A Huxley title and part of "60 Minutes" in nine letters. "Point Counterpoint," of course, you think. But nine letters? Easy, smarty: counter
Well, maybe not so easy at that. None of the three finalists at last weekend's Third Annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn., got it, although winer Daniel L. Pratt thinks that he "probably would have seen that eventually . . . but you can't be sure."
Daniel Pratt is really off crossword puzzles. Hasn't done them in years, he says, ever since he found he was knocking off the Sunday Washington Post puzzle in less than eight minutes. "(It took him not quite four minutes to waste the daily Balitmore Sun puzzle for benefit of a TV news crew Monday morning.)
Mainly, Daniel Pratt is into Scrabble. What the pros call "Scrabble Cross Word Game." In fact, although he won $300 by placing first at the Crossword tourney, he is much more enthusiastic about being the Maryland State Scrabble champion for the past two years. He will defend this position of (a seven-letter word meaning "superiority in achievement") on the next two weekends in Baltimore.
In the championship playoff puzzle, the clue for nine down was "self-explanatory."
"I don't really go for those," said the balding, bespectacled Pratt, sitting in the cozy living room of his South Laurel, Md., townhouse.Pratt is a mathematician and linguist, with degrees from MIT (math) and Georgetown University (linguistics).
"I do much better," said Pratt, "with obscure real words" . . . like a five-letter word for "dewy" that was in one of the seven puzzles which eliminated all but three of the 100 or so contestants at Stamford.
"Of course I knew the root was 'ror' and when the last letter turned out to be a 'c' of course I knew it was 'r-o-r-i-c." And of course it was.
Because "i'm not too good at movies," Pratt didn't do too well with the "Fractured Movies" puzzle. But words like "deasil" and "widdershins" are probably what catapulted him to the top. And it was Scrabble that really did it for him.
He was browsing, he said, "in the official Scrabble dictionary" and ran across "deasil". Not quite believing it, he looked it up elsewhere and found that its antonym was "widdershins." So when they turned up on the crossword, he was home free. (They mean clockwise and counterclockwise.)
The son of a carpenter in Abington, Mass., Pratt now is a mathematician for the Department of Defense at Fort Meade. That's all he can say about his job. His wife, Linda, also works for DOD at Meade. That's all she can say about hers.
"At least," she said, "you don't bring your job home with you . . ."
Pratt, who is 29, met his wife in a carpool. They've been married two years. The word games are all his.
Monday was pretty hectic for the Pratts. His win brought a flood of media attention and even, he said rather shocked, calls to his office "where they don't like you to take personal calls." One, even, was a New York radio station wanting a taped interview on the spot. "We routed that to the pay phone," he noted carefully.
By and large, the Pratts' lives seem quiet and (eight-letter word that means serene and is a Scrabble bonanza). Beyond work and Scrabble -- Pratt heads a club in Laurel -- he and Linda read and "walk around the neighborhood to look at the new houses."
"There are some fields too," Pratt offered ruefully, "but the last time I got this awful allergic reaction . . ."
But Scrabble even takes them on vacation. Pratt is organizing an invitational in Nassau. Last year it was Bermuda.
Monday night, as the Pratts waited with Linda's visiting grandmother for the Baltimore TV segment to come on, the phone was relentless.
"I hate to interrupt," said Linda Pratt after one call, "but this one . . .It was this guy with a lottery association. He said he saw you were a mathematician and he needs mathematical help with a project he's doing, some king of 10-year study on lottery numbers . . . or something . . ."
Some of the contestants, Pratt said, were making up puzzles of their own.
He overheard this one: a French phrase for "How would we want to play the flute, dear?" Answer: tout de suite. "Pretty awful," Pratt judged.
"I like Scrabble," said Pratt, "because I can use both my mathematical and linguistic skills."
But he is a purist and disapporves as more and more Scottish words are creeping into the official Scrabble dictionary. "A bit dubious," he terms them.
The phone rang again.
He sighed. "They don't do this for Scrabble. I guess more people do crosswords . . ." *CHAMP