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.
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.