Event review: Never Cross a Word: 100th Anniversary of the CrossWord Puzzle

Richard Lederer, the verbivore himself.

Richard Lederer, verbivore.

First off, I have not been to a city library in years, or done a crossword puzzle in even longer. But I thought, why not conquer both on the same day. On December 9, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. in the new San Diego Central Library, right next to Petco Park, the library celebrated the 100th anniversary of the crossword. And who better than Richard Lederer to present an evening of crosswords and its origins.

Richard Lederer is a speaker, teacher, and author of over thirty books on wordplay. One of my favorites must be The Cunning Linguist: Ribald Riddles, Lascivious Limericks, Carnal Corn, and Other Good, Clean Dirty Fun. He also co-founded and co-hosted KPBS’ radio show A Way with Words in 1998-2006. He attended Harvard law school for a year and then switched to the Masters of Arts and Teaching Program at Harvard University. If that is not enough, he had also been elected International Punster of the Year, and in 2002 was the recipient of the Golden Gavel Toastmasters International. In his words “this is what seventy-five looks like when you blow up the distance between what you do and who you are. I never have to work a day in my life.” Mr. Lederer is more than qualified to host the 100th anniversary of crossword puzzle.

Since the evening did not start till 6:30 p.m. I took the liberty of wandering inside the Central Library. I came across everything from graphic novels, “teen-scenes”, comfy couches, movie auditoriums, people yelling to quiet down, and Jimi Hendrix’s musical compositions. The building also had two mysterious floors that no one could enter, floor six and seven. I even walked the lengthy flight of stairs from the second floor to eighth floor to catch a glimpse of the mystery ridden sixth and seventh floor, and of course have the complete library experience. Though I did run out of breath. Altogether the library was impressive. The overall structure felt welcoming through its modern aesthetic meshed with homey colors and furniture. The building had pillars that looked like highway bridges, had dynamic lighting from room to room, and splashes of Crayola colors throughout.

This self-initiated tour ended on the eight floor in the reading room where we faced a wall dedicated to baseball memorabilia. Richard Lederer distributed papers and crosswords with his host Linda. The evening officially started when Richard Lederer advertised his collection of books, and advocated his audience to buy the U-T newspaper, because “you can’t line your birdcage with a laptop, and you can’t swat a fly with an ipad.” His humor amusingly poked throughout his lecture as he came to explain this year’s newly enlisted dictionary words; amongst them where binge-watching, selfie, and twerking.

The free event sold out to a room full of excited “solvers, or lovers” of crosswords, who Richard Lederer engaged in a discussion format rather than a lecture. He replied to anyone’s question instantly or admitted his lack of knowledge. In one example, an audience member inquired about the origins of the word stalk-pile because “the other night [she]… was cutting stalk and throwing it into a pile.” Richard admitted he did not know. The highlight question of the night must have been when a participant asked “Richard, what do all the best crossword writers have in common?” and Richard Lederer responded “William Shortz, possibly the greatest crossword artist, said when he makes a puzzle he wants to see the words dance around.”

At the end of night, though I still had no feeling of grandeur toward word puzzles, the evening solidified that art exist in words. Crosswords and other word puzzles might seem like games and simply made to solve or pass time, but an artist exists behind the board. So the evening does not simply hold a greater appreciation for crosswords but the word itself.

Alex Ibañez