In My Own Words: My cultural ignorance

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

I admit it: I am not hip or in tune with current times. Actually, I’ve never been, but it’s gotten worse. When reading novels about contemporary teens, I’ve had to do online searches for photos of actors/singers who are used to describe a character’s looks. That’s also true of abbreviations that the authors assume you’ll know. (Tell me, is it really that much harder to say “to be honest,” rather than “TBH.”) But it’s an adult activity that has truly shown how culturally ignorant I am: Connections. 

If you’re thinking, “Ah, but you know about Connections, so you can’t be that ignorant.” Sorry, I learned about it from a Facebook friend. For those who never heard of Connections, it’s an online New York Times puzzle. Every day, Connections offers 16 words that have to be paired into related groups of four. Puzzlers are given four chances to match the words groups. Of course, since this is a New York Times puzzle, the connections are not always clear. (To see an example, click here. There is no charge to play. Only one puzzle is offered a day so you don’t have to worry about wasting too much time.)

I am horrible at most word puzzles. Don’t bother asking me for an answer to a crossword puzzle. My mind just doesn’t work that way (although my mother was a big fan). But Connections offers a different kind of word play and it’s fun once you get the hang of it. You might, as I did, kick yourself for thinking the word mouse should go with the rest of the rodents, until you realize that it belongs with the computer equipment. That’s just getting used to how the puzzle works – that is, until you come to face to face with your own cultural ignorance as I did.

I mean, seriously, there are four different types of hip hop dances? I didn’t know they existed. Oh, and those are names of blogs? Really? Hmm, never heard of any of them. I might be excused for not knowing the names of current movie directors since I don’t watch many films, but the last names of TV families featured older shows. My excuse? I never watched that one! (Yes, I looked it up online afterward.) Those are current magazines? Hmm, I’ve never seen them at the checkout of my grocery store.

My favorite puzzle was one where I got the answer correct, but for the wrong reason. Anyone who knows me knows that when I see the name Grover, I’m going to think of Sesame Street. I found the names of three other Muppets and was so pleased that I figured it out – that is, until Connections told me that the “correct” connection was that they were the first names of four American presidents. Oh, well, it still counted.