Someone has a new pastime in our household, the first word of which has nine letters and begins with a “C.” Yes, the 13-year-old is getting hooked on crossword puzzles, like so many relatives before her.
“What's a 'twistable treat' with four letters?” she asked the other night, sitting at the kitchen table mulling over the puzzle in that day's newspaper.
“Oreo!” she quickly figured out.
It's in her genes. Her father is good at them. Her grandmothers, great- aunt and great-grandmother always enjoyed them.
I grew up in homes with small piles of newspapers folded twice to reveal the puzzle pages, pencils sharpened down to 2 inches and eraser droppings.
“I have to finish this puzzle,” my grandmother would say, as if under contract.
If my mother comes over for the afternoon, I can leave a newspaper, two pencils and a beverage on a table next to her favorite chair and she is in crossword heaven.
That's because you are not going to find her holed up in some coffee shop scribbling letters into squares. She is more about Crossword by Committee.
“Here, see if you can finish this,” she said to my daughter just last weekend, handing her a People magazine opened to the puzzle page.
No wonder my daughter is hooked. My mother has been asking her popular culture questions from puzzles since she was 4.
Phone calls have always been involved in all this. I remember my grandmother frequently talking on the phone with one of her sisters as they worked on a puzzle together. These days, my mother and aunt do the same. My mother will be tripped up on 43 Across. My aunt will be stumped by 8 Down. Now my daughter and mother talk crosswords on the phone. The daily commuter puzzle in The News is one of their favorites.
As I said, Crossword by Committee.
My father loved to read and was knowledgeable on many, many things, but he did not do puzzles.
My husband once said that my father's reservoir of information made him “the best crossword puzzle person who did not do crossword puzzles.”
But, of course, my mother did.
Time and time again they would be sitting in the living room while my mother focused on a crossword puzzle and my father read the newspaper. At one point, we would hear her ask him for help on a five-letter word beginning with “L” or ending with “S.” He would instantly respond with the answer, never looking up from his paper.
A short time later, she would ask him a different question. “Why do you bother with crossword puzzles if you can't do them?” he would ask her, sounding somewhat exasperated.
But, as we all knew, my mother would always somehow get in the last word.