Crossed Word

Stephen Sondheim

Having crossed sixty and the wife edging steadily but surely towards that beatified landmark, we haven’t found answers to too many questions in life, philosophical or others. The truth in the above quote thus found immediate traction with us…helped further by the fact that we are self avowed word buffs.

In an age when people across time, cultural and social barriers are engaged in video, mobile and computer pursuits – games, more specifically – my wife and I continue to be the pencil (or often, pen) and paper people. We still start our day with the morning crossword of The Times of India. What follows as we get into a tangle over ‘5 Across’ or ’15 Down’ are crossed swords and crossed words more than crossword. Cuss words too, often.  A crescendo of accusations and ‘I told you sos’ invariably forms the backdrop of our crossword cracking crises.

We fancy ourselves as word enthusiasts and often indulge in similar word related pursuits…Scrabble, Jumble, the newly minted Wordle, Quordle and a few others. And more than any of these, we are past masters at hurling words at each other…a craft we have mastered over 35 years of marital bliss. If nothing else, it has honed our word skills…perhaps equipped us better to deal with crossword clues such as ‘dispute between husband and wife’, 11 letters – Answer: CONTRETEMPS. Or the clue ‘long married couple’: two words,8,8, the first starting with F and second with P. Some head scratching, quibbling and a bit of honest soul searching and correlation gets us the right answer: FIGHTING PARTNERS.

And so it goes, morning after morning, often stretching to late evening, till we have squelched our collective word skills juiceless, and have completed or nearly completed the checkered grid….or failed beyond redemption. Liberal use of the ink erasing whitener is resorted to when we get overconfident and start with a pen. On other occasions we are more conservative and use the pencil….the rubber eraser is kinder in telling the tale of our incompetence than the ghastly whitener fluid, which screams out loud at our word ineptitude and goof ups. Besides, it has this uncanny habit of smudging not only the small square where you enter a ‘P’ for an ‘N’, but also a few other boxes in its neighborhood. When I refer to such unbridled joys of retired life, the wife is quick to point out that it’s I who has retired and not she. 

Our Crossword solving gear

Things take a steeper turn south when we involve our daughter who lives in USA, on free WhatsApp video call to help us crack clues which are kind of All-American. She is an English Literature Hons grad from a most reputed Delhi college, extremely well read and possesses word skills and a vocabulary which we can never match. Before giving us the answers, she derides us on our low IQ, poor uptake and general lack of skills in word games. Even as our inflated ego is punctured, we latch on to every answer she grudgingly provides and fill in the vacant squares, if only to put a ‘tick’ against the wretched clue. The crossword has to be completed. Since the puzzle is often syndicated from LA Times or other American newspapers, it is not unfair to expect that the clues and the answers have an American flavour. Our several visits to USA, coupled with my childhood and teenage penchant for reading American pulp fiction have equipped me with Americanese somewhat…but not nearly enough to get all answers right. So the daughter plays an important role and we endure her barbs for the sake of achieving a higher, nobler end : the completion or near completion of the Daily Crossword.

Samples of our good efforts…
…and some not so good!

And then there is the prodigal son.  A young Content Writer, he makes a living out of words and is quite literally the last word on matters tech, music genres, latest American movies, stars and so on. He saunters in for breakfast at 9:30 am, our peak crossword hour, when the wife and I are already in argument over several answers which each thinks the other has got wrong. By now we have marked a few clues of the type mentioned above for our son to answer. He is in a huff, hungry and in a hurry, late for work. His first answer to any clue is “Chill”. Seeing that this word doesn’t ‘fit’, we realize that it was not an answer to the clue, but rather an admonishment. Several grunts and ‘idks’ (I Don’t Know) follow, as he wolfs down his poached egg. Its only when he is at the door, leaving for office, that his conscience probably makes a shrill squeak and he gives us a couple of answers. Despite his petulance, we are thrilled…each additional letter that we get gives us more clues…and eventually the answers…for other ‘down’ and ‘across’ clues. Oh, the things we put up with!

That’s how it goes day after log​or​rhe​ic day (learnt that word from a particularly difficult crossword). Oftentimes the joint family effort produces dismal results. But the chaos and mare’s nest seems worthwhile on days we crack the puzzle fully. Pics are duly clicked, put on social media platforms and sent to all and sundry, including many who have nothing to do with words…crossed or thoroughbred. We, at least the missus and I, have finally found something we both love…. and can mostly find answers to. We have  become cru​ci​ver​balists….no prizes for guessing that …..lovers of crossword. Can’t wait for the crossword puzzle which gives that as a clue. 

Till then, we will continue with our passion and pursuit on mission mode, even as this old avocation dies a stifled death. Cannot help but end this piece with our tributes to those fabulous crossword creators…you guys give us a torrid time, but also unbridled joy : your genius far exceeds that of the handful of us who can crack even half of the puzzles you put out day after day. May your tribe flourish.


© Sharabh Pachory, 2023. All rights reserved.

This is a fictionalized work; however events & incidents related are partly true.
Graphics & cartoons from sources as indicated, and pictures from personal collection.

Published by Sharabh Pachory

Army veteran interested in reading and writing. Wodehouse fan. No mastery so far.

10 thoughts on “Crossed Word

  1. Wow uncle. This post should be shared with Times Of India. I am sure, even the cross word makers at the newspaper’s office would love to read about your post.
    We do miss you and aunty, solving the crossword and me jumping over the balcony to see what aunty baked for the evening.
    Love the crossword gear 😃


    1. Thanks Sunny! That’s a sweet comment! We miss you too for our ‘across the terrace’ meetings. You and your family, with its latest addition, little Omi, not to mention dear Cooper, have always been big inspirations! God bless you all.


  2. Delightfully captures the joys of a pastime probably breathing its last few breaths with this generation of ours.
    Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind;
    In the primal sympathy
    Which having been must ever be;
    In the soothing thoughts that spring
    Out of human suffering;
    In the faith that looks through death,
    In years that bring the philosophic mind.
    Quoting William Wordsworth here!


  3. An exceptionally brilliant piece of witty writing interspersed with humorous personal anecdotes that makes interesting reading and leaves one craving for more.My takeaway is that answers never come by chance;they must be sought for with ardor and diligence, which is what makes the challenge a passion for lovers of word games like the writer of this delightful treat.Waiting for more….


    1. Thank you very much for your warm and affectionate comment! Glad young people like you are reading stuff on stuff which is generally the pursuit of oldies like me😊. Stay blessed.


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