Crosswords: Fiction Friday

(Maddy Parsley)– A good one was Wednesday January 21, 1998. I cut it out and put it up on the fridge it was so good. It had more of a sensibility to it. What they did was they put in a bunch of clues about Spanish artists, so the answers were names like Gaudí, Dalí, Miró.  Those were the down clues. And then the across clues, the long ones, were phrases from English poetry that had stressed syllables in the meter which were the accents in the artists’ names going the other way.  So with the ó from Miró, for instance, you had:  “unwatched gó.” The whole clue filled in was “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” That’s from Hamlet. Miró, gó.

I often write emails to Marianne Fitz. She is the Post’s crossword editor, which means that she does not write the puzzles herself, but works on the puzzles of others in a mainly advisory capacity. However, her name is always printed at the top of the crossword, while the actual author’s name is printed in smaller type below, so I write to her. I do this every time a clue is not grammatically sound: for example, I wrote to her yesterday when the clue was “making oneself at home,” and the answer was “settle in. “ This was a particularly weak clue. “Making” is a participle, which leads the puzzle-solver to expect a participle also in the solution. But what does he find instead? The letters lead to “Settle”—a verb in its infinitive form. I explained that this lack of parallelism frustrates and alienates burgeoning crossword-lovers, and therefore has the potential to diminish to no small extent the circulation of the New Bern Post as a whole, particularly as its actual news content is not especially extensive or groundbreaking, particularly in the advent of the Internet.

Marianne Fitz has not yet responded to this email. She has not responded to my last sixteen.

Pauley, who looks how I have always imagined St. Michael to look and who delivers my lunches, stops in every day at the back door. He sometimes arrives at 11:30, sometimes 11:40 or 11:45. Once, on a day in July 2007 when he and his girlfriend broke up just across the street, squinting and yelling at each other out on the scorched grass with their feet planted wide apart, he did not come here until 12:17.

On that day his face was red when he rapped on the storm door.  I unlatched it for him, and he passed a plastic-sealed tray of tater tot hotdish into my hands.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” he said. “I’ve had sort of a rough morning.”

And would you believe? The solution for number 46-across that day was “heartbreak,” bisected in the second ‘A’ by number 42-down: “late lunch.”

One day in early 2005, a Sunday, the Post did not have the crossword at all. They did not explain why. They did not print two the next day to make up for it.

A Christmas or two ago Suzanne Loeks from the red-trimmed house brought me a gift. She sat across from me at my kitchen table and handed it over. “Something to brighten your home up for the holidays,” she said, quite kindly. Her sweater and earrings glittered.

I immediately noticed the wrapping paper. It was red and white, overlaid by black-outlined boxes with letters in them: an approximation of a crossword. None of the boxes were numbered and many were blank, but others were filled with sets of linked-together festive words: JOY crossed with NOEL, NAVIDAD with FELIZ—but never more than two words linked at a time, and no clues. Not even that much of an approximation, really.

The gift itself was unrelated: a green knitted table runner with red knitted holly berries. I keep it on top of the piano.

Another good one was April 17, 1986. I kept it in a box for many years. The box must still be in the house somewhere; maybe in the next room. But I remember this one very accurately: it was a Thursday. It was when they were really beginning to develop the idea of the theme—not the heavy-handed kind of theme, like “Easter,” or “France,” but the wordy kind, with puns and clever links. The theme was “trees” this time, the answers wide in range: Joshua Tree, a National Park in California. Jesse Tree, a Catholic Christmas tradition, used during the weeks of Advent. Family tree, a visual depiction of a genealogy. There were a few references to literal trees in the answers, too, of course: Dutch Elm disease came up, I think, and Johnny Appleseed. As I filled in the clues from the table, I looked at the tree that is outside my kitchen window—it was a cottonwood, although it has since died. It waved at me in the breeze.

I do like when the puzzles connect to life.

If you are interested in submitting whole or excerpted fiction writing for publication on the site, contact Marie Lambert at