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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

It may not surprise you that I like word games. Every weekend I play in a tournament with my Wordscapes team, which is a word scramble/crossword mashup. We play for the grand prize of absolutely nothing at all, but we all get very excited about it nonetheless.

And I just started playing Wordle recently, where you get six tries to guess a random six letter word, and all they tell you is what letters you guessed correctly and if they are in the right position. I avoided it for a long time, because it’s like the Farmville of the 20’s, where you needed an egg or a cow or something and you had to “ask your friends!” which meant your entire Facebook feed was people asking you for hay and tomato plants.

Wordle doesn’t ask you for anything but it engenders the same inexplicable mass hysteria. Just do your Wordle and go away. Don’t post your 897 4/6 grid every single day. Anyway I was mad at Wordle but then Ralph started doing it so now we do it every day and compare notes and never ever post it anywhere because we are not stupid.

Sorry, people who post Wordle.

Anyway, it’s maddening and hand-wringing and fun. And it led to other games, all of which are on the New York Times app where Wordle lives. The only problem is that unless you subscribe you only get the lame version. You get, for example, the “Daily Mini” which is a five-by-five crossword grid. It took me more time to figure out how to tap on the squares to get it to move horizontally and vertically than it did to solve the thing.

But it reminded me that I used to love doing crossword puzzles. Do you ever have a moment like that, where something comes to your attention that you haven’t thought of in eons, then suddenly remember how much you loved it and don’t know why you haven’t thought of it in eons? Sort of like it went into hibernation in a deep brain cell until something woke that memory up.

That’s what happened with the crossword puzzle. Long ago in a land far away, I’d do the Sunday crossword every week. My father would pick up the paper and my mother and I would pore over obtuse clues and pencil in little letters to work out the answers. This was pre-internet days when you couldn’t just google things like the name of Sporty Spice or Architect Saarinen (Eero. It’s Eero, and I know this very explicitly thanks to crosswords.)

The real brass ring was being able to finish the whole puzzle. We puzzled over puzzles for days, sometimes the whole week, until the answers came out the following week and we said OOOOOHHHHHH or HUH?????

When I went to college my parents cut them out and saved them for me until I came home. When I got married, my parents still clipped them every week and sent them to me. Eventually, though, crosswords faded away, and then everyone stopped getting newspapers and everything went online.

I’m going on record now and saying you can’t do a crossword online.

You need a newspaper and a pencil. You need to scritch little letters in boxes, but only lightly when you’re not sure, so you can test out your theories. You need to erase and try again. You need to furrow your brow and squint and quite possibly spill tea on the paper so everyone can jump for paper towels.

You need to read the comics and do the jumble and look at the book reviews to see if there are any books you really need. You have to ponder a three letter word for Before, poetically while you analyze the week’s weather.

It’s just how it works. It’s a process.

Ralph asked me why I stopped doing crosswords. I think in part it was because the process got interrupted. Our sepia-toned family Sundays were replaced by busy and college and work and outings and little things like getting married and moving out. I also think in part it’s for the very practical reason that I didn’t have a newspaper anymore.

This morning I was tired. Tired enough that I slept right through the 8:30 church bells, right through Ralph getting up and shutting the bedroom door behind him, and only woke up when I heard the squealing kachunk of the front door lock opening.

I couldn’t guess why the front door was opening. Nothing was on fire as far as I could tell, so why would Ralph open the door? I must have been a cat in a prior life because it was enough to get me out of bed. And when I did,┬áthere was a newspaper waiting there for me. With a crossword.

He had somehow gotten up, left the house, driven all over town for a newspaper, which is apparently harder to find than one might think, and come home without me noticing a thing until the second kachunk of the door lock.

It’s probably been 20 years since I did a real crossword, and today I did two.

As much as I have never been a huge Sunday fan, this one turned out pretty great. It was a delightful surprise to find the paper and delightful to remember how much I enjoy the crosswords. We spent the rest of the day watching football and not once did it bother either of us that the vacuum was still in the middle of the floor. I feel like I could do another Sunday.

The only question is… next week, will he bring me a cinnamon bun with my paper?

Photo: today’s puzzling activities. One puzzle successfully completed, one not so much.