Sunday, December 21, 2008


December 21, 1913:
Arthur Wynne's "word-cross", the first crossword puzzle, is published in the New York World.

In 1995, a professor of comparative religions named Oliver (We never learn if that's his first or last name) was laid off from his university. Presented with a parting gift of matching suitcases, Oliver decided to seek out the mysterious "Aristotle", the man who created the crossword puzzles he was so fixated upon. Along the way, he picked up a traveling companion in a policewoman named Priest, and they became involved in a murder mystery.

'Oliver's Travels' sounds pretty interesting; and since I've been always a fan of British mysteries (This past year I watched 'Cadfael', 'Poirot', 'Rosemary & Thyme', and 'An Unsuitable Job For A Woman'.), I've added it to my Netflix queue, bumping it up to be the next complete series, right after I finish 'Backstairs At The White House'. (The original version of the series was five episodes in length, but it was butchered for its American presentation to be only four episodes in length; so I don't know which version I'll be getting in Netflix.....)

A memorial website dedicated to Alan Bates, who played Oliver in the series has a section dedicated to word games with the late actor as their subject. And one of these is a crossoword puzzle which demands that you know your stuff about Bates.

Speaking about 'Oliver's Travels', Mr. Bates said, "It's a nice original piece. I liked it when I read it and I liked doing it. It's quite ingenious, with a thriller running through it. The thriller is tied into the crossword. It's quirky, but it's also got a philosophy and a love of history and place, a real sense of the past."

A crossword puzzle came into play in "Charma Loves Greb". No, that's not a misprint; that's the title of the 'Dharma & Greg' episode in which Dharma tracked down the creator of Greg's favorite crossword puzzles and cajjoled him into adding a birthday greeting to Greg to one of his puzzles. Unfortunately, it looked as though her husband was going to screw up the clues and totally miss the message!

Over in the Tooniverse, Homer Simpson contacted the two men responsible for the crossword puzzle in the New York Times and they created a puzzle that would gain the attention of Homer's daughter Lisa, who had become totally fixated on their crosswords. Their televersions both showed up in an episode - in animated form, of course, which means they had yellow skin and four fingers on each hand. (That episode of 'The Simpsons' has been nominated for a Toobits award.)

And in his coma-induced world of 1973, NYPD Detective Sam Tyler remembered some pertinent advice from his father - that the secret to solving a crossword puzzle can usually be found in the lower right-hand corner. Using that suggestion, Sam pieced together a clue as to what was happening to him from the lower right-hand corners of police reports connected to various cases he was working on. This led him to a cabin where he got a mysterious phone call from somebody who knew he had been run down in the world of 2008 and was now in a coma. (And that's how the American version of 'Life On Mars' left us hanging at their mid-season break, for all intents & purposes at the same "crossroads" where the British version left off.)
Forty-Two Across: an acronym greeting from 'The Prisoner',
Toby O'B

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