Sunday, May 20, 2018
Human Interest

Opening Lines: The mind of Merl Reagle a Florida gold mine

Merl Reagle has always been disappointed that my wife and I didn't keep trying for a daughter.

You could name her Audrey, he has told me more than once. Audrey, he says, is the only anagram of Duryea.

For some reason this wasn't sufficient to persuade my wife Alliston to erase the line we drew at three boys. For Merl, an orphan anagram just makes him sad. It's a missed opportunity to enjoy a little wordplay, to impose some sense and symmetry on modern life.

Well, I don't want to be known as the guy who walks through a messy and cheerless world and does nothing to alleviate the suffering. Which is why when we redesigned Floridian a year ago, one of the first choices I made was to give Merl a permanent home in the magazine. Hence, the monthly Hurricane, a puzzle of Merl's design that combines his wit with that swirling symbol of Florida life.

Some months ago Merl informed me that 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first crossword puzzle. You'll never believe it, he said, but there's a Florida connection. I won't spoil what that connection is — Merl explains it all in the essay that accompanies his puzzle this month on the back page. It suffices to say that Merl saw in this another of those opportunities to make the world a tidier and more amusing place — and it had a much higher likelihood of success than me having a fourth kid.

We should do something big, he declared. Like a contest. Absolutely, I said, knowing that we've been having the same conversation for years. We'd talk about the elaborate contests Merl had conceived and executed for papers like the Hartford Courant and I'd say enviously that I wanted something like that for the Times, but for no good reason nothing would happen.

This time was different. The crossword anniversary combined with the 12th edition of the new Floridian combined with the Florida connection made it so perfectly timed that it would have been an act of publishing negligence to squander the chance.

The puzzle that Merl has devised for you is rife with Floridiana. And the final answer is so clever and apt that it might seem made up. But there's a clue in there that I love because it's such a good example of how Merl's mind works. I can recall the morning when over a cup of coffee at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa Merl pointed to a headline on the front page about a certain swimmer's attempt to traverse the Florida Straits and informed me that the homophone of her last name was an anagram of her first name.

"It's just the hairiest of coincidences," he said.

He was beaming.

And now that I have finally published a Merl Reagle contest (and atoned, somewhat, for not producing an Audrey) I am beaming too.

Bill Duryea can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8770.

Comments
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