I have always been good at analyzing concepts and the relationships between ideas. Not so much with the names of philosophers, explorers, innovators, etc. Or with proper names in general. This mental deficit has only been exacerbated by the aging process.
And speaking of aging, I have never kept up with any sports teams or players, and my connections with pop culture icons such as singers and movie stars expired sometime in the 1970s. So when crossword puzzles become more difficult towards the end of each week, I sometimes resort to using google, which has become an external brain for us all, to look up names. Still, I often have to use my critical thinking skills to know which terms to enter into google’s magic box.
Here’s what happened as I tried to solve a crossword puzzle last week.
Clue: “A movie estate with a championship golf course.”
My brain: An estate in a movie? What movie is about an estate? I know Tara didn’t have a golf course. Oh, maybe it’s that famous one—some people think it’s the best movie ever made. What was it called? Who was the director? What was his name? I think he was also involved in that radio broadcast where people thought the earth was being invaded by aliens from Mars. What was that called? Blank wall.
Who was that movie about? I think it was based on some media mogul. Who? And his daughter or granddaughter got kidnapped by that crazy group. They wore masks and held up a bank and their picture was on the cover of some magazine—Time or Life. What was their name? She sort of became part of them for a while. What do you call that thing that happens to captives sometimes? They come to sympathize with their captors. Some kind of syndrome. It starts with an S.
Suddenly, my brain, which has been whirring uselessly like a stalled computer, coughs up one of the names I was originally looking for—Orson Welles. With that name at my fingertips— and my fingertips on the keys—I can get google to give me “War of the Worlds” and “Citizen Kane.” “Citizen Kane” leads me to William Randolph Hearst. (Ah, yes, it was Patty Hearst and—my brain can now find the link—the Symbionese Liberation Army. I would have to do a little more googling to find the name of the Stockholm Syndrome, but I can’t stop for that now. I’m on a roll.)
So far, the Wikipedia summary of “Citizen Kane” has not produced the name of the estate or, for that matter, any information about whether or not it included a golf course. So I resort to googling “Citizen Kane estate.” Up comes the name—Xanadu. It fits into the puzzle perfectly—if I make one correction. And—unlike many other puzzle-solvers, I suspect—I can instantly produce the opening lines of the Coleridge poem (and I remember that the poet was Coleridge). Well, I can remember most of the words:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where [Alph?] the sacred river ran
Through [caverns?] measureless to man
Down to a [sunlit? sunless?] sea.
I also remember that Coleridge was writing this poem in a fit of inspiration, possibly fueled by cocaine, when he was interrupted by a visitor. After the visitor left, he could not remember the rest of the words. Or look them up.
So. There we are. My initial leap to the most likely movie was correct. But then I had to grope around in the dark and dusty stacks cluttering my skull—until I retrieved the first clue. After that, aided by google—so aptly called a “search engine”—I rejoiced as it all fell into place.
Of course, I realize that I could have found the answer much more quickly by typing the clue into google and going directly to one of the crossword solver sites. But I think of that as cheating (unless I am really desperate). And if I had done that, I would have missed the whole adventure, which left me feeling alternately stupid and brainy. I would have missed that Eureka moment of discovery, like the one What’s-his-name—that Greek mathematician—had when he jumped dripping out of the bathtub after he figured out how to use the displacement of water to calculate the volume of an object.