Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is It the Puzzles or the Brain That's Getting Harder?

For a long stretch over the last 2 to 3 years, I've felt that I've been getting better and better at doing the San Jose Merc daily crosswords, faster and faster completion time, almost never leaving any blanks and having to look things up less and less often.

But recently they seem to have gotten hard again. I don't really want to spend 20-30 minutes in the morning doing the crossword--7 to 10 is fine with me. But I seem to be creeping back up there. Today's puzzle took me 22 minutes, including looking up words in the crossword dictionary. Now, really:
  • Black currant liquer: cassis

  • Munich's river: Isar (maybe if you've been to munich you'd know this? Why have I never heard of it?)

  • Swenson of "Benson": Inga. Inga? OK, I don't watch TV. That's a TV show, right?

  • Green finch: serin. (You'd think that, as a Finch myself, I'd know. But no.)

  • Long stole: Tippet (that wasn't even in my crossword dictionaries.)

  • Cell body: Soma (should I have remembered that from biology? I don't think I heard it before--)

  • Carolina rail: Sora (yeah, right)

  • Whole: Unitary (unitary? Jeez, we're stretching here)

  • Stubby, erect tail: scut (even with all the dog-related research I've done, I've never heard this term)

  • Russian chess great: Tal (OK, chess players might know this. I've never heard the name, that I know of)

  • Communion plates: patens (maybe if I'd ever had communion I'd know this. Do communionators know this, or do they call them "communion plates"?)

OK, I DID know that a black cuckoo is: Ani (from doing crossword puzzles only), that a grain beard is: Awn (from doing crossword puzzles), that an inverse math function is: arcsine (after filling in 3 or 4 of the letters first), and that a Flemish map maker is: Mercator (ditto), but this one just really seemed to have more than its share of obscure terms.

All Those New, Creative Xmas Shows

Ah, how sweet it was, every year in the years of my TV-watching childhood (we never had a TV until I was 5 or so), when the new Christmas cartoon special came out. I didn't realize that I was in the prime of Christmas cartoons! Never before--or since, apparently--has there been such a successful run of watchable, endearing holiday shows. And, since they happened in my lifetime, of course they're *new* shows, not "classics" (which is what Miracle on 34th Street or Holiday Inn are, sorry, mom & dad!).

So here's when all these brand-new holiday cartoons made their appearances:
  • Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, 1962 (what fun to have watched Mr. Magoo on Saturday mornings all my life and then to have him star in his own Christmas movie!)

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1964 (what fun to have sung that song all my life and then for them to finally make a TV show out of it!)

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965 (what fun to have read the comic all my life and then for them to finally make a TV show out of it!)

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966 (what fun to have read the Seuss book all my life and then for them to finally make a TV show out of it!)

  • Frosty the Snowman, 1969 (well--OK, it was a good try but I never liked this one as much as all the others. It was a latecomer to the crowd, and anyway by then I was in high school, so I'm sure I wasn't its target audience.

And then--that's it! No more! How can one beat such successes! So no kids today are having the experience that I had, year after year, of having old favorites given new life.