Word Games

Eight letter mythical mad genius.You know you’ve made it when you’re a crossword puzzle answer. Our pal Greg Hittelman, the director of marketing for the upcoming Sonoma Valley Film Festival, forwarded (with some glee) a crossword puzzle snipped from the Datebook of last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. He directs us to “94 down,” which asks for a six-letter answer to “California site of an April film festival.” The answer, of course, is “Sonoma” and the festival in question, to Hittelman’s joy, is the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, which begins next month.
It leads me to ponder what my own crossword puzzle question would be. Surely something to the effect of “profligate writer fermenting in the wine country,” or “winged mythomaniacal scribe in a blazer,” or “scrivener of doom,” or “The Contessa’s curse.” More interestingly, what would your crossword puzzle question be? “Avid reader of profligate, mythomaniacal scrivener with penchant for striped ties?” One can only hope.

Frankly, I’ve never had any success with crossword puzzles (though I’m a genius at curse-word puzzles). My knowledge-base lacks both breadth and depth, which is why I’m endeavoring simply to be wise (wisdom is truth without the facts, ma’am). Socrates was an expert in this regard. The cornerstone of the Socratic Method seems to be constantly asking the question “Why?” Ditto the information acquisition of the average four-year-old. To the chagrin of the filmmakers with whom I’ve worked in front of the camera, I’ve often confused the Socratic Method and Method Acting, so instead of asking “What’s my motivation?” I ask “What’s your motivation?” Directors hate this question since it conflates their analyst’s couch with the casting couch.

And this is why I’m not a crossword puzzle answer – yet. I’m more word-scramble material anyway. Consider the 40,469 anagrams that can be produced from my byline (I cheated and used the Internet Anagram Server at Wordsmith.org). My favorites sound like titles for unwritten volumes of angst-poetry, “Swellhead Aloud” and “A Shallow Delude.” Yeah, watch out Allen Ginsburg. Another, “Dawdle, Heal Soul” is the sort of practical advice that could serve as a self-help title.

Oddly, my dyslexic tendencies are an invaluable aid when solving word-scrambles, but my ADD tendencies just as often cause me to leave them unfinished. My copy editors will tell you that I also have a penchant for omitting words, which causes much consternation, but not as much as when my deadline has passed and it seems that I’ve omitted all the words. I used this composition-in-omission strategy once and was reminded by my editor that “Words are cheap, but writers are cheaper.” Since then, words flow from me at nearly the same rate as wine flows into me at the typical Sonoma press junket.

Writers need never fret the availability of words – they’re everywhere. I’ll snatch phrases from passersby, eavesdrop without compunction and bring conversations to a crashing halt to jot down a particularly deft turn of phrase (and sometimes those of my interlocutors as well). As a kid, I’d do overtime on word-search puzzles and trawl the brigade of letters for smutty missives unintended by their creators. I can find whispers of erotica in an eye-chart, though this ability likely has little to do with the alphabet. Now, my notebooks brim with half-thoughts, overheard bits of gossip and the sundry triumphs and failures of phrasing that pile like sawdust on a workshop floor (which is why this space often reads like particle-board, I’m sure).

A word I’ve just scribbled into my reporter’s notebook is “cruciverbalist” (from the Latin for “cross” and “word”) meaning “one who devises crosswords,” which, though not a “94 Down,” might make for a fine crossword question itself. But what do I know? I’m just a four-letter word for writer. And it ain’t “hack.” Send in your answers.