Presenting the most beautiful thread you will read today:
The Executive Editor of New York Times got a call at 11.45 pm, minutes after he finally managed to to sleep, at the end of a day littered with depressing events. “Damn!”, he said, “what’s it now?” +
“Sir, we need your permission to edit the answers of the live Spelling Bee”, said the nervous Head of Puzzles.
“Holy crap, that’s what you woke me up for?”, he thundered.
“Sir, we’ve never done something like this. I don’t have the authority.” +
“I need some context here”, he sighed, “You better have a good story. You have a minute. Your time starts now.” +
“Sir, I’ll try. We just got a distraught call from Mumbai. From the father of a ten year old kid with a terminal condition. She’s one point away from hitting Genius. Something she’s been trying to achieve for months. And the puzzle will not accept gaol, spelt g..a..o..l.” +
“Why not?”, asked the Editor, “It’s a legit word. I’d be frigging pissed too.”
“It’s an archaic spelling sir, the puzzle doesn’t accept it. And we can’t change the list of approved answers while the puzzle is live….” +
“Really?”, thought the Editor, “After a day spent grappling with matters of national, nay international importance, is this what I get woken up for? Helping a kid crack a puzzle?” +
The tormentor of his sleep continued, “The girl’s dad says, her hitting Genius could save her life. She said this was the last time she was going to try. Making Genius could give her the strength to face another day, then maybe another. Like that O’Henry story, sir. Last leaf.” +
“Damn!”, said the Editor, “I’m hooked on the bee myself… I’ve told Sam so many times…. I get mad when it won’t take some of my answers. It didn’t take Neology yesterday. I was furious. It accepts acacia but rejects yoyo. I never go past Amazing, forget Genius.” +
“The kid tried Neology too sir, and Algol, a programing language, but they weren’t accepted… but Sir, we don’t have time. There’s just 10 minutes to go. Give us an okay, and the team is on standby to allow the word.” +
The Editor thought hard. ‘A rule is a rule, even a bad rule’ was a mantra he lived by. It was something that guided him through many a thorny situation. A little tentpole of objectivity to help him ride through raging storms of opinion, perspective and dogma. +
“Dammit, just do it. And don’t breathe a word of this to anybody. Ever. Do it with a minute or two to spare, so no other player notices. Today, we change the answer to a puzzle, tomorrow it’s a news item…. Let me know how this pans out. Now let me get some sleep.” +
Bapat was pacing up and down the balcony of his 1bhk in Malad when his phone rang. A hurried voice said, “Try gaol now, immediately, good night”, and hung up. Bapat ran inside, where Shraddha was desperately trying various words, her eyes brimming with tears. +
“Beta, try that word gaol, again. Maybe you typed it wrong”, he said.
Too weak to argue, she picked out the letters g..a…o…l through her tears, and hit enter, with not a shred of hope. +
What happened next took less than a second, but seemed to unfold in slow motion. The screen said ‘Good’ and then went blank. And reemerged with the picture of a bee and the word Genius. +
Bapat grabbed the phone and screen-shotted it just before the puzzle disappeared. And the new one for the day appeared. He hugged his daughter and let out a primal victory cry. +
Shraddha was sobbing with unalloyed happiness. She kept saying, “Baba, Baba… I did it… I did it…”. Bapat, choking on his own tears said, “Yes, you did it, Beta! You are a genius!” +
A week later the Executive Editor’s phone rang again. “Sir, about that puzzle thing…”.
“Yes?”, he barked, “Tell me there’s no problem.”
“Sir, the kid hit Genius five days in a row after that. And yesterday she got all the words, every one of them. She’s a Queen Bee.” +
The Editor smiled as he sank into his chair. This was the best call he had ever taken in his long career. “Listen, when this pandemic is done and dusted, get that kid and her Dad here on a holiday. At our cost. This is the first time that a gaol has liberated someone.”
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