By Norris Chambers

                  When some mischievous kid filled the teacher’s favorite desk drawer with at least a pint of red ants she was a little irritated and used a few cross words. When the old cow I was milking hit me in the face with a tail that was loaded with cockleburs I often resorted to uttering a few cross words. Cross words were not considered improper, they were just ordinary words used with a special emphasis that denoted displeasure with some unexpected and unpleasant occurrence!

            Clifton and I heard several folks use very cross words now and then. Sometimes it appeared to be appropriate and at other times I wondered if the occasion was serious enough to warrant those ugly cross words.

            I still remember my mother using some cross words when Clifton and I decided to prepare a baby chicken for the main dish on the dinner menu. We easily caught a chick with the intention of removing the head. We knew this undesirable operation had to be performed and we were ready to proceed when she discovered our intentions. 

            As we grew older and began to appreciate the comics in newspapers I had to ask my mother what the big square thing with the numbers in the squares and the fine print all around it was and why she didn’t read it for us like she did the comics.

            “That is a cross word puzzle,” she explained, “you are supposed to fill the squares with letters that spell words in all directions. The small print gives you a clue as to what word to put in a particular square. You are supposed to put letters in the squares that spell words up and down or across. You must fill in all the little squares with words.”

            “Why don’t we work one?” I inquired. She told me that I would have to learn to read and know a lot more words. She also said that many people didn’t work the puzzles, but that some worked them every day. I didn’t exactly understand, but I accepted the explanation. I explained the puzzle situation to Clifton.  He agreed that we could probably find better things to do.

            We hunted ‘possums and skunks and earned a meager income. When we aged a little and drifted into teenage status we mixed a few other money making enterprises with our financial career and expanded our funny paper interests. We dared to attempt to solve one of the cross word puzzles that had been resting by the side of the comics for years. Our first few attempts did not succeed. The definitions of the words that had to fit in the numbered spaces didn’t seem to fit any word that we could think of.

            We soon discovered that there was an answer in the next issue of the paper. For example, the little two-letter word described as “Egyptian Sun God” was nothing more than RE! We had not heard Mr. Re mentioned in the ancient history classes. But maybe we just weren’t listening when his name came up for discussion! An internet search confirms Re as the first of the Egyptian Gods and that he was also known as “Ra”. I learned something from the puzzle that I might never have known. For many, many years I have known the name of an Egyptian Sun God!

            All that was necessary to solve the daily puzzle was to know the meaning of hundreds of definitions and associate the elusive word with the correct number of letters with that explanation. This wasn’t always easy but it was possible. It became easier when we started a notebook and listed the answers by columns of words with the same number of letters and corresponding definitions.

            The same book of knowledge, or “cheat book”,  would not work on all puzzles. Different puzzle writers seemed to have different ideas concerning which words made good puzzles. Clifton and I discussed writing a book containing cross word puzzle words and definitions. It was a good idea, but we never progressed further than preliminary discussion concerning such a literary accomplishment.

            Cross word puzzles have survived for many years and there are still many puzzle addicts. The newspapers and magazines still feature the old time variety. The Internet has many improved versions of the old puzzles. For example, if you start to type a word in the numbered square the letter will be colored red if the word is wrong. Just restart the typing if you have a better idea! You are also scored on the number of wrong choices and the time required for choosing a word. For a price against your score you can ask for a letter or a word at any time. Cross Word dictionaries are now available.

            The next time you are in need of a diversion try working a modern puzzle, or just sit around and listen for some of those cross words when a puzzle addict drops a heavy cross word dictionary directly on top of a big toe!