Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 18, 2006

A cross word - and a down one, too!

Art's Mom Donna sure loves her crossword puzzles. The one in the Appleton Post-Crescent is as much a part of her daily routine as her ubiquitous cup of coffee. One Christmas we gave her a roll of toilet paper with crossword puzzles printed on them as a gag gift. She was disappointed that, after a few turns into the roll, the puzzles repeated. She also complained they were too easy.

For years, Art's brother Tommy and his Mom worked the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Sunday puzzle. They'd do it separately and then around Tuesday, they would compare their answers to see who had been the most successful.

A few years ago, we bought Donna "Ultimate Crosswords" and each year the book makes the trip with us to our cottage in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Most mornings when I awoke, I'd find her already up and doing one of the puzzles. At home, she works them in "her spot" at the kitchen table, but at our cottage, she acts more like a teenager than a 96-year-old woman. She drapes her legs over one arm of the over-stuffed rocker while her back presses against the other. Invariably, she'd be working on one that had us stumped the night before. I'd ask her how she was doing and she'd respond, "Well, I got a few more."

Sometimes these puzzles become a three-generation family affair.

"What's a unit of work that has three letters and begins with an E?" Without hesitation, Art answered, "E - R - G."

Movies from the silent-era through the 1960s seem to be an area of expertise for Donna. One clue was "Bob Steele milieu." No one knew who Bob Steele was, so Art looked him up on the Internet. He was a character actor whose career spanned six decades. His screen credits made it obvious that his specialty was the Western - but that word wouldn't fit.

"Those kind of movie are called 'oaters,'" Donna commented.

It fit!

Donna's interest in sports, particularly football, also comes in handy. When the clue was "type of kick," she quickly filled in "onside" as the answer.

On the other hand, our girls are the experts when it comes to pop culture.

"Superman's archenemy, ___ Luthor?"

Katie immediately chimed in with "Lex."

"Superman intro phrase?"

Again Katie was there with "It's a bird."

"Queen of ______ (Cleopatra in a negative mood?)"

"Denial," piped up Mariya.

Any clue involving Spanish causes everyone to look at me, as if I had the entire Spanish lexicon in my head.

But doing a puzzle together does have its trials. Only one person can have the book at any time and it does help to be able to see where a word fits.

Then there is Donna's hearing problem.

When I was trying to find the answer to "Zanzibar natives," I asked, "Wouldn't that be 'Swahilis?'"

"Wahinis?" Donna asked. "I thought they were Hawaiians."

Working the puzzles can become addictive, too. One night after trying to complete a particularly baffling puzzle, I couldn't sleep because the clues kept buzzing around in my head.

The puzzles can also lead to other interesting things. One clue that had us all scratching our heads was "_____ Alaska." The blank required five letters to complete. Every city name we looked up just didn't fit with the other surrounding clues. Then, as if by magic, I shouted, "Baked!"

"Oh, sure," Donna said. "That's one of those where you get your mind set on a certain thing, but they're looking for something completely different!"

This led to Art looking up the recipe for Baked Alaska on the Internet and then on to searching for recipes for fried ice cream. We weren't going to make them. We where just curious about how they were made.

One day, Art commented that he didn't think that crossword puzzles were very old. Donna agreed, commenting that she didn't recall seeing them in newspapers until sometime in the 1930s. Looking in the front of the puzzle book, we discovered the authors chose 1913 - three years after Donna was born - as the starting point of this popular pastime.

That made me think of a comment daughter Katie made before we left for the cottage. Donna suggested she should probably stay home."What good am I at my age?" she said.

Katie immediately responded, "You're our entertainment."

Hmm - two popular forms of entertainment born almost at the same time!

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