We love crossword puzzles. They were a comforting friend and welcome bit of normalcy throughout the pandemic lockup. We had no idea that crosswords were once touted as an antidote to dementia. Wow. But, not true. Yet, some researchers think doing crosswords can delay cognitive decline by a few years. Yes! Many believe that working a puzzle daily helps keep our brains active, improves memory, and builds vocabularies. We’ll settle for that. They certainly helped ward off Covid boredom. Less time to be irritated and, well, use cross words.
Science also confirms that solving a puzzle in a group strengthens social bonds. We have no shame. We’ve asked bartenders, fellow diners, and middle-seaters, among others, if they can help us with an answer. And, no fellow “crossworder” is a stranger. One of our favorite stories involves a group of old men (we were much younger then!) at McDonald’s. We asked if they wanted a crossword puzzle answer they were struggling with. From that day on, they called us the “Crossword Ladies.” We all met around the same time on Saturdays to tackle a puzzle. This relationship developed into true friendships way beyond “words.”
We are so glad that Sunday dinner is back on the agenda. It is de rigor to do a puzzle at our family dinners. The kids were introduced at an early age to the joys and aggravations of the puzzle. They love crosswords! Also, luckily their brides either embrace or tolerate the puzzle. Once we complete it, we google a blog written by an English professor under the pseudonym Rex Parker. He opens by addressing the relative difficulty of the puzzle. Then he comments on the puzzle’s theme, where he stumbled, and what he found annoying. The annoying part is the most entertaining. If you need to cheat, you’ve got all the answers from Rex.
Success with the puzzle is definitely improved by the various generations at the table! Take one recent puzzle. Who our age knows the name of a basketball game in an arcade? Pop-A-Shot? Huh?? Do any of us know what Sta4nce is? Can’t even give you a definition after googling it. But, we oldies nailed a number of answers unknown to the younger crowd. For example, they were clueless about the name of the heavy metal band that earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Black Sabbath! Ozzy Osbourne rose to prominence during the 1970s as their lead vocalist.
If it weren’t for grandchildren we might not know Olaf, the friendly snowman in Disney’s Frozen franchise. There are techies in the family who help with answers beyond the obvious word “byte.” And, some who know many of the sports answers as that is certainly not our forte! Superman and Batman have been minimized by so many more superheroes that we have difficulty keeping up. Not to mention the villains. While we took four years of Latin, it’s more likely French or Spanish answers the puzzles want. We are pretty good with the gods and goddesses and mythology stuff. Forget questions about recent movies. Most are simply not made for our demographic.
We find some clues silly, yet very hard. Queen Anne’s lace? The answer is “hers”? What? And, speaking of improving vocabularies, where else would we learn that a pismire is an ant or the source of the word pissant, a pejorative. Or that an ort is a scrap of food.
Another distraction for crossword fans and others is Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Crossword Mystery movies. Crossword puzzle editor Tess Harper always finds herself swept into the investigation of a bizarre murder and unofficially teams up with Detective Logan O’Connor to find the killer.
Let’s close with a little history. Although similar word games can be traced back to Pompeii, the first known published crossword puzzle was created by a Liverpool journalist and appeared in the New York World on December 21, 1913. An opinion column followed in The New York Times calling crossword puzzles “a primitive sort of mental exercise” and a “sinful waste” of time. However, just two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the NYT Sunday editor sent a memo to the publisher saying, “We ought to proceed with the puzzle, especially in view of the fact it is possible there will now be bleak blackout hours—or if not that then certainly a need for relaxation of some kind or other.” Guess we can all appreciate that take after the last year.
So, our wrinkled Wisdom for today? Create a crossword group like a book club! Meet once a week with friends and do a puzzle. You don’t have to read the assigned book to have fun. It’s immediate gratification. It’s cerebral. It provokes fun conversations about clues and answers. Everyone can participate. Do buy erasable pens, which are a thing. Mistakes happen. And, best of all, the puzzles come in large print!