What’s a six-letter word for a square on a crossword puzzle that can be filled only by a lucky guess? That would be “Natick.’’
Back in 2008, The New York Times crossword puzzle featured a crossing of Natick (“Town at the eighth mile of the Boston Marathon’’) with N.C. Wyeth (“Treasure Island’’ illustrator, 1911). If you weren’t from ’round these parts and were unfamiliar with the less-well-known Wyeth, it was a tough intersection. Readers were not happy, and the term “a Natick’’ became shorthand for what is basically an unsolvable part of the crossword grid.
That’s just one of many fun factoids about this town nestled between Wellesley and Framingham. Another: The technique of figure-eight stitching for baseballs was developed here. They were made for years by H. Harwood & Sons (now condos) and stitched by women in their homes. And this: In 2000, the US census deemed Natick the geographic center of the state’s population. And, thanks to the old Hostess/Wonder Bread factory that used to be on Speen Street, the town appeared in an episode of “Family Guy.’’ After a nuclear holocaust, Peter remembers that Twinkies are the only food that can survive such a calamity, and the family ventures out to find the factory in Natick.
In the real world, the town is home to a number of businesses, like Cognex Corp. and The MathWorks Inc. In 2012, the town opened a new Natick Community- Senior Center, as well as a $78.5 million high school. The same year, the state designated the downtown as the Natick Center Cultural District. The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN) and the Morse Institute Library are considered the anchors, while the common hosts free concerts and farmers’ markets. The town is also home to the well-regarded Walnut Hill School for the Arts.
The town has two commuter rail stations, plus easy access to the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 495, and routes 128 and 9.
The number of buildings lost in the 1874 fire that devastated Natick’s downtown, destroying the town hall, the Congregational Church, the fire station, a concert hall, and several businesses. The fire caused $650,000 in damage, which, in today’s dollars would be about $12 million.
The chapter in the Massachusetts General Laws designating Natick “The Home of Champions’’ and Brockton “The City of Champions.’’ The 2006 legislative act ended a dispute that arose in the late 1990s, when a bill was filed to make Natick’s nickname official.
The cost of a homemade ice cream sandwich at Liberty’s Ice Cream, a family-owned store that’s been in business more than 35 years. Besides vanilla, you can also try pistachio, coffee, raspberry, and a few other flavors. Near the common, there’s also Park Street Ice Cream.
The number of yards on the books for the “Hail Mary pass’’ thrown by Natick resident and Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie at the Orange Bowl in 1984. A road near the Natick Mall is named Flutie Pass.
This is easy: downtown! Natick has a great downtown: broad streets, lots of stores and businesses, and, as a result of the aforementioned fire, lots of impressive brick buildings. Check out Lola’s Italian Groceria for a great sandwich or Comella’s just doors away.
Shop till you drop. Besides the Natick Mall, there are a number of strip malls and, as noted, the downtown. All the taxes paid by these various businesses and corporations help to keep costs down for residents.
If shopping ain’t your bag, get out. There’s Lake Cochituate, Memorial Beach at Dug Pond, Belkin Family Lookout Farm, Natick Community Organic Farm, Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, the town-owned Sassamon Trace Golf Course, and a skating rink.
Some of the things that make Natick attractive — lots of shopping and businesses, good schools, and significantly lower taxes than the nearby W towns — means things are getting crowded. The schools. The roads. Ick, traffic.
Vanessa Parks is a freelance writer in Central Massachusetts. Send e-mail to Address@globe.com.