While few adults actively envy children as they head back to school in the fall, there is sometimes a small tickling feeling of being left out of the joys of learning something new. There is a way to scratch that little itch without launching into a full-blown program of night courses and a planned curriculum. There are, for example, word puzzles.
At this point, it’s easy to roll your eyes and imagine yourself – or not – hunched over a crossword puzzle, muttering as you try to unravel the 8-letter word, beginning with “u,” from the clue, “Soapy feel.” Been there, done that. Nor, for that matter, can you face just one more sudoku puzzle. Ever since that particular craze escaped from Japan (“sudoku” is the Japanese word for “single digit”), an untold number of hours – surely in the billions – has been spent trying to get those stupid numbers to add up.
No, this is something new. Or new-ish, anyway. It’s a form of word puzzle that is something like a strange combination of crossword puzzles (without the clues) and sudoku (but with letters), with a little bit of Scrabble thrown in. It’s called “codewords” and it’s beginning to find its way into the United States.
The source of this puzzle form is Great Britain. The first crossword puzzles began to be published in newspapers there about 1923, with cryptic puzzles following soon after. Even sudoku, with its Japanese origin, really only became a worldwide phenomenon when The Times (London) began publishing them under the name “Su Doku” in 2004. It is only in the past three years that The Times and, later, The Daily Telegraph began to publish what looked like crossword puzzles, but without clues. Now, a few collections have been published in the United States, with a few appearing in general puzzle books published by such companies as PennyPress.
Imagine a 15 by 15 square grid with some numbered (white) squares and some black. Each of the white squares has a number, from 1 to 26, representing a letter of the alphabet. At the bottom of the page is a set of squares, also numbered 1 through 26. Two, sometimes three, of the boxes at the bottom are filled in: the box numbered “14” is “R” and box “21” is “L.” And, that’s it. The rest is up to you.
Obviously, the first thing to do is find all the boxes in the puzzle numbered 14 and 21 and fill them in. Now what? Well, there’s a three-letter word in the top, left area that reads “blank-L-L” so that’s obviously “ALL.” Or, is it? It could be “ELL.” Or “ILL.” Or even that Norse god, “ULL.” Better check the frequency that the blank – it’s a “9” – appears in the puzzle. If it’s frequent enough, it could be the E. Unless the puzzler compiler is trying to trick you. Okay… let’s look over here: “blank-blank-L-L-blank-blank-blank-R.” The second and third blanks have the same number, “19” and the blank before the R is a 9 and it does appear 12 times in the puzzle, so it might be the E after all. Could it be “FOLLOWER”? Maybe. Let’s try it.
Oh, no. Now you’ve done it. You’re caught up in this stupid puzzle. (L-9-9-R is obviously “LEER” – what sort of idiot do they take you for?) You don’t have time for this. (3-L-22-R-E is either “FLARE” or “GLARE.” Come back to that later.) There’s a lot to do. (Okay, there’s W-I-3-3-L-E, which means that 3 is G for WIGGLE… unless it’s F for WIFFLE… dammit!)
Suddenly, the day doesn’t seem quite so boring, does it? You can provide some justification for your new-found obsession by remembering that recent studies have shown that people who do word puzzles are less likely to suffer an early onset of dementia. Oddly enough, they don’t address the issue of muttering “blank” out loud.
For more details on solving codeword puzzles and free samples (why does this make us feel like some sort of drug dealer?), you can go to: