I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, not only for the challenge of working the puzzle, but because they demonstrate the incredible flexibility and shadings of the English language. Knowing the word you are looking for often requires recognizing the clue and the word.
15 across: Lox location = "deli", but if you don't know what lox is you'd be sunk.
The book I'm working in now was written by someone in their 50s - 60s. How do I know? Clues like 54 across: "sofa" = davenport. How many years has it been since I heard anyone call a sofa a "davenport"? But the dead giveaway is 53 across: "TV Host Lee" = "Pinky".
Who but a child of the 40s or early 50s would remember the frantic Pinky Lee Show? The Pinky Lee show was the 3:00 pm staple in the 50's. Mother's would urge their children to go to sleep quickly after lunch so they could "...wake up in time to watch Pinky Lee!"
Do kids take naps these days? I remember, even at eight and ten years old, that a nap after lunch was part of the summer ritual. Eat lunch, wash hands, face, neck and feet, change into your pjs, and sleep for two hot and sweaty hours lulled by the drone of the fan and the cicadas outside in the elm trees.
Would a 30-year-old know that the answer to 1 across: "With it once" was "hep" or that 23 across: "Asta" = pooch? I doubt it. But this puzzle creator often references characters, including Asta the fox terrier, from the 1950s TV show The Thin Man as inspiration for clues.
I knew that 13 across: "Pianist Duchin" = Eddy and that the "Grape drink of the 50s" asked for in 26 down was "Nehi". Which makes me long for a cold bottle of "Kayo soda", which was carbonated chocolate milk. How many years has it been since they made that?
And as far as that goes, how many of the younger crowd remember that "Coca Cola" used to come in green tinted glass bottles that held a mere six-ounces? They cost a nickle, and came out of the flat chest-style cooler in the laundromat down the street. You put in your nickle and slid the bottle along a set of rails to the end, where you could pull it out. Bottle deposit was one penny, and no one threw away a Coke bottle. You took them back to the store for recycling, which in those days meant the Coke delivery man picked up the empties and took them back to the plant where they were washed and refilled.
My friend Tommy Sparks and I went around the neighborhood, knocking at every door to ask politely if they had an empty Coke bottle they'd give us. When we got two we'd rush down the street to the tiny store, where everything was behind the counter, and we'd buy a penny's worth of candy for each of us.
A penny would buy your choice, a box of white sugar cigarettes with fire-red tips, or five jawbreakers, five lemon drops, five Hershey's kisses, five licorice twists or a paper pack with two pieces of bubble gum and a baseball card. It was a blissful sort of agony choosing which candy to get and how to spend those pennies. We jigged from foot to foot, our noses smudging the glass front of the candy counter, while the old lady who ran the store (the mother of my uncle Ollie), sat and puffed on her cheroot and gazed out the fly-speckled windows.
Tommy and I each got a nickle's allowance each week. I would immediately rush to Couch's Store to spend mine, but he was shrewd and frugal and he'd save his nickles for weeks to buy something truly monumental. (He grew up to be a bank president and I grew up to write, but with a bowl of Hershey's kisses at hand. With the recent economic downturn I may be the better off!)
I remember one time while Tommy was saving for 10 weeks to buy a tiny metal truck and trailer he bullied me into saving long enough to purchase a 15 cent doll, a 3" long soot-black china baby with a flannel diaper, a twist of floss for hair, and arms and legs connected by an elastic inside the body. The diaper was pinned in place with a tiny gold-coloured safety pin, which I did not put in my mouth or stick in my nose. As I remember almost all my dolls came with their clothes pinned on. Today the mere idea of a 1/4 inch-long safety pin anywhere on a toy would prompt a massive recall and several class-action lawsuits.
A frequent weekly purchase for Tommy and I was a roll of caps for our cap guns. Because these metal toy guns had "repeater" stamped on the side we convinced ourselves that whenever a gun was fired anywhere in the county our guns would "repeat", and so they had to be kept loaded with caps at all times!! Of course they never "repeated" so we were forced to keep firing them, just to make sure they were still in working order, hence the need for a new roll of caps every week. To this day I love the acrid, nose-stinging smell of burnt gunpowder.
Now, do you see why I love crossword puzzles? Where else could you buy memories like that for $2.95?