Monday, August 28, 2006

Words Are Not Toys

9 minutes and 39 seconds for the 15x15 grid crossword on MSNBC published on 8/23/06.

9 minutes and 31 seconds for the 15x15 grid crossword on MSNBC published on 8/24/06.

I don't really like the MSNBC puzzles, but I am more or less used to not liking puzzles that are not in the Washington Post or New York Times. I'm not sure if it's that the puzzlers and editors of the Post and Times puzzles just think about language and words in a similar way to the way I do or what, but something with those crosswords feel like I'm getting a good brain workout for all the right reasons. When I talked with my old friend The SG, it felt like doing a good crossword - we were both fairly evenly matched, intelligence-wise, both expressed ourselves well and on the same level of vocabulary, and we didn't always agree, so it was like working to express yourself the way you wanted to in a way that would translate for people.

With the MSNBC puzzle (and these are online, by the way) I have found at least a handful of words where I couldn't get the words figured out not because I didn't know the word, but because the word straight up did not mean what the clue said. Neither of the two puzzles I gave you the times of above had any mistakes like that, but I'll keep an eye out and give a good example. Complaints about the MSNBC puzzle aside, I DO like that it times you while you work, because I'm a competitive sum-bitch and I like to know the times. I am out of practice, since I was spoiled by AU's providing the Post, Times and USA Today (whose puzzle I disliked for the same reason as the MSNBC puzzle) free every weekday. I can still generally do the Sunday Boston Globe puzzle in somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. The last two years that I did the Post puzzle every day, it didn't ever take me over 15 minutes to complete a weekday puzzle (unless I was double-teaming said puzzle with Fellow Puzzle Fiend the Statesman, in which case there would be lots of yakking interspersed with arguing over whether one should cross out just the number when you got a clue [the Statesman] or the whole clue [me].), and the Saturday and Sunday puzzles usually fell in the 15-30 range.

The local paper's crosswords are bought from a syndicated puke-out-a-puzzle company and are intensely aggravating because they are poorly constructed. It is bad news.

Now, the NYT is a whole other ballgame. I love the Times puzzle and I love that "Wordplay" exists (Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Will Shortz and lots of dorks who kick crossword butt...perfect storm of AWESOME if you ask me.), but holy CRAP is that thing hard. I can usually finish the weekday editions, but it usually takes me between 20 and 30 minutes. I have finished a grand total of 29 Sunday Times puzzles over maybe four years of serious puzzling. THOSE were completed in anywhere from 20 minutes (I nearly fell off my chair when I discovered I had finished so fast) to two days. I used to carry those bad boys around in my wallet so I could bust them out on Metro rides and in boring classes.

Language is not a toy. It IS an issue when you use the wrong word. It IS an issue when you can't communicate effectively. And it IS an issue when you cost me precious seconds trying to think of a crossword answer that has nothing to do with the clue. Chumps.

In other news, sometimes doctors confuse the crap out of me.

So, Grandad has been in the hospital for a couple days - he went in with fluid in his lungs and an infection, apparently, but it seemed to be manageable for the time being and they started working on getting that fluid out and getting the infection under control. Fine. But the other day he was really shaky and had what the docs initally thought looked stroke-y. They were going to do a brain scan on him last night. It didn't get done, not sure why, but in any case, this morning not only was he doing better and concious and talking, but he didn't remember the whole episode the day before. Now, call me crazy, but if someone has something that looks like a stroke but you're not sure, and then the next day he doesn't remember anything about it, wouldn't that make you MORE determined to get the scan done to see what, if anything, had happened? Apparently not. I just don't get it.

Now here's the thing - Grandma is a ninja. There's a certain amount of Don't Ask Don't Tell in the day-to-day relationship there, which I think is inevitable. I mean, you ask Grandad how he feels, he's going to say he's fine, because he doesn't feel any crappier than usual. He's an old guy who has been smoking a pipe since he was 12 and he's been sick a long time. Being sick stinks, period the end. But then you get Grandma in the hospital, and seriously...knowledge kung-fu. She is SO up on all the options and what's going on and all that stuff. Between her and the Aunt and Uncle Troops On The Ground, there is major ass-kicking going on. Good hands all around. I'll be praying for Grandad.

One more thing on the Grandad Front is that I always ask Dad how HE is doing when we talk about this stuff. I usually get some variant of "eh, I'm fine" but last night we had a slightly more in depth chat about it. His thoughts were that while he obviously wouldn't be thrilled if Grandad passed away tomorrow, he also wouldn't feel like there were still major State of the Relationship discussions that had been un-had or anything like that. That's a great way to be - I try to keep tabs with as much of the fam as I can for that reason. Well, and because they're neat.

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