The Observer 

Here’s the secret to solving Sudokus:

Enter a puzzle contest in which you have a choice between a Sudoku and the New York Times daily crossword puzzle.

Oh, the Monday crossword was a breeze. Always is. Even the chronically late Observer finished it before time was up at the first Little Rock Crossword Puzzle Tournament last week, presided over by none other than Will Shortz, Times crossword editor. He said he’s too busy to hold many like events, “but when the Clinton Presidential Center calls, you say yes.”

So there we all were, in the Clinton Library, a hundred or more contestants, and several spectators, who came to see hair pulled if not blood spilled.

It didn’t get ugly, but there was lots of sighing and groaning and scratching and erasing. An older lady at our table was a whiz, but didn’t rub it in.

The Observer’s success was short-lived. We didn’t quite finish the Tuesday puzzle and left even more of the Wednesday puzzle blank (54 across: Always use the term “coloring agent?” Answer: Never say dye). We were out of the running.

Could we let it end like that? No! We switched contests! Ah, Sudokus! All logic! No creative thinking! Just one step after another! Finally, something we could complete!

The winner of the puzzle contest — Judge Ellen Brantley — zipped through the playoff Thursday puzzle, polishing it off in 15 minutes, about two minutes faster than her opponents. The Observer is still working on it, here at our desk in the Observatory.

We bought one of Shortz’ Sudoku puzzle books and asked him to sign it. When he opened it he saw that it was bound cockeyed and asked if we still wanted that particular copy. Yes. Because now we can now say that not only can we work Shortz’s Sudokus, we can work them upside down.

Ken Smith, the head of Audubon Arkansas, was summoned by a friend to the Big Mac complex behind the state Capitol. A strange long-tailed bird was running back and forth in front of the offices of the state Parks and Recreation Department. Smith, his Sibley’s guide in hand, went over to check it out. Lo and behold, it was, Smith realized, a female ring-necked pheasant. It should have been in the Dakotas somewhere, but there it was eating bugs in front of Richard Davies’ office.

Smith captured the gamebird in a towel and put it in his car. Now what? It wouldn’t survive 48 hours in the wild before a predator got it. He told his office person he might have to kill it. “She set up a squawk,” Smith said. And you, the head of Audubon! Before one could say cuckoo, she found a rehabilitator who agreed to take the bird. The pheasant lives.

Good thing it hadn’t ended up at the state Game and Fish Commission office instead.

There was a cosmic reason we ran into Smith and heard his story. Because the next thing The Observer knew, our teen-ager, unable to leave it chirping in the street in front of a huge school bus about to flatten it, brought a baby bird home. This is never a good idea, of course, unless you want to spend a month out of your life doing nothing but feeding a baby bird. Too, we feared it was a mockingbird and would pick up some of the songs our teen-ager listens to, none of them appropriate for avian discourse.

Fortunately, our teen-ager got some help from a starling who heard the baby bird cheeping away in the front yard. The starling poked its beak in the ground, came up with “something with legs,” as our teen-ager put it, and fed the baby.

But the starling grew indifferent late Saturday as the storms moved in. The baby grew weak. The Observer looked out the window to see our own chick with tears streaming down her face.

So we called Ken Smith. He told us where to find bird rehabilitators. We found one, named, of course, Robin. She said get cat food, smash it, soak it, and put it down the bird’s mouth. We did. Here’s how: You put the bird in a shoe box with the lid on. When you open the lid, the baby opens its mouth. You shoot the pureed catfood down its gullet. Then you find someone as quickly as you can to pawn the baby bird off on. Thank goodness for a nice firefighter named Beth who lives out in Roland. The baby bird is now being raised with a couple of blue jays.



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