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Crosswords & Blockchains

APART FROM one other person, who must remain nameless, because she is my editor-in-chief at Newsday, Judy Raymond, I’m the youngest Trinidadian person I know who does a cryptic crossword – and I’m going to be firetrucking 60 in June!

Most Trinis probably don’t even know what a cryptic crossword is. When they first appeared in English newspapers almost a century ago, crosswords were like the boring modern American version: you enter the word “dog” because the clue is, “Domestic family pet” and you know it ends in “-og” because you’ve already filled in, “Air mattress (4)” as “lilo” and “Lower human limb (3)” as “leg”.

In a cryptic crossword, each clue brings a little dollop of delight with its solution. The clue that hooked me for good, e.g., was: “There will be no theatricals at the extra football match (4-3)”. When the solution finally dawned, I laughed aloud: play-off. A single good clue of this “fiendish” type gives me more laughs than a whole season of most American television sitcoms, with their belaboured setups and long-telegraphed punchlines. (The best fiendish clue, ever, from Tobago Si-O: “Bo-cat-ots (4-2-5)”: Puss-in-Boots.)

Cryptic crosswords, like beautiful feminists, are not easily approached and you have to work hard to figure them out – but their rewards are much greater than simply filling in firetrucking blanks. Every day, sitting alone with coffee and pen, I get a small private pleasure created by a stranger who may be dead now, whose mind I join for a second or two. Yesterday, e.g., from a book of Times crossword puzzles, I solved one from the final of the 1962 intercity championship in Leeds: “Such agents are plainly not extremists (9)”: middlemen – and chuckled in Port of Spain, more than 4,000 miles and half-a-century later.

Cryptic crosswords connect a particular kind of thinker over time and space.

But I’d quicker find an honest politician in Trinidad than someone under-50 who does a cryptic crossword.

How do we connect? Given the substantial red herring of religion and the fundamental misdirection of capitalism in its vicious end stages, will our species find a unifying way forward, instead of continuing on a path that cleaves us into two groups, a mass of sufferers and a small, privileged elite? Is inequality and exploitation the inescapable human condition?

On Wednesday, I bounced up an old friend I hadn’t seen for years, who would himself never do a crossword, unless it came with a lap dance and required a lick of salt first and a squeeze of lime afterwards.

Though only a single decade separates us by birth, the weird little pocket of time our own lifespans share has put him, an IT specialist, on the opposite end of the technological spectrum from me; the last time there was a similar gap between individuals, Cro-Magnons were shuffling along to extinction, dragging their knuckles, while homo sapiens sauntered by, making fire and style.

People aged 45-75 today have witnessed the single lifespan in all human history that has most profoundly changed how we live and act; and the future itself. They have seen the fantastically unimaginable become the mundane.

When, e.g., I try to explain to my children that, when I was their age, in order to have a telephone, you first had to have a building, they glance at one another – Be kind to him: Papa is having another episode – and turn back to me with the kind of look I give to believers calling at my gate on behalf of their imaginary friend.

And the change in telecommunications is one of the least disruptive ones for our species, when tossed into a pot bubbling over with climate change, weapons technology – and availability – scientific discovery and the Internet.

But the times, they are a’changin’, as Bob Dylan warned, and there is one change-a’comin’ that’s going to upend the way we live and relate to one another that is going to make cellphones-to-landlines seem like crosswords-to-virtual reality gaming.

It brings the old one-liner about Australian foreplay to mind.

If you’ve never heard the word, “blockchain”, brace yourself, Sheila: you’re going to hear it often in the very near future; and you’re probably going to be as surprised as Sheila.

Unless, of course, the whole phenomenon passes by you, unnoticed, because you’ve got your nose down in a crossword clue: “An obstacle to linking the future of all mankind (10)”.

BC Pires is a Neanderthal man about Town.

Next week: Part II: Blockchains that Free

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