Waikiki’s Puzzler

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BY J. ARTHUR RATH – “I heard him chuckling,” Coconut Willee said.

I knew this was an introduction to another Slices of Life in Hawaii recounted by this old-time beach boy.


“Tell me the story,  Uncle,” I said. Willee grinned and started.

“I call him ‘The Waikiki Puzzler.’  His regular spot is close to the banyan big tree by Honolulu Zoo’s entrance.  He places his bicycle, loaded with belongings, behind the park bench other locals realize its ‘his spot’ and leave it open for him. Its where he does crossword puzzles.

“Was sup?” I asked.

“I  found the ‘Aha! Moment,’” he merrily answered.

Curious, I walked over, he was doing a New York Times crossword puzzle.

“I just discovered the clues in this puzzle, that’s the ‘Aha! Moment.’ Now I can solve the whole thing.  He quickly fills in blank spaces  while he talks:

“Will Shortz, the Times puzzle editor, loves word play. This one has five themes ending in different parts of a tree.”

I replied, “Although you sit  under one of Hawaii’s most beautiful trees, the parts  I know are the trunk, leaves, and hanging vines  kids use for swinging.”

“Here they are,” I bend over to look. “See these tree words: I’ve filled in?…Squareroot, tableleaf, wardrobetrunk, brainstem, bankbranch!”

I had learned some things about this puzzler. Not an athletic boy as where his bigger-sized friends, he competed instead in spelling bees and gained some stardom. He described becoming a puzzle-solver.

“After Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, I came to work in a Marriott Hotel in Hawaii.  Many co-workers are from other countries, English is an evolving language for them.  Between shifts they use their original languages among each other; I felt left out.  I would read the daily newspaper, then I started doing crossword puzzles.

Rewards came almost immediately: Stimulating new ways of thinking. Entrance into a world of fascinating people.

I learned you are never alone when doing a crossword puzzle.

“Benefits began accumulating.”

“Explain some,” I asked.

“Brain stimulation increased asI began tuning in to puzzle creators’ psychologies. I entered a world of fascinating people. I am never alone—the puzzler and I are communicating. There is humor in the creator’s tinkering and teasing, and it lasts far beyond the ‘Aha’ moment when once I tune in.

“Crossword puzzles are a source of never-ending pleasure, I keep unfinished puzzles until answers are published. Then I study what words I may have missed.  This mental sport is like physical sports–skill increases with steady practice.”

Willee looks at me and grins. “I decided to join his game. So, pretending as if I were auditing a class at the University of Hawaii, I asked, ‘Be my Puzzle Professor’ and give me coaching.

“These are five things I remember,explained in his language:

1. Humor is shown by the puzzle-creator’s in tinkering and teasing. Clues may feature anagrams such as cinema formed from the word iceman.

2. Clues agree in tense and number. ‘Traveled on horseback’ would be a valid clue for the solution ‘rode’ but not for ‘ride,’  Similarly, ‘Family members’ would be a valid clue for ‘aunts’ but not ‘uncle.’

3. A question mark at the end of clue usually signals that the clue/answer combination involves some sort of pun or wordplay, example, ‘Grateful = ASHES (since a grate might be full of them).”

4. Some crosswords contain answers in colloquial, or ordinary language. In such a puzzle, one might see phrases such as ‘WHAT’S UP, AS IF,’ or ‘WHADDYA WANT.’

5. They may call for abbreviations. A crossword creator might choose to clue the answer ‘SEN’ (as in the abbreviation for Senator for the expression ‘Washington bigwig.’

“He said Personal Computer language is being used:  The clue ‘PC’ for a three-letter answer could  turn out to be ‘ESC, ALT, TAB,’ or even ‘DEL.'”

Coconut Willee concluded saying:

“This guy leaves peacefully, challenging his mind, working on puzzles, in glorious sunshine.”

I respond to this Waikiki sage of great age, “Much of the fun of being in Waikiki is because of people–their variety of interests and nationalities.  Getting along is not puzzling at all.”





  1. Mr. Rath,

    I think I know the Waikiki Puzzler – a great friend of mine who rides a bike better than he can walk. I know the very bench you described. I would love to share some information about this truly unique individual. He’s definately one of the good guys!

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