I blame my parents.
As far back as I remember, every Sunday my parents did the crossword puzzle in the Minneapolis Tribune. Not only that, at some point during the week they bought the previous Sunday’s edition of what memory tells me was the New York Daily News simply to get that crossword.
I’ve done crosswords occasionally in my life, usually in streaks with years in between. I preferred Sunday puzzles probably because of my parents but they also have more opportunities if you’re stumped on a few words. With the New York Times Sunday crossword being the big kahuna, I worked those occasionally but very rarely managed to solve one completely.
Early this year, I was browsing a website of remaindered and other discount books and saw two books of 165 and 50 NYT Sunday crosswords for $2.99 and $1.99 respectively. What the hell, I thought, and added them to my “cart.” I occasionally worked one in bed when I didn’t feel like reading or couldn’t fall asleep. One weekend not that long ago, though, I picked up the larger collection from the bookshelves near my reading chair. I have become fixated, if not addicted. I tend to become spellbound and lose all track of time. To some extent, it’s akin to being totally engaged while reading. In fact, I’ve read a couple books about crosswords in the last month.
I also find following some perhaps quirky “rules.” Even if less than a handful of clues are unsolved, I don’t look at the answers. If I didn’t complete the puzzle I don’t see a purpose in filling it in. (But coming close creates a strong urge to jump right into the next one.) Use of any outside materials or the internet is verboten. What challenge is there in looking things up? And I try to first solve a word in one of the four corners of the puzzle and proceed solely from that point. I can rarely do it but at least want to try before looking at clues for words that don’t feed into the ones I’ve solved already.
With this approach, I solve maybe 1 puzzle out of every 8-10 and that frequently involves plenty of erasing and changing letters or words. I’ve improved as I’ve become familiar with some of the particular traits of Will Shortz-edited puzzles. But it’s hard for me to believe — puzzling you might say — that I’m often putting down a book to do a crossword or picking up the crossword compilation first.
I am a Times puzzle fan. I will solve, in a hotel, a USA Today, but I don’t feel good about myself when I do it.
Jon Stewart, Wordplay