At risk of outing myself as a nerd, for the purposes of this post I must reveal myself to be a fan of puzzles. Any kind will do – crosswords, logic puzzles, sudoku, they all have the same appeal. My glee was tangible when I discovered bumper puzzle books on sale in Walmart for $1 each… until I got them home.
I suspect my fellow countrymen mostly share my mistaken belief that we have a full understanding of American culture, thanks to our constant exposure to tellybox programmes, movies and other forms of US entertainment. However, I am now discovering how much is left out of our transatlantic education, which makes any type of question-based puzzle problematic.
I have no idea which football teams sport which colours, what the defining feature of any particular state is or what catchphrases to attribute to which of the myriad celebrities I’ve never heard a whisper of. I’m even flummoxed when asked to name a bean that serves as a salad bar staple, because a) we don’t eat many garbanzo beans in England and b) a salad bar where I’m from tends to be resolute in its offering of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a bit of onion if you’re lucky.
The problems don’t end there. I stared at a fill-in-the-blanks style puzzle for several irritated minutes, before realising that the word I was trying to cram into the box wasn’t fitting because I was adding extra vowels to it. My brain is set up to recognise “colour” as a potential box filler, not “color”. And what is a “Halloween maze box”, for Christ’s sake? It turned out to be “bale”, which I’m still not convinced I understand. I am going to assume they meant “harvest maize cube”, which is what it would have been in an English puzzle book. Sometimes an extra vowel is not a bad thing.
Even the phrasing of most of the clues foxes me. For example: “Non-southpaw”. What? The answer was apparently, “Righty”. Righty then. I have literally no idea what either of those things means; the crossword questions in this slightly parallel dimension are as slightly parallel as everything else. I don’t use the right slang, nor do the same phrases spring to mind, nor do I recognise the same foods, geography and popular culture, nor do words always mean quite the same thing. I think, for now, it’s best I stick with the wordsearches, and the odd bit of sudoku – even I can’t mistranslate a number.