“You can have a treat when you can solve the Pelham Puzzler.”
My two-year-old gaped at me.
“Maybe… you should put the paper down for a bit,” my husband cautiously suggested.
“It will be ‘unmistakable,’” I moaned in despair, throwing the Voice down in frustration.
It had begun innocently enough, two nights before. I was enjoying some quiet time with my husband when I came across the puzzle in the paper.
“Over a hundred bucks in gift cards! How hard could it be?”
An hour and a half later I had gotten nowhere. My husband looked up from his phone and saw me surrounded by the three most recent issues of the Voice.
“I’ll take a look,” he condescendingly offered, picking up one of the papers.
Twenty minutes later he offered a solution, which I happily emailed in. It was after 10 PM. As I gathered up the papers, my phone’s email alert went off. It was an auto-reply from the Puzzler email address. Apparently we weren’t the first contestants to walk down the same wrong path. The generic information enclosed was enough to tell me the answer we submitted was incorrect. My husband sat back down. We both picked up a paper.
Another hour passed. It was now well past my husband’s bedtime. “I’m going to bed,” he finally said. “Don’t stay up too late.”
“What do you think this Greek caption says? I need a Greek translation,” was my only reply.
It was after midnight when I suspiciously texted a friend.
“Are you the Puzzlemeister?”
“What does that mean?”
“You know damn well what it means!”
He didn’t, and he wasn’t.
At 1 AM I found myself outside, in my husband’s robe, rummaging through our recycle bin. As I carefully went through soggy back issues of the Voice, I heard movement on the other side of the chain link fence. I hissed and stamped, assuming it was a raccoon. It was a skunk.
I made a hasty retreat, but not before shaking my fist at the skunk and muttering, Butternut.
I went back to the document I had started writing on my computer and skimmed over the garbled notes.
“Tennyson… Diogenes… Tree… Squash… Peanuts… Sherwin Williams paint colour 6389.”
I had a full page of typed notes, and every bit of it seemed useless. I cursed the precious time I’d wasted completing the Word Search (in case an answer was hidden somewhere in the remaining letters). Finally, at 2:37 AM, I forced myself away from my pile of papers and went to bed.
Eight hours later my husband was hovering above, jostling me awake.
“Are you… getting up today?”
“The solution is ‘before your eyes…search and ye shall find!’” I muttered.
“Um…how late did you stay up last night?”
“I’m not telling.”
A few hours later, it was my children’s quiet time, and I was once again obsessively reading the paper.
My seven-year-old was lying quietly on the couch beside me. What a waste of brainpower.
“I’ll make you a deal. You tell mommy what you think of when you hear the word ‘Butternut,’ and if it’s helpful, your rest time is over.”
I gave her a paper to go through, only to spend the next ten minutes explaining the political cartoons to her before losing her completely in “Kids’ Corner.” Another dead end.
Later, when my four-year-old was asking me a question, I decided to try something new.
“Butternut!” I cheerily answered him.
“What?” He looked at me, unhelpfully confused.
“I’m trying out the word in random contexts to see if it sparks something in my mind!” I enthusiastically told him.
He gave a blank stare, then continued searching for his Lego on his own.
I was now 21 hours into this ordeal and I decided to bring out the big guns. I texted the Mayor.
“Use your mayoral powers,” I begged. “Whatever it takes.”
His reply all but ensured the low quality of this year’s Father’s Day gift.
“I don’t believe my standing will be of any help…Dad”
That was yesterday.
Today was when desperation fully took over. I sought my two-year-old’s assistance via threats and blackmail. Though sweet, her response was also incredibly useless.
“Maybe ‘butternut’ means ‘snuggle,’” she suggested, climbing up beside me on the rocking chair.
“It doesn’t. But this is nice too. Keep thinking.”
I mindlessly rocked us back and forth, in constant motion yet getting absolutely nowhere.
Eventually, someone will have to crack it. I just hope the solution surfaces before I go (butter)nuts.