Do you do crossword puzzles?



When I was a child, I saw my father come home from work every night, sit down with the newspaper, and do the crossword.  I have grown up to be very different from him, but here is one thing on which we agree.  Crossword puzzles are the ultimate form of relaxation for someone who enjoys playing with words.  My dad was a corporate lawyer, and legalese notwithstanding, his choice of words was crucial in protecting his clients.  Writing fiction, as I do, is light years removed from writing a corporate contract.  Though none of you will sue me if you feel that a word or phrase or sentence I use is misleading, when I’m writing a book, I struggle with words twelve hours a day to get the nuance just right.

So why would I ever want to deal with words in my free time?  Lot of reasons.

But first, a little history – and I confess that I would not have known any of this had it not been for a recent Boston Globe piece marking the crossword’s 100th birthday.  That first one was created in 1913 by a British-born journalist for publication in a New York paper, and it was a total hit.  Despite doubters who anticipated a passing fad, the cross word puzzle’s popularity burgeoned.  Across the country, across the world, newspapers began running crossword puzzles as regular features.

What’s the appeal?  I can’t speak for the estimated 50 million puzzle solvers in America alone, but here are my own reasons.

It’s fun.  There’s no violence, no gore, no intrigue that might keep me from falling asleep à la, say, “Homeland.”

It’s distracting.  Try coming up with different meanings for a word or phrase, and I forget my guilt over eating those mashed potatoes with dinner.

It’s a private challenge.  The world never knows whether I get everything right, guess the overall clue, or even finish.

It’s an inspiration.  I see a word I haven’t thought of in years, and it becomes a new best friend.  I may even use it in a book.

Not all crosswords are equal.  If you’re a regular solver, you’ll have tried different sources and know what I mean.  A puzzle that’s too easy is no more fun than one that’s impossible to solve.  My personal favorite appears in the Wall Street Journal every Friday.  Second to that comes the Sunday Boston Globe puzzle.

I spend a week on a single puzzle.  My first try is usually vague.  Other than a handful of answers, I may be largely stumped.  My second try is usually better.   By the third approach, I start seeing clues in a different light.  Funny, how words or phrases can have such different meanings.  Likewise, how a single letter in a word can be a giveaway.

My father always did his crosswords in ink.  So do I.  Call that arrogant, but it’s more a product of caution.  I rarely fill in a word until I have one of the intersecting words as well, which means that the odds of both answers being correct are higher.

I have loved crossword puzzles for so long that I actually created one for my book Twelve Across, whose heroine writes them for a living.  Let me tell you, it is not easy.  I have the utmost respect for those who create crossword puzzles on a regular basis.

So.  Do you do crosswords?  If so, what’s your favorite source?  And what’s the major appeal of the puzzler for you?



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  1. Elizabeth Dellus on January 16, 2014 at 6:56 am

    My father & I also shared the love of crossword puzzles. I’d often go up to his house & go over his puzzles to see if I vCard ould get any answers he couldnt (there wern’t to many). I’m not as good as he was but I still enjoy doing them. When he passed away I made sure I grabbed all his puzzle books!

  2. Geraldine Litz on January 16, 2014 at 7:00 am

    I love crossword puzzles and usually do one a day. I also do them in ink.

    • Susan Miller on January 16, 2014 at 9:19 am

      I love puzzles and do the Boston Globe every day and on Sunday, the Globe puzzle and the Telegraph puzzle – those are my favorites – I also love Jumbles, KenKen, and most other word games – like Wheel of Fortune! It’s a good challenge for the brain – my mother was a great puzzle solver; perhaps I got it from her. I love your books Barbara, and always anticipate the next one!

      • rosary on June 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm


  3. Meredith A. Rutter on January 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

    You and I have the same personal preferences for weekly WSJournal’s first, NYTimes’s second. Both my parents (born Newton and Waltham, MA, but transplanted to Ohio) did the daily Cleveland Plain Dealer’s puzzle, sharing it by allowing one person to do the top half and the other to do the bottom half. The first person had to stop filling in any word when the puzzle’s halfway point intervened. This was before home copiers could have prevented the problem. I love the humor in puzzling. (BTW, great review from Booklist on your hardcover re-release of Twelve Across, congratulations!)

  4. Phyllis Rosokoff on January 16, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I have been doing crosswords since I was young child. My mother did them and I watched her and later helped her as she lovingly filled in the blanks, erased, attempted, laid them down, picked them up again and worked on them until she was satisfied. She did the NY TIimes Sunday and our local Buffalo News daily and Sunday puzzles. I prefer the Los Angeles Times Crosswords although I tackle a NY Times Sunday puzzle now and then. My brother and several of my cousins do them all the time as well, and one of my grandchildren has shown interest as well.

  5. Deb Haggerty on January 16, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I do mine in ink, too! Must admit I keep Wite Out tape close by, though. I love the Sunday Globe puzzle. Will have to try the WSJ. I actually joined a puzzle club and get new ones sent to me every month – they keep me going from “Globe to Globe!”

  6. Muff on January 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    My parents did crossword puzzles all the time, and it rubbed off on me. I do two every day, and on Sundays I do the NY Times. {Of course, in ink — is there any other way?}

  7. Pen M on January 16, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I do lots of crosswords. I have even written a few for my own amusement. Like if I don’t have any or a new book or something. Less of a chance of that happening with Internet access now. 🙂

  8. Linda on January 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    So happy to see that many of my crossword “sisters” also do them in ink! During down time is when I do them. I’m not an avid TV watcher so the TV is the background. I’m not as advanced as many of you seem, I buy crossword magazines at the grocery store.

  9. Marcia Richards on January 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I do love crosswords and other variations of the puzzle. My source is the grocery store offerings of puzzle books, mainly the Dell brand, though they are becoming harder to find. It is a great distraction and offers a different way to think of words. Finding just the right word for my writing is important to me, too, and crosswords can help. your books contain some very unique and perfect choices of words. Some that are directly related to a location or dialect I have to research. That helps me develop my own list of interesting words to use in my writing, and that research often leads to other words I’d forgotten about or are new to me.

    • suzanne on January 16, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      I’m also a “puzzler”. Not great at the really difficult ones, but enjoy doing them anyway:) I buy mostly Kappa puzzle books when I’m able to find them.

  10. Iris Williams on January 28, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I absolutely love doing crossword puzzles! I started doing them when I was a little in Mexico. When my dad brought us to United States he enrolled us kids in English as A Second Language classes. One of my classes was called Vocabulary Building and the teacher saw me working on one in Spanish and the next day he brought me a book if crossword puzzles in English and said that would be my extra credit homework. I had to do one a day. When I finished a book, he would get me another what was harder.I get the local Newspaper, but she mist challenging to me is the Indianapolis Star Sunday edition.

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