Saturday, June 6, 2009

26 Across

You know what that picture is? It's a little slice of hell. Something I'm still working on.

It's what my father used do every Sunday while laying on the couch when I was growing up. It's what old people do to pass the time, to pretend they're keeping their brains sharp. Obscure puzzlers that keep you away from your family for hours, causing little kids to sulk off and curse The New York Times for ever publishing such a family wrecker.

What 10-year old kid can bond with his father over a crossword puzzle? They've got clues in French, for god's sake! Like "69 Down: Je ne ___ quoi." Yeah, after three years of French class in high school I could answer that. But it was too late, I was already 18. Who cared about the old man by then?

I swore I would never be like my dad. But over the years things changed. For example, to pass the time commuting back and forth on the train I found myself pulling out the Monday crossword puzzle and trying to do it.

For the most part, after picking up on the Times' clue patterns, I could complete it. And it felt good. I would try and have it finished before my train got to my station. It was a curious challenge that made the ride go faster.

That's how it started, how I got sucked in. You begin with the easy ones and soon your craving the hard stuff.

Over the years I would move on to the other days of the week. Soon enough, Monday through Wednesday became a breeze. Thursday through Saturday were still challenging not only because of the advanced clues but because there were more pages in the newspaper to get through before I could get to the puzzle. I looked at the crossword as a treat after reading the international and national news pages. A little reward for broadening my horizons. I made a pretty good show on those grids when I got to them. But to be honest, I pretty much skip Fridays and Saturdays nowadays.

But Sunday, oh man, that one is the holy grail. It took a number of years for me to even consider pulling out the Sunday magazine section and trying the mother of all puzzles. After all, that bastard had scarred me all those years before.

But I began to lose my fear of the old grey lady's Sunday hold over me. I started slow with her trying to understand her secret codes, her special language.

If I could get answers to at least one quarter of the puzzle, I felt an accomplishment. But I pushed harder over the weeks and months and soon I was completing half the puzzle, then three quarters of it. And finally one day, I did the whole damn thing.

Penning in (yes, I do her in ink) that last letter was like crossing the line at a marathon (which I've never done or attempted to try). I wanted to jump for joy (except I was in bed and it was 2am). I wanted to share what I accomplished with someone. But really, who do bring that kind of stuff up to? Who cares?

It's a lonely course one follows when one decides to devote themselves to the crossword. It's monk-like.

As I lay on my couch this weekend starting another Sunday edition, my daughter snuck up in front of me and tore the magazine out of my hand.

"It's a beautiful day. You should be outside," she said.

Perhaps it was the steely glare I gave her, or the threat I threw out: "Give it back or die!" She ended up just dropping it on the ground and walking away.

"Whatever, loser."

I quickly scarfed up that beautifully weighted magazine section that curls so nicely in my grip and thought about a 26 letter word for where I was at that point in my life.


  1. I really like this one... great ending... Yup. 4-letter word for Dante's abode...

  2. I have to admit to doing a fair number of crossword puzzles in recent years. I'm told the sundays are just about as hard as the thursdays. But them fridays and saturdays are damn hard!