In Defense of The NY Times Crossword Puzzle

I love The New York Times, but these days, I dread reading the paper. Although the headlines are not always about Trump’s catastrophic political decisions, the world often feels like a dark and sinister place. The events in Charlottesville, the recent hurricane in Texas and the missile launch over Japan make my morning cup of Utica Buzz taste all the more bitter.

However, I have recently found solace in on the second page of the Times’ Arts section, home to the crossword puzzle. Much to the amusement of my friends (and the perplexed pride of my parents), I have become a daily devotee of Will Shortz. At first, I was terrible at completing the puzzles and, quite honestly, my skills remain adequate at best, but in time and with practice, I’ve grown more familiar with the wording of the clues. “El Niño” is almost always in the Monday puzzle (which I can now complete by myself in a little under thirty minutes – look out Bill Clinton!), and Lena Dunham of Girls is often the answer to a clue on Tuesdays. As the week progresses, the clues become “punnier,” the answer often coming from a lesser-known meaning of the prompting word or phrase.

Part of my fascination with the crossword puzzles is their ability to bring people together. My mother, despite our obvious biological ties, comes from a generation far removed from my own, but she is thrilled to answer my calls about the crossword. I am not at all equipped to answer the sports questions, but she reliably and impressively answers them with unnerving accuracy. Even my friends, who lovingly tease that I am 19 going on 90, can be goaded into aiding me on the more difficult questions. After continued pestering, they respond to my constant inquiries, even though crosswords do not typically pique the interest of college students.

I was not wrong earlier: the world is often brutal and cold, bringing misfortune to those who deserve it least. Print journalism is dying, the earth is dying and even bees are dying at an alarming rate. When I think about all of it at once, my head and my heart simultaneously ache. Despite this, I love the crossword puzzle because it is an excuse to retreat into my own mind, a way of testing how much I know and how much I have yet to learn. When I look at the small, bolded black numbers that denote the clues, I feel an incontestably nerdy rush of exhilaration. 

Perhaps the organized and linear structure of the puzzle gives me a sense of control and order, or perhaps I am comforted by the knowledge that, if I work hard enough, I can eventually complete it. Maybe it is because I know the entire puzzle and its component parts will fit together in a perfect, logical and orderly way. Although the weight of the world inevitably comes crashing down on my shoulders, the crossword puzzle provides me with a feeling of hope. The world will keep turning, the birds will keep chirping, the bees will multiply and the crossword puzzle will still await me in the Arts section, patiently waiting to be solved.

Contact Laura Mucha at [email protected].