Picking one’s nose, farting in church, and pounding one’s pud

If you identified these three behaviors as being related in the sense that they are generally considered rude, congratulations–you’re awake. Higher praise will be awarded only to those that recognize this collection of 15-letter phrases as the backbone of a 225-square crossword puzzle I designed roughly 20 years ago.

It usually went like this: I’d be on summer college break, and my dad would come home from work and start doing the crossword puzzle in the Concord Monitor while sitting on the back deck we had recently joined forces in building. (Well, I didn’t help that much.) I would grab my grandparents’ copy of the paper, flip to the same puzzle and join him outside. He treated these nightly ventures as research projects, using dictionaries almanacs, and whatever other resources he could (this was a few turns of the globe before the Internet) to bludgeon his way toward completion; I’d solve the thing in the traditional way, normally coming within a square or two and as often as not finishing with zero errors. (The NY Times puzzle this was not.) If this was a competition, neither of us acknowledged it. Over time we built up our respective and overlapping vocabularies of words and names found almost exclusively in crossword puzzles: “ort,” “Asta,” “St. Lo,” others.

Finally I decided to assemble a puzzle of my own. It was a decent effort; I made sure that the 15 x 15 grid had no more blacked-out squares than the usual puzzle of its dimensions, and, as noted in the first paragraph, even settled on a coherent “theme.” I think the clues for those three words were “Faux pas,” “Social taboo,” and “Public no-no.”

That was a real highlight. Now any idiot can design an elegantly dirty crossword puzzle without even working hard. And no, “licking one’s ass” was never in contention, so don’t go getting any gross ideas.

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