I just noticed that I have been added to the sidebar at Rex Parker Does The NYT Crossword, a blog that tackles my the NYT XWord with far more skill and panache than I do — and wanted to direct anyone interested over there. If you like the puzzle at all, it’s worth a look. The drawings by Emily Cureton are pretty special as well.
In fact, I was thinking of entering the annual crossword tournament in Brooklyn just after reading the blog. On the same note, I took the annual Jeopardy! online test on Tuesday. It did not go so well.
I distinctly remember the fallout from this—”Rex Parker” himself (a pseudonym)—wrote a comment admonishing me to enter the tournament. I did not, partially because of the expense involved and partially because the train ride from Astoria to downtown Brooklyn is a pain in the ass, and one not worth it for someone of my skill level. The New York Times crossword puzzle gets harder as the week goes on, and at the time, it took me a long Saturday of staring into a mostly-blank grid, scouring through every esoteric index in my brain to fill even half the puzzle. Despite what sounds like a cordial and warming atmosphere, I would have been paying upwards of $200 to come and get squashed like bug.
Now, things have changed. I do the puzzle every day, and I’m okay enough not to feel like I’m throwing my money away. More importantly, I moved to within four blocks of the Brooklyn Marriott, which hosts the convention. It was a complete coincidence, as far as you know.
What I’ve learned about the puzzle, though, goes beyond common answers like golfers Ernie Els and Isao Aoki, who were blessed to be born with short, vowel-started last names. Last year my grandfather died, which was kind of expected and kind of surprising. He was 90 years old and had lived through a long list of illnesses that never outwardly bothered him. He just kept pulling through and pulling through, and it never seemed like the last time was ever at hand.
Well, the two things I remember about my grandfather is that he was always doing crossword puzzles and taught me how to play chess. Not only that, but the only time I would play chess was with him—I love the game, but it’s hard for me to reconcile the intimacy of the game with non-family members. I can play my brothers, but if I play someone else, it’s uncomfortable. I’d rather beat their ass in Scrabble, or get my clock cleaned in checkers.
When my grandfather was not playing chess, though, he annihilated crossword puzzles. He was a quiet, mischievous WWII veteran and I’m a babbling, occasionally bumbling post-Draft city boy, and I have the exact same hobby. It’s certainly not an intentional homage (as much as I love my grandfather); it’s just something I love to do. To that end, I get upset whenever I hear crosswords or their constructors described in critical terms, which can happen. Everything that has an obsessive subculture can foster these sorts of things, and in truth, it probably makes the end product better over the long run. But for me, puzzles have always been about joy, and I think most puzzle lovers are in my camp. This year, I’m going to find out for certain. I’ll be the guy at the tournament with the smile on my face from start to finish. I probably won’t be the only one.
If any of the readers of this blog also like crosswords, today’s NYT puzzle is one of the finest Sunday puzzles I’ve ever seen and well worth your time, FWIW, and the partial inspiration for this post.