A Cross (and Down) with Words

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Tuesday, July 01, 2008 with 5 comments
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of what I used to make way back as a pastime, crossword puzzles. It was really after I read Kim’s blog that this plug I call “reminiscence” was sparked on this hobby I had in college. She wrote about how her dad loved to answer crosswords and how he used different sets of pens to answer them. I used different shades of pens as well--black, red, and blue--and unlike her dad who solved crosswords, I made them. It may sound like something a word geek would do, and you’ll probably be surprised if you see me looking otherwise, but this pastime became intellectually stimulating for me and became instrumental in what I call my own Renaissance in the early part of this decade. It was also around this time that I penned a poem published in an international anthology.

My sister is really the aficionado when it comes to word puzzles, hands down. What she’d do then was crop the crossword section on every issue of The Inquirer and answer them with a dictionary on one hand and her tabs on the other; she kept tabs of words that were crossword favorites, names of people and places that have unusual spellings, abbreviations, and word contraptions, and how they were defined by its creator. Later on, she compiled them and referred to it when figuring answers out. I know she doesn’t do that anymore, but that’s how avid she was then, and her compilation, her “crossword dictionary,” became a great accompaniment in this cerebral interest of mine in puzzle making.

I started with the smaller ones, the 11x11 blocks. That meant across and down, there were 11 boxes waiting to be shaded and worked on. The ones I did were the real deal, the type you normally find in broadsheets and tabloids. They were shaded symmetrically, and how the blocks were conceptualized became as fun and stimulating as actually putting the words that would make the puzzle whole. I bought a lot of pens and different types of papers and worked on deciphering words to occupy the empty blocks with this age-old dictionary we had. In fact, it was so old that the book was torn into three separate pieces. I liked using it because you’d be flabbergasted to find words that you thought were nonexistent, and it also happened to have an etymology section; the Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon derivatives also found their way to some of my puzzles. Like a hard habit to break, I got so hooked on it, but caught in a mind-boggling good kind of way. I even began fanning out by making ones that were 15x15 and 17x17 in size and daydreamed of making the biggest crossword puzzle ever. But all these efforts would soon meet a disheartening end.

Yeah, I lost everything in a fire except the clothes I had on. It started at a neighbor’s place one early morning, and my sympathetic nervous system was at an all-time low at that time that I didn’t get the adrenaline thrust to go back inside and piggyback our refrigerator on my own or our washing machine, the TV, the air-conditioner, much less my crosswords that were only inside a long manila envelope. I only have three saved, there to remind me of my cross(with)words because I contributed them to our school paper, even customizing it so that most of the entries are medical in nature. I prided myself on the ones that appeared therein because I was able to include the name of our school (Brent) and our school paper (Synapse) as answers to the puzzles.

Now seeing them printed on hoodies, on shoes, on t-shirts bring both a smile and a sigh. A smile because I could proudly say “Hey, I made one of those!” to anyone wearing them or to somebody figuring the right answers to the puzzles they have on hand, and a sigh to have them lost senselessly in a day and not seeing them imparted to the real fanatics of the game. Now, I get to answer them occasionally, and this time I only use a single pen.

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