You can judge your crossword puzzle a success by:
- Whether you were able to complete it
- How long it took you to complete it
- How many new words you learned along the way
- How many clues you correctly guessed from the letters you had in place (back solving or Jeopardy Crossword)
- How often you smiled at the puns imbedded in the clues and answers
- How many letters you crossed through and re-wrote or, to look at it another way, how pretty it was completed
- How often you had to ask for help (“solve this letter”)
- Whether you could do the puzzle on the computer and heard the “You’ve won!” chime or if it all had to be done on fanfare-less paper
- How many words you didn’t know and solved the puzzle anyway
- Whether you stumbled across words you loved but never thought you’d find in a crossword puzzle
- Whether the puzzle used as a clue your husband’s favorite Chinese dish or your favorite author or a saying you’d learned as a child
- Whether you experienced a moment when you saw the pattern of letters occurring repeatedly and felt like you were there with the author of the puzzle, drafting along with her
- Something you use to rate the success of your crossword puzzle that would never occur to me
Many years of my life were free from crossword puzzles. After a fellow student in law school, whom we called Mr. Chickensh!t, taught me about crosswords (me: “But that could mean either to run like a race or like run your hose”; him: “That’s the point”) I fell in love with the little buggers and did them faithfully, working my way up the NY Times ladder of skill until I could do Friday’s puzzle with ease (I never mastered the Sunday puzzle.) My favorite were “Goldilocks” puzzles: not too hard, not too easy. Just right.
Then something happened to my life. It cratered, and the crossword puzzle fell in the hole.
What got me back on the puzzle? I don’t know, but I found myself doing the puzzle in The Commercial Appeal, the paper in my new home of Memphis. The puzzle was very easy, which is how I devised the “Jeopardy” form of back-solving a puzzle—to make it a bit harder, I tried to guess the unfinished word and what I would use as a clue for such a word. Now I do the USA Today puzzle on my computer every night before bed; the pup knows it’s time to get in the chalet when the little man dings and swings from his rope, indicating completion. I am on a quest to solve a puzzle in less than 10 minutes; these are not hard puzzles. Yet, I do enjoy them.
“Enjoy them.” This second half of my puzzle life has been different from the first. I no longer measure success solely by whether I’ve correctly solved the puzzle, but use all the measures I’ve listed above. I’ve also become a puzzle slut, doing the USA Today puzzle nightly, but also the Commercial Appeal puzzle, both puzzles in the Times-Picayune—whatever puzzle I can get my hands on. From time to time I even stoop to doing the Jumble, the puzzle-solving equivalent of standing on the street corner, offering your time to whoever walks by with a twenty.
As my life path has unfurled, the path itself has dimmed. The edges of the defined way bleed into the forest; grass invades the formerly well-groomed lines. Not everything is as I was taught; happiness is mine to find where I may. Often, I find it in a puzzle.
Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love