Notes on “Tombaugh’s Discovery”

The bakery with the worst coffee (burnt and bitter) and the deadliest pastries (filling ladled out of five-gallon tubs and doughnuts smeared in grainy chocolate), was the meeting spot for a six A.M exclusive klatsch. On Mondays you would find six to eight regulars around the lime green table closest to the bay window, helping each other finish the Sunday Magazine crossword. Everyone would have made progress on it the day before, but Monday would be for helping and solving. Sunday’s crossword isn’t as difficult as those on Friday and Saturday, but it is long, and a long workweek loomed without solace or answers (pre- wordplay.blogs.nytimes.com). The ad hoc committee cracking the code consisted of a tax collector, a selectman, a building inspector, a couple of carpenters, and a few retirees. It was community assistance in action.

Years later, while doing a brick path for a woman, she began talking about crossword puzzles. She imagined people who did them regularly passed into a “parallel world.” This world was packed by fairly well-known writers and B-List celebrities whose names contained vowels or double consonants. They lived in a world of classical music and operas, loved art and sculpture, and were familiar with characters in 19th century novels. I was enthralled. It was so easy to picture. This world mirrored New York City with galleries and restaurants, but also Paris with creme brulees and arrondissements. The locals loved slogans and cliches and old songs. Citizens of this world liked to drink, but wouldn’t cheat you: they would defraud. Objects wouldn’t speed up, they’d accelerate. A river in Germany would flow into a Minnesota lake.

Black squares were sometimes stairs. Divas would appear in Versace gowns. Poets would get a line. An apple would fall on Pedro’s head. Missiles would fly by. It was a dangerous world, but a fascinating one.

After reading clues for months and studying puzzles, I began Tombaugh’s Discovery to spend some time in this world.