May 25, 2021
I have been diligently filling out crossword puzzles for the last 25 years. I have taken the newspaper as one of my work expenses to keep abreast of the local news. As I have moved from town to town and state to state the two constants of the newspaper have been the comics and the crossword. While the comic section of the various papers tends to vary depending on which conglomerate is printing the news, the crossword does not seem to change (at least I do not recognize it). That similarity has allowed me to become very good at “doing” this daily task.
I used to be proud of my ability to complete the crossword. Several people have watched me complete the puzzle and commented on how I fill it out in pen. I have never been that fond of pencils. When I did work in several archives, I knew they were essential as the graphite is “acid free” and will not damage the aging paper. The other advantage is you can erase any unwanted marks left by careless researchers. The pens I prefer are more precise and easier to read, and my papers are on their way to recycling anyway. While you cannot erase an ink mistake, I rarely make one. I have found that when I do make a mistake, the pen allows me to overwrite the correct letter into the grid. My sister-in-law commented on my use of a pen the other day and I responded, “Yes, and while the puzzle is usually rated at over 23 minutes to complete, I generally finish in just over 10.” I hope I did not sound too smug.
The Sunday paper has a bonus with additional crossword puzzles. One of these is from the New York Times. These are more difficult and often use words that I do not recognize even when I complete them. The crossword is on the top half of the page and the answers are on the bottom half. Melissa thinks I am cheating, but after wracking my brain as long as I can, I will flip the page to find the answer. My thought is this allows me to know the answers when they are repeated in another crossword. When I finally began work on last Sunday’s crossword, I flipped the page as usual to find the answer grid was blank, just like the puzzle itself. That meant there were not answers. I did not fill the crossword out.
Thoughts: The reason I said I used to be proud of my ability is I have come to realize this is an antiquated skill. I tell myself completing the crossword is keeping my mind sharp (and it may be), but the reality is rapidly completing the crossword only means that I am good at recalling the answers for the clues I have encountered over the last 25 years. Being good at doing my crossword is like my ability to remember trivia. It is great for party games but has little utility for life. I have heard despair over the loss of ability to tell time on a clock face or read cursive writing. While these were essential learning in my Grade School, they are no longer being taught. Cursive writing was developed to ease fatigue of the writer’s hands and wrist as well as conserve ink when using the pens prior to invention of the ballpoint. Now most people have digital clocks and write with keyboards. While we no longer use Olde English, there are still those who can understand and read the texts. The same will become true with cursive writing. Things change. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.