Going South | The Nation


Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Going South

Henri and I are sometimes asked about our history before we became The Nation’s puzzle constructors. We used to live in Northern California, and we were having trouble making ends meet. In Siskiyou County, Henri should have been doing a booming business in bread and pastry. But in spite of his original ideas about marketing, such as the “two for one offer on the synonym buns” and the “Finish a Sweetish Danish” special, his Yreka bakery was failing. As for me, I wasn’t doing much better as a poet in Mendocino County. My last commission for a civic ode, a subtle poem entitled “Ukiah Haiku,” was greeted with hoots of derision:

Five-year drainage scheme
Brings succor to oppressed serfs.
Maoism still lives!

We decided to relocate to San Francisco, and when we met at the Greyhound station, I was pleased to see that we’d both come prepared. Even though neither of us has a lot of hair left these days, we both remembered what you’re supposed to wear in it if you go to San Francisco. I complimented him: “Nice nasturtiums!” He replied: “Your foxgloves are fetching!” “What a humongous hibiscus!” “Not as gargantuan as your goldenrod. They don’t come much bigger than that.” “Don’t they?” I asked. “I wonder what the world’s largest flower is…”

Our curiosity was piqued, so during the bus ride, we did some research. Our first observation was that some flowers could be created out of the letters of other words or phrases. “Lit up?” “Tulip!” “Louts?” “Lotus!” Flower anagrams are everywhere! We even found one in each line of my much maligned civic haiku.

By the time we got to San Francisco, we had amassed a large pile of flower-related data to assist our search. There were flocks of homophones amid the rows of seats on the bus; on our iPhones, Siri found us some reversals; our zeal for consonantcies (in which two words use the same consonants in the same order) began to blossom; and Henri wields a letter bank like no one else.

As for the largest flower in the world? We found it on Wikipedia. It is, of course, the Nile.

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