening's end, the crossword is filled in.  I've gotten a sense of satisfaction from seeing all the words fit together.

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder said that theology is "working with words in the light of faith."  Crosswords are definitely a trivial pursuit, and one I'm sure that will go the way of the dodo once my fall schedule starts up again.  But perhaps working with words even in a trivial way is like doing calisthenics for those of us who try to fit them together in more meaningful ways.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!


FarmerLenny said...

Have you seen the documentary "Wordplay"? It looks at crossword puzzles and the people who love them. Most fascinating was the interviews with the people who design them (particularly Will Shortz of the New York Times). Here's the link on IMDB: It's worth checking out, especially if your library has a copy.

D.C. Cramer said...

So that's where Hauerwas got the title for his new book:

J. B. Stump said...

Thanks Jonathan. I've always liked Will Shortz's voice when I hear him on Sunday Morning NPR.

David, I saw the quote in a review of Hauerwas's book in the last CC. I hope Waco's treating you well.