Harold started doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. He didn’t know, when he started, that it would become a favorite activity. All his life he had avoided doing the NYT puzzle, but he also realized he envied others who could do – who would do – the NYT puzzle. What made them better than him? Smarter, more intellectual than he was? He wanted to do it.
He started with the Monday. Anyone could do the Monday NYT puzzle, he told himself. The puzzles got harder through the week, Monday being easiest, Saturday being hardest. He always thought Sunday was the hardest, being at the end of the week, but his neighbor Alan told him one day that Sunday was on about a par with Thursday – just longer. After he heard that, Harold found himself agreeing with Alan, even though his perception may have been influenced by Alan’s words and the implied “closed club” that doing the NYT crossword represented.
Monday wasn’t too bad, and at first, he could only get to Wednesday before finding the puzzle too hard. But still he went on; it was like pumping iron – you start with a 5-pound weight and eventually you’re up to 20 pounds or more. Basics, four letters – “ABCs.” French first name in fashion – “Yves.” Bronte governess – “Eyre.”
Sometimes the word came to him before he knew why – and it was exhilarating when the right word struck him immediately. Proper name clues stumped him more often than not, it was true, and especially sports stars. He didn’t follow baseball or any of the major sports. Abbreviated sports team name clues were especially baffling.
Nevertheless, he persevered. After several months he was making it through Thursday’s puzzle regularly. Sometimes he even got through most of the Friday puzzle before it defeated him, and he usually found it was possible to solve many of the Saturday clues. Harold felt a neat sense of order as he progressed through the week, trying his hand at each day’s puzzle.
The thing is, Harold couldn’t exactly point to what had improved in his puzzle-solving abilities. Sure, he might have seen more words since he started, but it didn’t seem like a significant number of words were repeated from one puzzle to another. Slowly he recognized his way of thinking had changed. He would turn over a clue in his mind – was it a verb? noun? was it two words making up the answer instead of one?
He still quavered at the sight of very long answer spaces – shorter word answers seemed less daunting – but he was delighted by the feeling of trying a word or phrase from many angles, like a diamond gemstone, until he found the way that fit.
And that turned out to be the best satisfaction of all.