February 11, 2008

NIBEM 11: Mind Games

Nora called yesterday for a Sunday morning chat. It was a beautiful day in the Bay Area and she had already been out for a coffee and the NY Times. Usually she just reads it online, but yesterday she splurged on the authentic, $5.00 version. It's a hefty paper to lug home and a challenge to read through, but as it turned out it her money was well spent. Yesterday, Nora discovered Will Shortz' newest word puzzle, the 3-D Word Hunt.

Will Shortz is a genius enigmatologist (puzzlemaker). He's the NY Times Crossword Puzzle editor, the creator of hundreds of word game and Sudoku books, and a pretty diabolical guy. His mind works in very mysterious ways--or at least they're a mystery to me. There is a great documentary about him called Wordplay which introduced me to the previously unknown world of puzzlemakers and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I will never be part of that world. The completion of Shortz' well-edited NY Times crosswords is beyond me and I usually don't even hunt for a pencil to begin work on the puzzle. I make a mental attempt to determine the clues for the upper left corner before I get discouraged and turn the page.

Nora's call for help with the 3-D Word Hunt was right up my alley. We spent about 35 minutes on the phone together trying to come up with at least 25 words that would put us in the "par" category of word finders. Thirty-seven found words makes you an expert and you're a freakin' genius if you can make 50 words from the 18 letters included in each puzzle. To make it more challenging, each word has to be five letters long. It was amazing how four and six letter words seemed to jump off the page only to be rejected for their numerological deficiencies.

After about 27 minutes, Paul lowered the newspaper he was reading to ask if we were planning to do the whole puzzle over the phone together. Nora and I answered in unison, "Yes!" We were on a roll, but we only aspired to find 25 words. Par was going to be good enough for our first outing. A few minutes later Paul, who wasn't even looking at the letters but just listening to our words, offered a suggestion. "Irk." Hmmm. Was he trying to tell us something or just making a very pathetic three-letter suggestion? What a novice!

I am totally hooked. After we hung up I was forced to call her back a few times over the course of the day to shout a single word into the phone. "Noose!" was the first one, followed by "lilac." I didn't even bother to call her about "canon" and "canal," although they were equally inspired discoveries. I feel a 3-D addiction coming on. I tried to be a Sudoku fan and did manage to complete easy puzzles, but math has never been my thing. I find the word hunt much more enjoyable.

I'm going to spend next weekend in Oakland with Nora. We've already decided to buy next Sunday's NY Times so we can do the puzzle together, and check the answers for our efforts of this week. I think we might need to make a copy of the puzzle on her scanner so we can each work independently as well as collaboratively. I can , on the rare occasion, be very competitive and Nora well knows that the spirit of competition can sometimes override my maternal instincts. Sometimes "Bad Mommy" emerges. I'm hoping I can keep her in check this time.

No comments: