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?