Tag Archives: puzzles

Monthly, Forever

It’s not that I’m a stranger to subscriptions. I started getting magazine subscriptions when I was a teen and began receiving them for Christmas presents when our family finances were impacted by my father’s illness. I chose astronomy and science fiction magazines. My parents didn’t subscribe to magazines much, except for Reader’s Digest and their condensed books.

I also dabbled in record subscriptions, back in the day when they sent actual vinyl records that had every chance of arriving with scratches and warps. (I don’t know if music subscriptions went to tapes, 8-tracks, CDs, or downloads after that. I do have a couple of subscriptions on Patreon and at least one of them supplies me with music every month, but otherwise, I get all my music via the internet. Not that I download much. I already have nearly 670 albums stored on my music app (formerly called iTunes). But I digress.)

Later on, once I was married, I found a pet store in town that offered a “Fish of the Month” club. (For some unknown reason, we referred to it as “Fish ala Month,” although they weren’t, of course, edible. Another digression.) Dan had a fish tank at the time and enjoyed going to the store every month to see what new species of fish was on offer that month. I kept up the subscription until the pet store went out of business. This was back in the days when there were still locally owned pet shops.

Since that time, the idea of subscriptions has blossomed. You can now get blossoms that arrive every month and can be given as gifts. Not just flowers, either. I once gave my therapist a small succulent as a gift and have ever after been pursued to upgrade to a succulent subscription.

Nor are plants the only subscriptions on offer. You can get quarterly subscriptions to goods from Ireland, including food, snacks, and jewelry. You can subscribe to puzzles, either jigsaws or more elaborate ones that require solving a mystery. Other “surprise” subscriptions where you don’t know what you’re getting are for children’s toys (or dog toys), foods from different regions of the country, rare coffees, discount wines, Asian snacks, cocktail mixers (and liquor, if you choose that option), cheese of the month or charcuterie kits (including vegan and gluten-free), cookie dough, pasta, spices or hot sauces, candy, tea, beauty items or perfumes, detox products, vacation souvenirs, earrings or necklaces, socks-of-the-month, replicas of historical documents, dried flower arrangements, candles, and pet foods and supplies.

Some of the subscriptions available leave me befuddled. One is underwear. I buy new bras and panties when my old ones are no longer serviceable. But I don’t subscribe. I go to Jockey, Fruit of the Loom, or another source and order what I need. I can’t imagine avidly anticipating the arrival of three new panties or bra-and-panties sets every month. (Besides, I never wear matching bras and panties. Every victim of a serial killer you see on TV shows is wearing matching lacy undergarments. I figure I’m a lot safer if I were a purple-polka-dot bra and simple green panties. But I digress some more.)

Other subscriptions I don’t understand are oysters-of-the-month (ick!) and monthly sex toys and books (although if they’re delivered in plain brown wrappers, they will spare you embarrassment and make a visit to the local sex shop unnecessary).

The really strange subscription I came across during my research for this post was playable musical postcards, something previously unimaginable to me. Evidently, the postcards from different lands are made of vinyl and can be played on a turntable. (There is an option to receive only a postcard and an online download of a song if you don’t possess a turntable.) The tunes are from indie artists, so you don’t need to worry about getting Mariah Carey in your December mail.

Will I get another subscription to something-or-other? I think not. I already have subscriptions to TV streaming channels. I have Patreon subscriptions to support my friends’ art. I have subscriptions to Archaeology and Smithsonian magazines (offline versions) for my husband. I subscribe to the New York Times crossword puzzles. I probably have a few other subscriptions that I’ve forgotten about and ought to cancel.

But I am tempted by the solve-a-mystery and cheese-of-the-month subscription, though only if I can specify cheeses that don’t advertise the fact that they’re made of mold. I figure that anything the postal workers can smell is a bad idea, even if it’s only once a month.

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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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Puzzling Numbers

Words are my life. Numbers, not so much.

I’ve never been a math-phobe. All throughout school, I combined reading and writing with the proverbial ‘rithmetic. Set theory, quadratic equations, whatever – no problem. Then I hit what my high school called “enriched” geometry. It was the first D I had ever gotten in my school career. It soured me on math.

I didn’t feel I deserved it, either. What was “enriched” about the geometry was the fact that it required three-column proofs instead of two-column proofs. (It was later that I learned about 151 proofs.)

Three-column proofs, as I recall, required you to state which theorem or corollary you were using to solve the problem. I had a philosophical disagreement with this system. I contended that if you ever needed to know whether it was corollary C or theorem 17, you could look up the name of it. It was knowing how to use it that was important. So I never put in the third column and I got a D.

(I think this actually helped me when I went to college. At the Ivy League institution I attended, there were many students who had never received a grade lower than an A. When they suddenly had to compete at a higher level and got a C or even a B, they were devastated. But I digress.)

Later in life, I found that I did indeed understand geometry when a manager at my job was hanging pictures. “I can hang these four pictures in a square, but the hard one will be hanging the one in the center,” he said. I took two pieces of string and ran one from the nail in the lower left to the one in the upper right, and the other from the lower right to the upper left. I put the fifth nail where the two strings crossed. So much for theorems and corollaries.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about this week. That’s right, that entire section was a big digression. What I meant to talk about was puzzles.

Word puzzles are probably better known (and I’ll be writing about them next week), but there are number and math puzzles as well.

Sudoku (which means “single number” in Japanese) hit the big time in the US in 2004. It made an appearance in puzzle books earlier, in 1979, when it was called “Number Place.” But it really took off when a computer program was developed that created the puzzles.

(On first learning of Sudoku puzzles, and hearing that they were supposed to stave off senility, my husband decided to give them a try, though he had no interest in crossword puzzles. He was heard to say, “I may not be able to spell, but damn it, I can count to nine!” But I digress. Again.)

But plain sudoku didn’t satisfy me. Being something of a masochist, I soon found myself wanting something more. What I found was jigsaw sudoku. Instead of living in nice, neat square boxes, the numbers were scattered throughout shapes that looked like gerrymandered congressional districts. The rest of the rules were the same. Each shape had to be filled in with the numbers 1–9, with no duplicates in any box or row.

I stopped solving sudoku when I stopped buying the little books in the grocery store or pharmacy. Recently, though, I found a site online that offers a daily jigsaw sudoku. I had to try it. I selected the medium difficulty setting.

On my first try, I scored -520. I figure that was the equivalent of getting a D. Maybe I should go back to the NYT crossword, where at least they don’t give you a grade.

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