23 March 2007


Out of nowhere, I recently resumed my interest in doing crossword puzzles. When riding the subway, normally I have a paperback or my iPod with me, but one time last week I didn't have either. Maybe I had the iPod but its battery was depleted. It's one of the minor annoyance with the iPod. I would walk out the door and the battery meter would indicate the device had 75% power, but by the time I reached the train platform, a mere few minutes later, there would be nothing left. I think I have the 10-GB iPod for at least three years already. I suppose electronic devices are not supposed to be used this long.

I happened to have a copy of Metro New York, one of the free daily newspapers, with me at the time. I've been reading Metro almost everyday but never once bothered to try the crosswords. Perhaps there was an easy clue or two so I was able to populate some section of the puzzle. The more I read into it, the more I was able to solve the puzzle. Soon enough, I was going old piles of newspaper pulling the crossword pages. I will stick to the general theme in the newspaper instead of those specific to the magazines. For example, I used to do TV Guide puzzles and ended up only learning about TV stars or shows with short names. My goal with the crosswords is to learn real, useful English words.

Compared to Scrabbles, playing the crosswords is much better in terms of learning or using words. The shortest crosswords word must be at least three letters long, so I don't have to deal with those obscure two-letter Scrabbles craps. I discovered that I know a lot more words compared to back in high school days, which is, oh, only about twenty years ago. I still cannot solve entire puzzles - there are always some authors or celebrities who I don't know about. Sure, I know the Cambodian politician Pol Pot, but that's only because Cambodia is a neighbor country of Vietnam, so I only happen to know a little bit about it.

For those people that I don't know about, I plan to look them up on the web some day. I haven't resorted at all to Google and its ilk in this newly-re-discovered enthusiasm. Back in the old days, when I do the crossword puzzles, I would have stacks of books nearby. Almanacs were useful for looking up people's names or geographic info. Dictionaries are a must. Some words are so obscure only certain big fat dictionaries would have them. Barlett's Book of Quotations or some dictionary of American slang and idioms sometimes help. In extreme cases, I even made trips to the public library to look things up. Aaaah, such were the days before personal computer and the advent of the Internet.

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