I like to think of myself as a realistic nostalgia-lover. When I think of the “good old days” of youth, I can do so thinking that, yeah, it was nice not having as many responsibilities and worries and physical shortcomings, but now I have internet and fancy video games and money and live in a city with a decent mall — all things I didn’t have when I was growing up in the ’80s.
I still have a lot of things from those days, including a good number of issues of old Games magazines, which always trigger that nostalgia wave when I look through my incomplete collection. (For a more complete collection, check out this link.) And let me tell you, when a new issue of Games arrived in the Winter household around, say, 1983, it was an event. Four to six (depending on how many people were living there) people competing over a bounty of word puzzles made for an feeding frenzy akin to jackals at a watering hole in the savannah. We had around 10 TV channels, so each magazine was a gold mine of entertainment that we wouldn’t see again for another two months (or one month — they frequently changed their frequency).
As the youngest of those six, I was often the last to get my hands on the magazine unless I begged and pleaded really hard, which might let me at least do some of the puzzles alongside older family members. I can actually remember one specific incident of doing a puzzle with my sister Stacy at the dinner table and one answer was COATRACK. We asked each other, “What’s a coa track? What’s a coa and why is it on a track?” It took us a while to grasp that it was a “coat rack.”
Our household subscription petered out sometime in the late ’80s, but my Mom bought me a subscription in the mid-’90s, which I kept up for a few more years. The same publisher also produced a magazine called Games World of Puzzles, which cut all the articles and color pages — which I never cared for as much as a kid — for just compilations of pencil-dulling world puzzles.
Last week, I was looking through one of my shelves of magazines and came across the January 2005 issue of World of Puzzles. I didn’t remember buying it, and as I leafed through it, I was amazed to see that it was completely pristine. I had apparently bought this magazine 16 years ago and never worked on a single puzzle within it. It was like finding a mint vintage baseball or Magic card except, well, it wasn’t worth thousands of dollars.
I grabbed that and two issues of Games — the Feb/Mar 1987 issue from my childhood and Feb 1999 issue from my later life — and took them downstairs to peer through when I was taking a break from whatever nonsense I was watching on my computer. As I flipped the pages of the 1987 issue, I came across an unbelievable artifact.
As I described on Twitter, this was a game I created that was loosely based on something that happened in an episode of Transformers (or maybe G.I. Joe?). It was some kind of vehicular combat game (I was a big Car Wars fan) with a few different types of vehicles with different stats that ran around an arena and I guess blew each other up. (The map is still MIA.) I had no idea this was hidden away between the pages of that magazine; it’s probably been lying there, undisturbed, for over 30 years, and I was gobsmacked to discover it again after all that time.
But the magazine held even more treasures. Page 33 contained that issue’s cryptic crosswords, which are devilishly hard concoctions whose clues require clever wordplay and an innate knowledge of the kinds of tricks they play on you. I never understood them as a kid, and even well into my teen and adult years, still struggled to grasp them. When I actually sat down to attempt, and eventually complete, my first one a few years ago, I announced it via Facebook and my family members congratulated me on my achievement.
Because they usually got to the magazines before I did, many of the completed, or partially completed, puzzles in the magazines are a kind of time capsule for my family. One puzzle is definitely in Stacy’s hand, and I’ve started on completing another that I think was begun by my mother. Most distinct is the handwriting of my brother Chris, who passed away in late 2019. I don’t think I’ve looked at a Games since then. And the first cryptic crossword on page 33 was partially completed by him.
One of the clues, at the bottom of the puzzle, is filled in by my hand, though I don’t know when that happened. The same was true for one clue in the otherwise empty second puzzle. I stared at that first puzzle for a minute or two, rolling back and forth in my head if I should try and complete it. A part of me wanted to, to finish what Chris had started, but another part said that if he couldn’t complete it any more, then I didn’t want to do it for him. It’s a little silly, perhaps, to get emotional like this over a crossword puzzle, but that was where I at.
Another thought entered my mind: When had Chris half-done this puzzle? In early 1987, he was living in Minneapolis, as he had been since 1981, and was only a few months away from getting married in July, so he likely didn’t come home for a significant amount of time that summer. Had it arrived in late December or early January and he’d gotten to it over Christmas break? Did we bring it down on a trip to Minneapolis (maybe even for the wedding) and he’d picked through it then? I’ll probably never know, and that’s going to bug me.
In any case, I elected to take a crack at the second puzzle, starting it up on Friday night. I was only a few clues into it when I read the warning at the top of the page, which I had seen countless times in copies of Games that featured two cryptic crosswords but had momentarily forgotten: “Puzzle 2 is harder than Puzzle 1.” That first puzzle I had done a few years ago was definitely a Puzzle 1, but I realized I was in too deep to back out now.
Things were definitely different than how they were in 1987, for both good and bad. The good was that I knew the tricks of cryptic crosswords now and could breeze through the easy clues with the brainpower of a man who had been doing puzzles like this for years. The downside of all those years, though, was that my eyes strained considerably to make out the tiny numbers in the grid — is that 16 Down or 18 Down? — while leaning in to peer at it for any length of time was a detriment to my back. 13-year-old Jason definitely didn’t have these kinds of issues.
Here are examples of some of the clues, and answers, from that puzzle. Keep in mind that you really need to know the ways these things are solved and the specific tricks they use, to have any chance of solving them. It also helps to have the puzzle partially sorted so you can fit letters into some of the blanks as you try to hash out individual clues.
13 Across: “Explain Erté print badly” (9). Anytime you see “badly” or “jumbled” or “wrecked” or some similar word that means disarray, it’s almost certainly an anagram. In this case, the letters of “Erté print” can be rearranged into INTERPRET, which means “Explain.”
3 Down: “Barks ‘OK!’ about record album” (5). “About” or “in” or “contains” often means that it’s one word contained inside another. In this case OK means YES, which is “about” — i.e., surrounding — “record album” or LP. YE-LP-S, or YELPS, which is “barks.”
22 Down: “Press for extract of raisins is taken” (6). With this clue, you have to “extract” the solution from “raisins is taken” — in other words, the solution is hidden within that. That solution is INSIST, which is “press for,” found within “raisINS IS Taken.”
14 Across: My favorite clue in the puzzle: “Encouraging corruption, Mrs. Péron broke a promise to the West” (12). Hoo boy! “Mrs. Péron” is obviously Eva or Evita. The rest, though? Think about going “to the West.” That means you’re going from right to left on a map. If you read something right to left, it would be reversed. Now, what’s another word for “broke a promise”? It’s “RENEGED.” So “Mrs. Péron broke a promise” is “EVITA RENEGED,” which when read from right to left is “DEGENERATIVE,” or “encouraging corruption.” Now you’ll never forget that fact, and maybe you’re also singing, “Don’t cry for me, cryptic crossword.”
(As you might have already guessed, the title of this post is also a cryptic crossword clue I made up, one that I hope shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out! I’ve included the explanation at the bottom. Sorry to those of you who thought I was earning a pilot’s license or something.)
I picked away at it some more on Saturday, getting about halfway done with it, and then on Sunday … well, I don’t want to get too deep into things, but I got a little depressed and angry and just wanted to get away. So I picked up my 34-year-old magazine, the relic of a simpler time when I was more easily entertained, left my computer behind, and set myself up on the deck of our house and finished the last half of the puzzle on about the only sub-90-degree-and-also-not-raining day we’ve had for a week. I had my phone to play some music, and occasionally look something up*, but that was the extent of my technology. I might as well have been back in International Falls, scribbling in the pages of the magazine while sitting at the picnic table we had in our backyard. And the extra light from the sun definitely helped my not-so-great eyes.
(* I used my computer and phone only lightly while doing the crossword, to maintain a more old-fashioned, 1987-style approach to puzzle-solving. I used it to look up the one clue that I had no idea about — a clue about “bandleader Brown,” who turned out to be “Les” — or to look up things that I already knew about but needed more information for, the equivalent, I felt, of looking at something in a proper dictionary, encyclopedia, or atlas that I might have had on hand back then.)
After maybe an hour and a half, it was done … almost. One clue still eluded me, though I had half its letters filled in. I thought I knew what it was, but I couldn’t work out how to get it. After about 10 minutes of just pondering over that one clue, I finally packed it in and went back inside. A few hours later, I opened it up again and it came to me. I filled in the final four squares and my second ever cryptic crossword was complete!
There are more puzzles in that Games magazine that I’ve started to work on, as well as in that World of Games, which I’ve finally befouled with pencil marks. As I do work on them, I’ll think of family and simpler — though admittedly not always better — times when just getting a magazine in the mail was cause for celebration for a whole family and part of a pastime we could all enjoy without the need for an internet connection.
“I am into air sports” (5). I = “ME,” air = “GAS.” “Into” means to insert one into the other: GA-ME-S, or GAMES, which is “sports.”