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Crossing words

LEELA RAMASWAMY Dec 28 2017, 0:29 IST

'Off to crossing (s)words, is it?' my husband would remark every time he caught me heading towards my favourite nook, newspaper and pencil in hand. He was, if you haven't already guessed it, referring to my tryst with the daily crossword. In his mind, this was literally and figuratively 'child's play'. However, his disapproval did not deter me in the least from indulging in this pleasant pastime.

Imagine then the joy that coursed through me when I came across a survey that said ninety-nine percent of all English newspapers carried a crossword! This, if nothing else, is testimony to its use and popularity.
My interest in crosswords began in school, when a group of us played a game called 'word squares'.

Here the letters spelt out the same words horizontally and vertically. Usually we employed 4-letter and 5-letter words. We found that six or more letters did not lend themselves easily to this structure. That is when we progressed to crossword puzzles, which interlocked words across and down. Simple crosswords were, however, difficult to find as there were very few publications that catered to children. One magazine though stands out in my mind.

Titled, 'The Treasure Chest', it was published from Bengaluru. It lived up to its name by including much information and stories rooted in Indian lore. What is more, it had an entire page devoted to puzzles, one of them invariably a crossword. It was available in the school library, but the puzzles were often filled in ink by one reader or another. I cajoled my parents into subscribing to the magazine and thus spent many delightful hours not only poring over the issues but also building up a treasure-chest of my own.

Perhaps this was why presenting and developing crosswords became a favourite aid of mine during my teaching years. Even older students responded to this simple method of reinforcing textual facts and important names. Those years are behind me now, but my obsession with crosswords continues. There will be those who consider it an odd and impractical pleasure; others however will agree that it is an exciting and painless way of improving your vocabulary.

You discover, for instance, that the self-same word can have two or even three meanings – an excellent way of building up a mental and portable thesaurus! The crossword can also set you on a tantalizing search because you know that there is a solution to every clue that you encounter. What is more, when the answer is not apparent, you can let go and leave it at the back of your mind.

Then all at once and most unexpectedly, the answer flashes into your consciousness, leaving you to wonder whether this is indeed the magic of the muse.

The crossword aficionado will of course attempt the cryptic crossword. Here each clue is a riddle in itself. For instance, 'To mum, maxi means most' is 'maximum' and 'Beauty that is frightening' is 'bombshell'.

The crossword solver is a promoter of peace because the only rival she encounters is her own self. She uses no cross words because she is deep into what she loves most – crosswords!

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