The Benefit of Crosswords
November 8, 2007
One of the best editors at The Washington Post could often be found doing crossword puzzles. Little did we realize how crossword puzzles can make one a better editor and reporter.
Crossword puzzles, or playing scrabble, can increase your ability to play with words. But doing crossword puzzles can strengthen two other journalistic skills - what you see and how you think.
One recent Sunday New York Times crossword asked for a six-letter word meaning a "frog's place." The answer: throat."
How about a seven-letter word meaning "future residents." Answer: interns. This one should be easy-five letters meaning "shady sorts:" try trees.
We journalists so often look at stories in the same, often predictable, literal way-as conflict, government, overcoming this or that.
When editors and reporters think differently they find new ways to write differently about recurring events. Looking at streets, people, schools, communities and issues slightly differently makes you ask new questions and discover new answers. Just as you do when you look at an old word differently.
A crossword puzzle makes you ask is this a verb or a noun? What is the pronunciation? Which syllable gets the accent? Is the answer the meaning we have come to know or the literal meaning? These simple questions become superhighways to whole new worlds.
Here's how some journalists used just slightly different thinking on old themes:
- George Rede, an editor at The Oregonian and an American of Mexican descent used the three generations of his family to illustrate how his family's myriad views on immigration mirror the immigration debate now wrenching parts of the U.S.
His father, who is first generation and a U.S. Navy veteran, thinks that everyone should come legally. George's daughter is third generation, a Vassar graduate and now works in Mexico. She sees immigration as a family issue. Families torn apart because their primary source of income is in the U.S.
- Jim Sheeler, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colo. won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for his poignant story on a Marine major who helps the families of comrades killed in Iraq cope with their loss of a father, a mother, a brother or sister and honor their sacrifice.
Todd Heisler, a photographer for the Rocky Mountain News, won 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature photographer for his unforgettable photos of the families and funerals of Colorado Marines who return from Iraq in caskets. He and Jim worked on the same stories.
- The Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, The Washington Post and others have written stories about immigrants, who are not U.S. citizens, volunteer to serve in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.
Thinking differently starts with asking different questions. In a Sunday New York Times crossword that means asking is this a noun or a verb.
Five letter word meaning drink: If you thought only of verbs, you would miss the answer. Ocean.
Zip can be a verb meaning fast or a noun meaning none. Answer: Not a one.
Strands in a diner: If you think of strands as a verb, as I did, it takes time to figure out the answer: spaghetti.
Winds in a pit: oboes.
Pronunciation. How you say a word can determine its meaning in the Times crossword.
Contract. If you want the verb to reduce, you accent the last syllable. But if you want the noun that means a legal agreement you accent the first syllable. The seven-letter answer: Shrivel.
One of my favorites: Three letter word for bow site. Is it bow the ribbon, or bow - the bending at the waist to show respect, or the front a boat? Answer: Obi
My all-time favorite: A seven letter word meaning tower? Did you think of tower - as in a tall building? Or did you pronounce it tow-er - as in tow truck. The seven-letter work answer: tugboat.
Literal or modern meaning. Three-letter word for leather sticker. Your first thought might be a patch on a leather jacket. But there is a second meaning, something that makes holes in leather. Answer: awl.
Four-letter word for totally consumed. You probably thought of food. I did. The New York Times answer: rapt.
Old war story, five letters. Well, the Iliad, of course.
One who's expected to deliver: messiah.
How you define a word (or a person) can determine its meaning.
Straits, five letter word: needs
Atlas, six letters, hyphenated: he-man
Home paper, four letters. Sorry, this is not your newspaper. Answer: deed.
Boring bit, five letters: auger
Portion of a flight, five letters: stair.
The next time you think of writing the same story as a verb. Trying writing it as a noun. Instead of thinking, for instance, how do we write THE story of Thanksgiving Day 2007, you might ask how you can write A really different Thanksgiving Day story.
These are just for fun from the Sunday Times during the past year. The answers are at the end of the column.
Flipper, seven letters? Made a touchdown, four letters? Hot, six letters?
Spoke in a poke, six letters? Show stoppers, three letters?
Answers: 1. Spatula. 2.Alit. 3. Stolen. 4. Oinked. 5. Ads.
Bobbi Bowman, a long-time newspaper reporter and editor, is now Diversity Director for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
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