Free Throw
Joanne Faries
Doorknobs Winner
Speed and accuracy marked March Madness in Stanford, CT. Three days of grids. Little black and white squares filled amid feverish anticipation for times and scores. Doug blinked and took a deep breath. Forget 1999 and the flu. 2000 is my year in crossword – a total unknown out of Racine, WI.
Another day over, and he was in the final draw. One 15 x 15 crossword puzzle to master. Doug joined some fellow competitors for dinner. They rehashed favorite pun clues, or movie phrase themes. Discussed jobs as puzzle editors/creators and lack of pay.
Sunday dawned. Doug did his morning exercises. Ink filled squares in less than ten minutes. The goal was correct completion competence. He perused a puzzler dictionary, ate a banana, and tucked his lucky pencil behind his ear. It was a prop. Today involved a computer generated marker board.
On your mark, get set, go. Left to right, up versus down. Doug’s clues washed over him. Clarity gut check. No choking. Bust the theme, connect the hints, solve the board mystery. Wield the wordplay sword. Slice the six minute mark.
Confidence grew as themes emerged and he kept filling in blanks. Animals, movies, sports. It was March Madness after all and Doug knew his mascots.
Ready to swoosh the net. Final word thanks to his home state – badgers. What? Too many letters?
Re-read. Erase. Fleeting seconds wasted. He heard a buzzer from the left.
Badges, no stinking badges.  No treasure for him today.
Word air ball.

First published: May 2015
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