March 25, 2018
From an early age I have always been drawn to word play. In continuing to remember my late Aunt Lily, as well as her wonderful husband, my Uncle Victor, I recall how incredibly adept they were at crossword puzzles. They would rip through the daily puzzles in the Chicago Tribune in mere minutes, all while maintaining their beautiful penmanship reminiscent of a pseudo Sanksrit font.
I, too, adopted this skill at a fairly young age, tiring quickly of the three panel cartoons, Dear Abby (for those of you who remember), and lousy horoscope predictions offered on the funny pages of the Trib or Sun Times. Nothing drove me more insane than finding the puzzle had been done by an older sister before I got to it. Only when Aunt Lily came for an extended stay with us, I marveled at watching her blast through the puzzle, and happily deferred to her to have the first crack at it. (three letter word for expert*)
By college I graduated to the NY Times daily puzzles which all aficionados knew grew increasingly difficult from Monday’s puzzle to Friday’s. At The Surf, an old diner where we Theatre School kids lunched, several of us would huddle around the puzzle over a typical lunch of french fries, coffee, and cigarettes. A painfully handsome and equally quiet fellow classmate showed himself to be a match for my skills, and soon we teamed up (“You do Down, I’ll do Across”) during those lunch breaks, which eventually lead to more than lunch- unfinished puzzles on the train ride home, then one last round at the bar.. equally puzzling, incomparably passionate as young love often is. Still, the crosswords remained, during hungover breakfasts, over drinks, and after the painful messy breakup, in a final meeting over dinner. When everything else fell apart, the crosswords proved to be a common uniting bond, the black and white tapestry in the sky of my life. (seven letter word for musical expression of love in the ’90’s*)
When the social media dating scene started cracking open in the early 2000’s, I refused to be a part of it. I hated the idea of putting myself out in that way, vulnerable to anyone and everyone desperately looking to connect. It felt inauthentic and forced. For fun, I joined the now defunct FRIENDSTER, and eventually was contacted by a man I didn’t know. He said, “HI.”
I said, “HI YOURSELF.” After a brief exchange, noting our common interests in books and music, we met for a friendly lunch. After a few of these meetings, wouldn’t you know it—the crossword puzzles began to appear at our lunch table. Not just the NYTimes puzzles, but the Sunday Magazine version. The Big One. Themed. That which was a gateway to many other challenging themes we took on—team work, relinquishing control, and in the end, gratitude, trust, and for God’s sake, a little sense of humor. Sensing the pattern, I knew that whenever a crossword appeared to me, it signaled love. That Man would later become my Husband, Father to my child, and lifelong partner in solving puzzles. (seven letter word for spouse*)
The satisfaction of completing a crossword remains, to me, unmatched by any other pleasure for the wordsmith or problem solver. It serves as an opiate, an innocent addiction, a balm for the sin sick soul, a straight shot to the vein for those who are at their best responding to crisis.Sometimes it can even act as a badge of honor and flexed set of muscles, such as on plane rides when I pride myself in blazing through the crossword in the airline magazine before takeoff while onlookers give me the side eye. It’s more than knowing the answer. It’s part secret language/inside joke for the enthusiast. The formulas and patterns are a very special kind of diversion for those literate enough to know who Will Shortz is. Ask me if you don’t. I’ll give you a hint. (six letter word for proofreader*)
(pro) (mixtape) (husband) (editor)