It wasn’t too long in the past when The Rotten Peach was a staple in Atlanta’s counter-culture scene. When the world wide web first launched, they had their own website to go along with the print magazine, long before anyone else had thought to do the same. When robots entered the scene, they stuck steadfastly to human delivery girls. They covered the increasing gang violence in Atlanta with an empathetic eye for the disaffected youths sucked into the world of organized tribalistic crime. They’ve won twice as many Pulitzers as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is to say they’ve won four.
But they’ve kind of taken a downhill turn recently. Not that I ever much read them, but nobody really talks about them anymore. They recently rebranded themselves as the “ATL-weekly,” a pun so disgusting that I barf a little bit every time I think about it. Their underground comix section seems to be severely reduced from the last time I ever opened up one of these, too; just two five-page stories in this issue. My interest in newspaper comics has declined with my age, but I still bemoan the overall ambivalence that people seem to have with them. Did anyone even READ Beetle Bailey? That thing was a riot. The Rotten Peach’s comics were a bit different, like The Wild Side, or the descriptively titled Sex, Drugs, Violence, Edge, Glory, but… they’re respectable too I guess… In their own way…
Pulling a stunt like the “Ultimate Crossword Puzzle” is probably the only way they could boost sales these days, huh.
Well, it worked for me. And now Karina and I have been slaving over this crossword puzzle while we wait for our food at Slappy Burger. Apparently the fryer broke while they were midway through our batch of cheese-filled fries and we’ll have to wait another ten minutes. Karina’s antsy about getting to the Auto District as soon as possible, but we definitely aren’t going there without a meal. I won’t allow it. Plus, it gives us more time to work on the puzzle.
“A lot of these questions are really easy,” Karina says. “Why did they even include this one: ‘Water breaking– bad sign. Three letters.’ What could it possibly be but ‘dam’?”
“Haha funny, but the M in ‘dam’ is also the third letter of 18-vertical, which is ‘Est. 1946. Kickstarted this whole shebang.’ Which is obviously ‘Computer.’”
“And then here’s 28-horizontal, ‘The heart is here, allegedly.’ Four letters.”
“Yep. Then the third letter in 29 down is an O, and the question is: ‘A package deal, this.’ Seven letters. It can’t be anything but ‘omnibus,’ surely.”
“‘Oregano.’ I don’t know.”
“The hint is ‘A package deal.’ What about ‘oregano’ is a package deal?!”
“You’re the crossword master here. You tell me.” This is starting to get strange. Karina and I need to switch back our comedic duo roles or else people are going to get very confused.
“I’m not even good at crossword puzzles,” Karina says. “The thing is, there aren’t too many difficult questions on here. It’s supposed to be a mystery challenge, right? But It’s not even a challenge.”
“Even this one? ‘Our favorite to roll our eyes at. Seven letters.’”
“‘Magitek,” we say in unison.
“Oh, yeah, right,” I say. This sure doesn’t SEEM ultimate, then. “Oh, what about that one?” I ask, pointing to the very final question on the hint list, 41-horizontal.
The hint is much longer than the others, and much more obtuse: “Our longtime readers will know this one; some may love it, some may hate it, but most are indifferent. Eight letters.”
“That’s the exception,” Karina says. “I have no clue what that one means. And there’s only one single question connecting to it, the final one.”
“Well, what letter is that?”
“The question for 38-vertical is ‘Can’t take the Heat? Get out of the toaster!’”
“That’s what I’m thinking.” She scribbles down the letters and that makes T the final letter of this “longtime readers” question. Hmm.
“Extra large cheese fry for… Carrie!” the frycook robot shouts.
Karina hops up and brings back the food from the counter. “I had a feeling it was me,” she says.
“I don’t get how robots can mispronounce your dumb name all the time. Isn’t Japanese supposed to be easy for them?” She sets the gigantic plate of fries in the middle of the table and we both start picking at it. These fries are seriously filled with melted cheese inside of them. How did they do this? How did science create such a thing?
“I don’t know, maybe they never had multilingual software installed because they didn’t want to spend the money,” Karina says. “Anyway, my name is NOT dumb. It’s a very pretty one. 香里奈 has the characters for ‘perfume,’ which is the Hong in Hong Kong too, and then ‘village’ and, uh, ‘the city of Nara.’”
“I have no idea what any of that means.”
“Well… uh… Whatever.” Karina lets out a hearty “hmph.”
“I really want to know what this mystery prize is,” I say.
“I’m really curious, too,” Karina says. “But what if someone else has already figured it out? Are they going to split the prize or something?”
“If it’s a million dollars or something, splitting it ten ways is still going to keep us set for a few years,” I say.
“Who says we’re splitting our own winnings?” Karina asks. “If I solve the question, I get all the money.”
“But I bought the magazine!”
“That’s the seed money to my success, and you will be awarded proportionally. Since it cost you two dollars, you will get two percent of my winnings.”
“That’s hardly fair!” Ah, that feels a lot better to be the one reacting. That role-reversal shtick was getting old.
“Well then, you better hurry up and solve it first,” Karina says. She slides a fry into her mouth like a suction cup.
“How many eight-letter words ending in T could there be?” I ask.
“I have the answer just for you,” Karina says, fiddling on her portable PC and getting fry grease on the touchscreen. Ew. “The power of the internet tells me that… there’s hundreds. Great.”
“And it could be a fictional character name, too,” I add. “I’m thinking that this might be a meta-question. Something only fans of The Rotten Peach will get because they’ve read it for so long. Have you ever… read any issues of this thing?”
“Not really…” Karina continues looking at the huge list pulled up on her computer. “Raincoat? Readjust? Ziggurat?”
“That’s… seven letters.”
“It ends in a T.”
“Marxist? Wait that’s seven letters again.”
It is clear very quickly that Morgan and Karina are about to become completely consumed by this crossword puzzle, thinking about it and nothing other for the duration of their time together today. These two dorks will stop at nothing until they have finally solved the conundrum that lays before them.
That’s my prediction at least.
We have no idea what this “ultimate crossword puzzle” is all about, but it does make us two hours late to meeting Karina’s robot friend. Oops.