Unpuzzling Words

I’ve always said that, if there is a crossword gene, I inherited it from my maternal grandmother. Of course, it skipped a generation. My mother had no interest in crosswords. (I also inherited from my grandma a love of mystery novels. Not the red hair, though. That I had to acquire later. But I digress, already.) Here’s a look at some of my favorite puzzles and some of my favorite “puzzle-hacks.”

Yes, I was one of those obnoxious people who worked the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. Now that the puzzle is online, that’s moot. But I haven’t been doing it lately, despite the fact that I pay for a subscription. NYT has other puzzles that I find more intriguing.

One of them is not Wordle. I never gave in to this trend, but I wrote about it (https://butidigress.blog/2022/02/06/what-the-cool-kids-do/). I have no objection to Wordle, really. I can just scroll past all the posts people put up about their daily scores. And once I helped a friend determine the target word (“prism”). I just don’t need a daily addiction.

No, what I really like are the acrostics, though they’re only featured every other week. Acrostics, for those not in the know, involve solving clues like crosswords do, but not crossing the answers. The letters transpose into a quotation and author’s name. (This is way better on the computer than it was when I did them on paper.) When I look at the quotation with some letters filled in, I can often guess a few words. The word “people” is in a lot of them, and the pattern of “it is” and “I think” (and other “th” words) are pretty easy to recognize. Those letters then bounce into the clue answers. Lather, rinse, repeat. I can solve one in about 20 minutes, which is a nice break from work.

Anagrams can be fun, too. These are easier to solve if you have a set of Scrabble tiles on hand so you can rearrange them. Working with paper and pencil is much more difficult, though it can be done. I never have Scrabble tiles because my husband refuses to play with me, so I work on paper. I start by alphabetizing the letters so I can see better what I have to work with.

I like cryptograms, too. They are simple substitution codes, usually a quotation or a group of words under a heading. Here, the way to start is to look for which letter is used most often. It’s probably “e.” In a phrase or quote, there’s usually “the” more than once, which is a pattern that gives you two more letters. If there’s a heading or topic, you can guess words and look for word patterns that might fit them.

Cryptic crosswords are British-style puzzles, which means that they don’t cross the same way that American ones do. Instead, they cross at only two or three letters per word. And the clues are – well, cryptic. They contain anagrams, but also words within words, backward words, and other sly tricks. “Capital of Egypt” might only mean the letter “E,” for example. My friend Leslie and I used to work them together, so we could fill in the blanks for each other, but occasionally we would have to leave a word unsolved. Sometimes, we still didn’t understand it even when we looked at the answers.

Back when I worked in an office, I used to take “puzzle breaks,” on the theory that I didn’t take smoke breaks, and I could take them without having to go outside. Unfortunately, my bosses didn’t see it that way. I can’t say that’s why I left that job, but I can say that now that I work for myself at home I can take breaks for whatever I want, whenever I want hahahahaha!

Life is good. Puzzles are good. Even work is good!

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3 thoughts on “Unpuzzling Words

  1. I used to do crossword puzzles, including the NYT one. But, now I prefer 1000-2000 piece jigsaw puzzles. They relax me, except when the cats knock it down and I have to redo it, hopefully remembering where everything went.


      1. When I was married, years ago, I had my 1000 piece puzzle out on the dining room table. We never used it for eating, so it was perfect. I was about half-way done when my husband tore it apart and put it back in the box, because he was tired of seeing it. That was at least 20 years ago. I quit doing them until just this year. I had no idea the cats would race across the board I have laying on the couch and knock thhe board and puzzle off. I finished a 1000 piece puzzle with no problem. It’s only since I started the 2000 piece one that they’ve gone crazy!


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