Soduko–Adventure at Sea

Cruise ship in port

I didn’t take photos this time, but I have traveled on the Queen Mary in the past.

Okay. I’m back and can now let you know that yes, I was traveling last week.  When I posted about being on vacation, the copy-edit police sent me the warning that I shouldn’t let people Online know that I was going to be gone.  You know, the folks from Godiva Chocolate know my address because even if I say I’m buying gifts, they know that the address is mine and I will eat all those luscious sweets myself .

Then I will leave on vacation and my house will be open to the thieves who are looking for the six loads of wash I didn’t finish before packing. They will somehow know when my house sitter will be gone, and that my ferocious watchdog is really a marshmallow personality.  AND they will know to stay away from my sweet kitty who has a bite like a T-Rex, and then they could steel the dirty dishes I left in the sink for my house sitter, just to show how much I appreciated she would be there. Can you say, “Home Alone?”

Anyway, I am back, and yes, the trip was terrific.  We went on a cruise in the western Caribbean–meaning that we docked at a few tourist spots that had costumed photographers set up to snap our faces with replicas of “natives” and “pirates,” as we disembarked.  This was followed by the obligatory duty free shop that we had to walk through before walking past customs.  There were no cumbersome officials checking passports. Wouldn’t want to slow down our progress to the ubiquitous gift shops selling all sorts of “here in Belize, here in Nicaragua, here in Mexico” stuff. And if it rained (and yes it did) there were umbrellas to buy and other important items.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I loved the trip.  It’s just that to me, going on a cruise is kind of like a chain of Disney Adventures and not necessarily the cultural exchange I used to hear about as a kid.  Still, it was great fun, and I even had the chance to scratch a monkey’s back.  When I tried to stop, he grabbed my hand with his tail as if to say, “Hey! Keep going.  You call that a back scratch?  You didn’t shell out those lovely tourist dollars to sit on the sidelines of life.  Keep scratching!” And I did. And it was wonderful to bond with another creature that I seldom see and have never had the opportunity to bond with before.

Thanks to Creative Commons for this image:

Back at sea it was time for the fun and games to begin.  Now, you have to know that as a writer of novels, a good deal of my “research time” goes into playing sudoku. Over the years, I’ve logged more than a kajillion hours hard at work.  I’m pretty good at this game by now and my electronic version is permanently set to “expert.” I mean, I’m good at this.  So when the daily ship’s bulletin announced a “speed sudoku challenge” I was up for it.

I strolled into the Crooner’s bar with head held high, a spiral notebook in hand, and three well inked pens at the ready.  Gotta look the part, right?  I’m sure I intimidated the rest of the contestants.  There were two little girls of pre-teen years huddled together with their giggles and bling-happy purses sitting in one set of chairs.  I saw an older woman shouting at her near-deaf husband, “Sudoku, Henry.  It’s a game!”  There were a smattering of part-time players who seemed to wonder why a person needed a pencil to play a game.  I didn’t necessarily puff out my chest, but I definitely worked on pulling my lats down and sitting up straight.  Oh yeah.  This was going to be easy.

The young assistant cruise director came up with his perpetual smiling face and asked if we were all here to play speed sudoku. We nodded, and the cruise director started handing out papers and telling us to keep them turned face down.

“We need a couple more sheets,” shouted a man in a fluorescent green t-shirt who had come in with his wife and two daughters.  The girls were twenty-somethings, not particularly noteworthy in the looks department, and I brushed them off as being around to kill time until the next buffet dive.  So the family were each going to try their hand at this.  No problem.  Divide and conquer, I say.

I’ve never played speed sudoku before, but I felt that with my acquired prowess, this wasn’t going to be a problem.  The cruise director said the puzzle was a mid-level difficulty and that we would have a winner from the one done first with the right answers or stop the  game at ten minutes.

Ten minutes.  That gave me pause.  I usually use fifteen minutes, but then I play at the “expert” level, so this would be okay.

“Go!” said our director.  He didn’t yell it, but we all dove in like this was the Daytona 500.  We raised our pencils and started filling in blanks.  I went through my routine of working individual numbers 9 down to 1 (get more points for finishing larger numbers first in the game I play).

I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a sleuth whose special gift is to see patterns everywhere, and proves his capabilities by being monstrously fast at solving sudoku puzzles.  The character would be made up, of course, but would possess my skills with the game board.

“Done!” came a shout across from me.  One of the twenty-something daughters raised her hand.  I looked down, my card only filled in with a few numbers.  What?

That girl must have guessed the numbers.  I didn’t watch to see if she got them all right.  It was time to get serious.  Beads of sweat popped out on my brow.  I searched for patterns and gaps and started throwing in more numbers without my usual second confirmation.

“Done!” Another shout from across the bar.  Soon there were calls out of “done” popping around me like Jiffy pop. I filled in a seven–no, a nine. Search and scratch, scratch and search.

Dizzy and frustrated, I finally finished and raised my hand. “Times up,” said the cruise director, not seeing me. I might have sighed, just a bit.

“Hey! Hey! Here’s another one,” shouted the dad of the twenty-something who came in first.  He generously pointed in my direction. I silently handed in my sheet, grateful that when the director scanned my work he didn’t find any errors.

Later in the week, I read a great book for the cruise book club discussion.  If you get a chance, do check out “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson.  Fascinating.  I learned a new vocabulary word in the book.  Hubris.  Means foolishly confident. Hmm.

Meanwhile, the twenty-something won a lanyard for her work, and she picked the second winner from the other puzzles handed it.  It went to her dad.  I slinked off in search of the buffet and chocolate.  Godiva will get another order from me this week, and they’ll know I’m home.


A Writer’s Thanks

books at a bookstoreNext week I’ll be on vacation, so today I’d like to express my Thanksgiving thoughts from a writer’s perspective and wish you a happy holiday season:


  • For wonderful wordsShakespeare made them up. So did Dr. Seuss.  But for most of us who tell stories, give speeches, or write to inform, words are our building blocks to success.  We rely on words like “bubble gum” or “candy hearts” to describe a special shade of pink.  We fall in love with words like “buccaneer” or “dragon” that so clearly ignite our imaginations and fill our hearts with adventure.
  • For history–That point in time which helps us see anew the lessons mankind has learned, and gives us a starting point to some of the best fiction around.  Have you read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer this year?  Perhaps Death as a Fine Art by David Morrell is more up your alley.
  • For the future–which is ours to make. We decide whose vision we’ll follow, what dreams we make true just by putting it down on paper (or in today’s world, up on our computer screen).  Fahrenheit 451 was a grim look into the future, but Star Trek  always ended on a happy note. Which future will you look to?  And isn’t it fun to see so many of the gadgets on Star Trek come into being with our own electronics today? I say, dream on, future writers.  We need you!
  • For genre or commercial fiction–many will bemoan the use of tropes and formulaic writing, but I wonder where a romance would be without the two main characters falling in love in the end?  Or how could we turn to mystery time and again if, in the end, the world isn’t made right, the bad guy caught?
  • For Strunk & White — Who gave us the ultimate rule book from which to argue our points of view on grammar and punctuation with the finesse of the finest lawyers arguing over the Constitution. I particularly like the rule, “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able.”
  • And especially, thank you for Readers–Without you who generously give your time to read what us writers have written, the world would be a much darker place.  You soak up our words and transport yourself anywhere your imaginations will take you, fueled only by the meager words we writers jot down. You enter a contract with us that says in part, “You write what your mind sees, and I will imagine right along with you.  You entertain, and I will find entertainment within.  You educate and I will learn. You voice an opinion and I will form my own to agree or disagree with you. Most of all, you spend the time to write me a story, and I will read that story. We are friends.”

Thank you to my entire reading, writing, and publishing community. I’m grateful for this wonderful life you share with me.