July 17, 2010
Theodore's Crossed Words
Prompt: At the far edge of the forest…there was a shy…lion…who had crossed eyes and short ears…and loved to play word games. Theodore got out of bed grumpy. He didn’t want to go to school today. Matter of fact, he didn’t want to go to school ever again. There was no point in it. His grammar was better than the teacher, and his spelling too, unless the teacher’s problem was simply that she didn’t know how to proofread; or maybe she was too lazy to proofread, or she didn’t really care if she set a bad example for the class. His math teacher wasn’t much better. When lecturing on how to do the problems, he almost always got so tangled up in the explanation that you couldn’t follow his directions and get the right answers. Theodore was learning more by ignoring the teacher and reading the math textbook than he had at the first of the year by paying close attention to every word the teacher uttered. This school was a joke. Everything here was all about appearances and social standing, and no attention was paid to whether or not the students learned anything. Even the teachers didn’t seem to care. Last week the history teacher had talked for the entire forty-five minute class period on what to expect at the upcoming Christmas Ball, and then led a discussion on what people would be wearing, and speculation on who would be chosen as the royalty. Sheesh! His last school had been much better. They’d had extra-curricular activities, of course, but they hadn’t been allowed to become the curriculum. The teachers and the students had all held getting a good education as their highest priority, and hard work and dedication to good grades, and even more importantly, actually learning the materiel was considered praiseworthy. Why had they had to move from the nice dark heart of the forest and live clear out here on the far edge, where there was too much sunlight, and nobody took education seriously, or life, for that matter? Besides, all of his friends were back home in the heart of the forest, and nobody here seemed to like him. The other students laughed at his stubby ears, and teased him about his name. Theodore, they said, was more suited to a tiger. Theodore Tiger would be a proper name. Shortened, Teddy would be appropriate for a bear. The fact remained that Theodore was a lion, even if he did have to wear glasses to correct his crossed eyes. The other students said no one had ever heard of a lion named Theodore, and that his parents should have named him Leopold, so he could go by Leo. Theodore never replied to their taunts, but inwardly he was glad his parents had chosen to name him Theodore, after the great hero of their village, rather than the same name that so many other lion children got. He was proud of his name, and its origins, but he wasn’t about to share the hero Theodore with these idiots; it would just give them something else to tease him about. Theodore’s favorite form of entertainment was making up crossword puzzles. He was quite good at it. He wrote simple ones for his brothers and sisters to help them learn to read, and practice spelling new words. He used to write medium hard ones for his friends back home, who had enjoyed the mental calisthenics. He knew they’d had fun with the “vocabulary word of the day” series he had written under a pseudonym for the school’s daily newsletter, because he’d always hear people trying to work the new vocabulary word into their conversations throughout the rest of the day. The fun part was when he would write hard ones and sell them to the big newspaper. There was nothing more cool for Theodore than to see his own creation, with the perfectly symmetrical black blocks, and the words, both common and unusual, so cleverly interlaced, as to create a thing of beauty when it was completed. Once he’d even made a small puzzle from palindromic words and phrases so that even the letters were symmetrically placed in the puzzle, since palindromes are words or phrases that read the same both forward and backward. The hardest part was in writing two totally different clues for each palindrome so that it could be placed at both the top and bottom, or both the left and right, ensuring the perfect symmetry of that particular puzzle. Theodore had even toyed with the idea of writing a whole book full of word puzzles. He would include some crossword puzzles, of course, but also word searches, and some anagrams, ciphers, letter math, crostics, and possibly even some Sudoku type puzzles that used letters rather than numbers. It would be amusing if he could make each block spell out three letter words. Then he wondered if there were twenty-seven three letter words that drew from a common pool of only ten letters. Hmmm, that would be worth looking into. There were so many different sorts of word games, and Theodore loved them all. He liked solving crostics when he didn’t feel too terribly awake in the brain. Crostics looked rather like crossword puzzles for little children, where the words crossed each other rather than interlacing properly. The challenge of it was that the answers were all given, and then arranged in alphabetical order by number of letters in the word, and there was nothing to tell you which word went where. He wondered if he could make it more challenging by giving crossword clues for each of the words, rather than just giving a list of the words. He could list the clues by how many letters the answer had, all the three letter words together, and so forth, so that you had to first figure out the word, and then determine where in the puzzle it went. That would be a challenge, and the big city newspaper had been asking him to write a weekly puzzle for the Sunday edition. This one, the editor in chief had said, would be some other type of puzzle, but it could be any type of puzzle, and didn’t need to be the same kind all of the time. Theodore pulled the letter the editor in chief had written him, and read it over once again. He knew he could come up with the puzzles and not fall behind on his school work, especially in this school. If he made up a backlog of several puzzles, so he’d have something to fall back on if he had to study for finals, that would take care of his mother’s objections to him having a job while he was still in school. He had a four-day break coming up for Thanksgiving, and if he devoted all of his time during break to making some puzzles, and then did the same during his Christmas break, They could begin running the puzzles in the Sunday paper at the first of the year, and he’d always be ahead of the paper. He could call the column “Theodore’s Crossed Words”, or maybe just “Crossed Words” would be better. Yes, Theodore thought he would take that job, and hopefully, it would be something he could turn into a profession, and never have to get a “real” job for as long as he lived.