senior scribes

Along Life’s Way
I’m a What?
By Lois E. Wilson
I found out a few years ago that I am a “cruciverbalist.” The word does not appear in any of my older dictionaries. But it is in editions of many published lately. It also has references on the internet. It comes from the Latin roots: cruci meaning “cross,” verbal meaning “words,” and ist meaning “person.” The definition is a person who constructs crossword puzzles or is an aficionado of them. So if you work them, you are into cruciverbalism. Crosswords are reported to be the most popular word game in the world. And in almost every puzzle, you learn something new about topics such as science, geography, history, famous people, and our language.
Crossword publishers have strict guidelines for their puzzles. Back in the 1980’s when I was doing a lot of crossword puzzle construction, “Random House Dictionary of the English Language” was the source for Penny Press puzzles. Two-letter words were not permitted and too many three-letter words would cause a rejection. No unkeyed letters were allowed; that is, each letter in the puzzle had to be a part of two words which crossed.
Grids are of preferred sizes—many daily newspaper puzzles are 15x15 grids. The Sunday puzzles are usually larger such as 21x21. The Dayton Daily News puzzles during the week are also in the L.A. Times. Grids must be symmetrical side-to-side or diagonally. Payment for puzzles is dependent on size—the larger the puzzle, the more per puzzle.
I constructed my grids by hand and found the words to put in them myself. Today there are software programs to speed up the process and databases of words to fit each situation. However, using only those words can create a dull, sterile puzzle. Humans are better at choosing themes for puzzles (which editors prefer) and having word play in clues and answers. It takes a person to keep up with topical events, new slang words, etc. which enliven the process for the worker.
To keep the puzzle symmetrical, one needs two answers of the same size (sans spaces) to be theme words. What topical theme might I use today? My theme words and clues could be:
     THEME WORDS               CLUES
     Fake news (8)                   Chicken Little’s report
     Protests (8)                       Likes exams, perhaps
     Missing emails (13)            Lost cyber input
     Private server (13)              G.I. mess hall
My word to add to the dictionary is “cruciverbalitis.” Definition: an infectious disease caused by cross words. Symptoms are excess groaning and scratching of head, and bouts of wild spells while searching through books or surfing the internet. Vaccinations are ineffective. There is often a temporary remission after a completed grid; however, there is no known cure.

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