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A Cross [Word] to Bear » Jolana Malkston
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Sep 022014

Jolana Malkston 4It happened gradually, this addiction to crossword puzzles. It sneaked up on me while I was unaware. Before I knew it, I was hooked.

I suppose the seeds of my addiction were planted subconsciously as I listened to New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz and his word games on NPR every Sunday morning while I got ready for church. I played along and didn’t do half-badly. I didn’t do half-goodly either, but I did enjoy it. Boredom and the preservation of sanity proved to be the fertilizer that helped to grow the addiction to full flowering.

Newspaper Crossword 1Following surgery, I developed postoperative complications that landed me back in the hospital. There isn’t much to do when one is laying flat on one’s back in a hospital bed for two and a half weeks. I read all the books Macho Guy brought to me, and then I was at the mercy of The Tube. Boredom set in rather quickly, and loss of sanity threatened to follow on boredom’s heels. Trust me when I say that one can watch only a limited number of daytime television talk or reality shows before tearfully begging to be transferred to the psych ward.

Macho Guy began leaving the newspaper behind for me after his daily visits. Grasping at whatever straws promised the retention of sanity, I solved the paper’s crossword puzzle. It felt good to let my brain cells feast on something challenging after hours of feeding them mindless broadcast drivel. I looked forward to my daily vocabulary romp. I mentioned my newfound fascination with crossword puzzles to Macho Guy and asked for more puzzles to solve. He obliged by showing up for his next visit with an armful of puzzle books.

Macho Guy became my enabler. Crossword puzzle books showed up as stocking stuffers every Christmas from then on. Macho Guy spread the news to other family members who presented me with puzzle books for birthdays and Mother’s Day. They became my favorite gifts to receive—second only to dark chocolate.

After a while, I noticed that each crossword puzzle author has his own shtick—something or someone who appears in his puzzles on a regular basis. There is one who always manages to get part of Mao Tse Dung’s name in just about every puzzle. Another seems fascinated with Ché Guevara. A less revolutionary but more literary type always makes room for Charles Lamb’s alter ego Elia. Another favors including the names of iconic movie stars of filmdom’s golden age. [That is to say iconic stars—like Gable and Lombard, Tracy and Hepburn—who performed in films before spectacular overblown special effects overshadowed the actors and became the biggest stars of motion pictures.]

The more obscure the clues, the more difficult the puzzle. In my opinion, some of those obscure clues reach beyond the reasonable—like the ninth and uncommonly used definition of a little-known word. As an English Major, I am loath to look up possible answers to the obscure clues. It’s a matter of pride. I would be breaking the unspoken covenant with the puzzle’s creator if I were to look up the answer to a clue. It would be no different than turning to the page on which the puzzle’s solution is printed. Cheating. That’s what it would be. Cheating, like copying someone else’s answers on a test. Unthinkable.

My self-righteousness didn’t last long. Yes, I cheated. You knew I would. Well, I had to. When I couldn’t figure out a clue, it drove me nuts and not only because I couldn’t complete the puzzle. I couldn’t get the darn clue out of my mind until I learned the answer. It was no different for me than when a song stuck in my mind and I couldn’t stop humming or singing it. Gahhhhh! So, I got out my trusty iPhone and found a crossword puzzle dictionary. Whenever necessary, I feed it the obscure clues and it spits out a list of possible answers from which I may choose. Instant relief is mine.

It was inevitable that one puzzle addiction would lead to another, like a gateway drug leads to the more powerful stuff. I discovered Jumble. 7 Little Words. Up & Down Words. Word Search. And even though I’m math challenged, I’ve succumbed to Sudoku. I’m sure there is an endless supply of puzzles to which I can become addicted. I just haven’t found them yet.

Right at this moment, a section of today’s newspaper containing the puzzle page rests on a tabletop a few feet away from me, and it is calling my name. I’d like nothing better than to drop everything and start solving all the puzzles, but when I’m done here, my unfinished manuscript has dibs on my time. The puzzle page will have to wait until I’m done writing for the day. ::sigh::

So tell me—is anyone else out there caught under the spell of an unsolved puzzle? Are you addicted to a different guilty pleasure? Post a comment and tell me all about it. I’m all ears. No, wait a sec. I’ll be reading it. Forget the ears. I’m all eyes. 🙂

  2 Responses to “A Cross [Word] to Bear”

  1. I love to play Solitaire when I need a brain break but I love the challenge of the Mahjong tiles. Mine are only online but it gives me a break from over thinking about things. I haven’t gotten into the crossword puzzle excitement yet.

  2. You never fail to entertain. Thanks for sharing. Crossword puzzles were my gateway. I also love, love, love the cryptograms. Have been known to spend days, yes days, in solving them. Alas, they are not as prevalent lately. Is the universe trying to tell me something I wonder?

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