Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Password Obscenity Roulette

Hacking hackers are everywhere these days, and all at once.  For the IT guys amongst us, that means tinkering with firewalls and new defensive software and systems vulnerability checks and incident response plans and all of the other technical gibberish that makes IT guys boring death at a party.  For the rest of us, we can only groan in grim anticipation, because we know that we’re going to be asked to change our password . . . again.

rouletteOne of the great challenges of modern life is remembering all of the different “passwords” that we must inevitably use to access our various electronic devices and internet accounts and computer access points.  Unfortunately, we can’t use passwords like Allen Ludden would recognize. In fact, they can’t be a properly spelled word at all.  So that it’s a “strong” password, it’s got to include a weird combination of capitalized and lower case letters, numbers substituting for letters, and random characters, like ampersands and pound signs and question marks.  The result often looks like the sanitized representation of cursing that you might see from the Sarge in a Beetle Bailey cartoon — minus only the lightning bolts.  (@#%*$^@#!)  In a way, that’s pretty appropriate.

Of course, all of these suB5t!tu+ed characters, plus the fact that you need different passwords for different devices and accounts, plus the fact that passwords now must be changed much more frequently, make it impossible for the average human being to remember the passwords in the first place.  How many of us sit down at a computer or pick up our tablet and idly wonder for a moment what the &*%$# the password is?  And there’s the new year/check writing phenomenon to deal with, too.  When a new year comes, how long does it take you to stop automatically writing the old year in the date, because you’d been doing that for the past 346 days?  I had to change my iPhone password several weeks ago, and I still reflexively type in the old password every time I’m prompted, until I dimly realize that I’ve changed it and it’s time to key in the new one — if I can remember it.

There’s a positive aspect to this.  We’re all getting older, and people who deal with aging say that if you want to stay mentally sharp as the joints creak and the brain cells croak you need to play word games or solve puzzles.  Well, this generation has got that covered.  We don’t need silly games, because we’ve got frustrating passwords.



The other day I read that the amount of time families spend together has dropped to an all time low. I guess that’s not really a big surprise considering all the things there are to do these days. I was reminded of something we would all do as a family during the good old days and that was building jigsaw puzzles. It was always fun and I wonder if any families still do this ? 

Typically the puzzle was of the 1000 to 2000 piece variety and we would spread it out on the dining room table which was rarely used except for birthdays and special occasions giving us plenty of time for completion. Initially when the box was opened alot of us would start out working on it with someone, usually our sister setting up the border – the easiest part.

The rest of us would spend our time sorting the pieces by color and working on a specific section of the puzzle. The sky was almost always left until the end because this required looking for a specific shaped puzzle piece and the time frame for finding two pieces that fit together was less than desireable.

Even our dad who worked alot would come home at night, pour himself a drink or two and relax working on the puzzle with us. I can even remember our grandmother lending us a hand when she came to stay. We had a variety of puzzles with various landscapes, buildings or repetitive designs and some novelty puzzles like a pizza pie, cigarette butts and chocolates to name a few.

Of course, as the puzzle neared completion puzzle pieces would mysteriously disappear with regularity which was no surprise because the biggest reward of doing the puzzle was being the one who got to put in the last piece !

As Simple As Rubik’s Cube

Researchers using supercomputers have figured out that any scrambled Rubik’s Cube can be completely solved in no more than 20 moves.  (And I’m happy to report that one of the people involved, who is quoted in the linked article, is a mathematician at Kent State University, here in Ohio.)  Why were supercomputers needed, you ask?  Because Rubik’s Cubes can be put into 43 billion billion different starting positions.  The vast majority of these can be solved within 15 to 19 moves.  In 100 million combinations, exactly 20 moves are needed to solve the puzzle.

20 moves!  Just what I needed:  something else to remind me that I was clueless when it came to figuring out a Rubik’s Cube, or one of those bent nails puzzles.

I had a friend once who got so frustrated with the apparently unsolvable Rubik’s Cube that he steamed the colored squares off the plastic underneath and re-glued them so that he could brag to friends that he figured it out.  Of course, he might have done better if he’d been helped by a supercomputer or two.