Since I'm a writer, you might think I would be great at crosswords You'd be wrong. I don't know what the capital of Cameroon is, and telling me it's a seven-letter word won't help.
That said, when my daughter Kate recently started doing crosswords, I happily joined in. And, with some clues, my vocabulary and age have proven useful. For example, Kate wasn't familiar with Hee Haw, but I knew the characters might well be called rubes.
As we worked our way through one puzzle, I had to ask her to repeat the clues. Frequently. While she graciously repeated and repeated and repeated, I wondered why I was having so much trouble. And I finally realized, I need context to understand what's being said. "What's a three-letter word with cap and pack?" sounds to me like "What's a three-letter word with ???? and ????." I can tell the vowel involved is an "a" but that's as much as I get.
Cat? Hat? Rat? Where's Dr. Seuss when you need him?
Now, there's a perfectly good reason for this difficulty. I'm half deaf and have been all my life. Typically, I consider it an advantage: Because I'm half deaf, I pay attention to what people say. I listen very carefully to make sure I'm not missing anything. I lip read. I focus.
All these compensation methods are automatic. What I didn't realize -- until we started doing the crosswords -- is how much I "hear" by context.
For example,"Mom, do you want me to start the dishwasher?" makes perfect sense when Kate says it while she's in the kitchen, after just loading the dishwasher. I may actually hear, "Mom, do you ??? me to ??? the dishwasher?" but I know what she means. The context is clear.
There's absolutely no context for 22 across or 60 down.
It matters to me, it matters to Kate and it matters to you. Context changes everything. I love you can mean I want to go to bed with you, you're the best friend anyone ever had, I adore you, or I really need you to load the dishwasher.
That's fine can mean Okey dokey. That's fine. Or, it can mean, I'm exhausted. Please don't ask me to make a decision.
And, as we all know, I don't care can mean about two thousand things, ranging from Thanks for asking, but it really doesn't matter to me to If you ask one more time, I'm going to fucking scream.
Not that I know that from personal experience or anything.
I don't want to end this post on a cross word, so let me gently remind you: We are all puzzles. We all have context, history, secrets, that no one else knows. The joy comes in filling out the blanks, together.
P.S. The three-letter word we needed was "ice." I have no freakin' idea what the capital of Cameroon is ...