I expect it’s been 40 years now of an every Sunday tradition of working on the Sunday crossword puzzle. I probably got it from my mother, who, when I visited her home in later years, had what seemed to be a dozen sections of newspaper on the stand by her chair, quarter folded with the crossword puzzle exposed, and a pen lying on top, waiting to be picked up and worked on when things got slow, or when she was watching a Sunday golf tournament. I also think I got the habit of always using a pen to do the puzzle – it was unspoken, but it seemed to be a real symbol of making a commitment. If you can erase your crossword answer, then why write it down in the first place? Of course, using a pen never meant an insurance against writing the wrong word in, and Mom’s puzzles, like mine, on certain Sundays could turn into a scratched out mess if you headed down the wrong path…
Usually, when I got home from church and had a break for a few hours before having to go back again for evening activities, after lunch, I would take the puzzle and a pen, and work on it until the pen dropped out of my hand in the first stages of falling asleep. I’d then take a nap, pick up the puzzle and try once again to finish it.
Nowadays with the paper only delivered twice a week here in Fargo, instead of paying for a subscription, I can simply find the puzzle online, and print it off. Cheri has picked up the hobby as well, so on Sunday mornings, I’ll run off two copies and we will sit across from each other at the dining room table, working to solve today’s prepared enigma. Now, I dearly love my wife, but it’s taken a fair amount of work to get her to ask about a question or clue in a specific way. You see, it’s one thing to ask, “What did you get for 64 down?” and the person answering can ask in return “Did you get an answer for that?” It’s quite another thing to ask, “Did you get ‘carnivore’ for 64 down?” when the person across from you at the table may have not even gotten to 64 down yet, and now has no opportunity to try to answer the crossword question on his own…
But it’s a nice quiet Sunday morning way to greet the week, especially since in retirement, I am no longer required to either drive 2-3 hours to a church service that far away that begins at 9am, or to have to be at a church to get things set up myself by around 7am. It’s much nicer to let someone else have the fun in taking care of that part of ministry. No – I really don’t miss that one slight little tiny of an iota bit. At all.
The thing I have come to learn about crossword puzzles – especially the Sunday ones, which often have a theme, or tricky longer answers, is that it’s not a matter of being brilliant, or having a huge vocabulary. Now, that can be helpful, especially when the clue is particularly obscure. However, I think something else has a more powerful lock on whether your crossword puzzling is going to be a success on any given Sunday.
I think it really depends on who you are, and who has written the puzzle in the first place. That is, I have done some puzzles that would be seen a rather hard and advances, and been able to do them quite rapidly, while others that to a normal eye would seem pretty elementary, and I can’t solve them to save a nickel…
I’ve discovered, as you may have as well, if you are a crosswordian, that it matters how close like the puzzle maker your own mind is built. The times when I can fly through the puzzle, it seems that the author built the thing with the clues whose answers were in my mind already. When we are both thinking in the same direction, making the same connections with the clues and the answers, it’s fun to quickly answer 10-12 clues right in a row. We are on the “same page” literally.
However, and it has happened plenty of times, I can read a clue in one puzzle, and have not the foggiest idea what the answer might be. It’s as if the author has a completely different mindset and even different pattern of making and answering clues. Now, crossword puzzles are by nature meant to be “puzzling,” and have more than one possible answer to a clue, but of course, only one answer is the right one. But like I said, there are times when my words and my thoughts, and my clue-solving process is so far off from the puzzler that I’m tempted to give up. Those are not good Sunday mornings…
It’s a matter of breaking the code. I expect you already know where I am heading with this. A crossword puzzle is a metaphor for much in our lives. When we are faced with puzzles that come before us in those daily “things” we do, when we are able and willing to be thoughtful about solving them, we usually can do a pretty good job, and find our way with only minimal occasions of having to scratch out a wrong answer and try again. Of course, when we give ourselves over to acting accidentally in life, just writing down the first thing that comes to mind and just hoping it’s the right answer, what we will usually quickly figure out is that we just make a mess of the puzzle and the day, and perhaps relationships along the way. That’s a waste of time, and we are far better off not getting out of bed in the first place…
Of course, I have to admit that there are those times and circumstances when you do try hard, and are thoughtful and working to find the right answer to a puzzle, but your mind and heart are trying to solve it in a way that runs differently than what the puzzle requires. You are just not going to get there on your own.
Then – it’s nice to have someone sitting across the table from you. Perhaps someone with a different perspective, a different history – even a different way of solving a process. They may not always be right, but at least you can talk it over, and see what the next answer might be, on your way to getting through the puzzle, getting through the day, getting through a period of uncertainty, with lots of little squares still not filled in.
Enjoy the puzzles that come in your life, even if you didn’t choose them in the first place. Give a little cheer when you find the right answer, but don’t be discouraged if they sometimes take a while to bubble up inside your brain. After all – that’s why they call them puzzles…
Sayings for the day: Here are two that I enjoy:
Lazy is a very strong word. I like to call it “selective participation.”
Don’t blame a clown for acting like a clown. Instead, ask yourself why you keep going to the circus..
Enjoy your day!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.