Evolution of an obsession
Beefy type I'd seen by the beach kept in mind, but no source of inspiration (6,7)*
I remember the first ever English dictation I took in school. I got four out of five, and was bitter about it. I'd spelt bananas and monkey correctly. What I got wrong was floor. In my textbook, with the fonts, it looked like it was spelt Aoor; things were weird in English anyway, so that was how I spelt it.
I suspect my fascination with words began then. It was certainly helped along by Saradamba teacher. She taught Telugu, but used to supervise us when we wrote our end of term exams. She had an interesting way of keeping early finishers occupied and amused. She'd ask us to make lists of words ending with 'ight' or find as many words as we could from the word 'embarrassment'. I remember I'd found some eighty before the bell rang.
At home we'd play Lexicon, and that was great fun. I first played Scrabble in a hostel room in NIMHANS, and thought it a wonderful game. But crosswords hadn't appeared on my horizon yet. My father solved the Hindu crossword daily, but the one time I looked at the clues they read like so much nonsense that I shrugged and dropped it.
It was in Delhi that my interest in crosswords began. My husband never fails to remind me that when I saw him trying to solve the Times puzzle in The Statesman, I'd sneered and said, yeah, Daddy does them, too.
But this was before we were married, and when it is the love of your life that is doing it, you take an interest. From suggesting synonyms for words to taking a look at the clues was a small step. The first answer we arrived at was 'carnation'. I remember the definition was pink, and motors and races were involved. As I went to check synonyms in the Webster, I remember thinking this was fun.
As my first Delhi winter almost drove me back to Madras, what kept me going in the freezing evenings was the Times crossword. Those were days before home computers and the Internet, or conveniences like a desktop dictionary or Google. The Webster and the Encyclopaedia Britannica got a regular workout in the early days of my solving career.
Looking up words, checking synonyms, trying anagrams…it seems funny in retrospect, but I had no clue about solving crosswords. The hidden words, the anagram indicators, double definitions, written backward solutions, all were discovered slowly, and painstakingly. There was one memorable conversation one night:
"Come to bed, Lali. It is past midnight." "Yeah, just two clues left, honey." "You can check the solution tomorrow." "That's what I don't want to do." "You realise you are getting obsessed, don't you?" " Yeah, I know."
From celebrating five clues solved to fretting about five left unsolved before the next edition of the paper arrives was a journey. From completing the puzzle at all to completing it in half an hour took longer.
I took to the Internet solely to solve the Guardian puzzles online. When they became a subscription service, I used my credit card for the first time and online at that, to make the payment. When The Statesman stopped carrying the Times puzzle I stopped taking the paper and subscribed online.
Nowadays I do Daily Telegraph crosswords that The Telegraph carries, both the easy version and the cryptic puzzle, in the mornings. It never takes more than eight or ten minutes. When I go online, the first thing I do is to sign in at The Times Crossword Club. Concise and cryptic, the crosswords take me twenty minutes at the most. The Guardian puzzles come next. The weekly prize puzzles, Club Monthly and Genius puzzles might take longer, but these days I never have to spend longer than an hour on a puzzle.
Today, The Times site is undergoing maintenance. They hope to be back online by 12:00 PM GMT. I sighed and went on to the Guardian puzzles, and there was that gem by Paul. As I solved it, it occurred to me that I've come a long way indeed. Now to wait until the Times is back online… sigh.
* Carbon dioxide