Evelyn E. Smith was born in 1922 and in addition to her career as a science fiction author, which spanned from approximately 1952 until 1985, she also wrote romance novels using the name Delphine C. Lyons and also worked as a crossword puzzle writer. This latter job is very much evidenced in her 1954 story “BAXBR/DAXBR” (also “DAXBR/BAXBR,” its title should appear as two words that cross at the X).
The basic gist of the story is that George, Smith’s main character, often finds himself commuting in proximity to a man he doesn’t know, but things of as “the little man from the Planetarium,” since that is where their pathways often converge. On rare occasions they greet each other and the man has a strange accent that George can’t place, but that is generally the extent of their interaction.
On the day the story takes place, fate and a crowded subway car throw the two men together. While the little man reads some letters, George tries to ignore him, playing mental games with words in which he ideates a crossword puzzle based on the words he sees. During this time, his eyes happen to fall on one of the man’s letters and he sees a word he is unfamiliar with, “BAXBR.” Rather than assume the word was gibberish, a private joke, or something in code, George obsesses over it.
As it happens, both men find their way to the main branch of the New York Public Library, where their paths diverge. George finds himself searching for the word in the dictionary and, when he can’t find it there, tries to find it in dictionaries for several foreign languages, trying to get a clue for the word’s origin from the man’s incomprehensible accent. Even the reference librarian who tried to help George was unable to find the word.