by Wendy Copley on May 7, 2007

I just got back from a totally fun, geeky evening. My friend from work, Ellen, invited me to go see Will Shortz speak at Zellerbach Hall on the UC campus. Will Shortz, for those of you who don’t know, is an acclaimed enigmatologist and the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle.

He started the evening by giving a quick run-down of some of his favorite crosswords published in the Times and a brief list of what he looks for in a puzzle. Then he moved on to a brief history of the crossword puzzle. I was surprised to learn that it’s a 20th century invention. I also didn’t know that a crossword puzzle book was what launched the Simon & Schuster publishing company. After a question and answer session, he started the real fun of the night — the audience participation puzzles. I loved hearing the puzzles and all the answers, but I felt kind of dumb because I rarely got any of the answers. My favorite game of the night was one where he would say a phrase that rhymed with a famous person’s name and we had to guess who he was referring to. Some of the ones I got were “weight loss” (Kate Moss) and “spruce tree” (Bruce Lee). The biggest laugh of the evening came with one of these clues — “dirt pile”. There were 3 or 4 audience members playing that round and none of them could figure it out. Finally one of them blurted out “George Bush!” It brought the house down. (The answer was Kurt Weill.)

I’m not good at crosswords at all and it drives me absolutely crazy. I like words. I like puzzles. I like word puzzles. I think I’m a fairly intelligent, I have a good vocabulary and I’m culturally literate. But every time I attempt a crossword — even the one in the TV Guide or the in-flight magazine — I get smacked down. My mother, who does a crossword almost every day, tells me that the best way to get good at them is to do a lot of them because after a while you start to learn how the constructors think. After tonight, I think I want to try to take on the challenge of doing crosswords.

But maybe I’ll start off with the Monday puzzles….

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