Four Things I Know Doing Crossword Puzzles In Ink

A messy , but completed, crossword puzzle.

A messy completed crossword puzzle.

It gets messy.

There are scratch-outs and write-overs and margin-scribbles. Some of the little square boxes, originally white, now are so intensely filled that only I can tell what letter I have ultimately figured out is the right one.

And that’s the way I like it. Doing my puzzles in ink, I see every step I have taken, every twist and turn and wrong approach. No nice clean erasures.

Those scrawls are what I look on fondly and with immense satisfaction as I review the completed challenge. Those scrawls are where I learn.

It has only been for the last year or so that I have been a daily crossword puzzle zealot. I had been known to take a puzzle magazine with me on a poolside vacation and I have killed some time post-surgery with goofy Cryptic Crosswords. But the obsession to solve everything that the Tribune throws at me, including 3 challenges on Sunday, erupted out of nowhere. And of course, it is a nice distraction during the COVIDaplooza.

And while I have been at it, I have learned a few problem-solving tools;  tools that are helpful in more than just the crosswords. They help with solving real-life problems too.

  1. Look for a way in: Sometimes at first glance, the puzzle will seem overly difficult, filled with clues I have no idea about–things like opera and Australian geography or Ethiopian pronouns. But with a little digging, I can usually find a clue or two that makes sense. Maybe it is a simple fill-in-the-blank. Or an easy reference to Mel Ott, the old-time Giants outfielder who is a crossword creator’s favorite shortie. Fill in enough of those, and the trickier ones become easier. Same with any problematic task–figure out what you know, then use that to work on what you don’t.
  2. Find the fork in the road, and take it: Is the right answer to “Long forgotten President” with 8 letters, when you know the last letter is “n” Harrison, or is it Buchanan? Don’t spend forever dithering. Pick one and see where it takes you. Undecided about which vendor to buy your supplies from? Sure, do your homework, but eventually, you’ve got to choose. You can always backtrack later–if you have to.
  3. You may be right, I may be crazy: I could swear that the answer to “The album with the song “Just You ‘n’ Me” at 10 Down is “Chicago XI.” But maybe, just maybe, it is really “Chicago VI.” So get rid of that misplaced “X” and swap in the “V.”  All of a sudden it all makes more sense. And maybe that prostate cell I was convinced was a cancer cell isn’t. All of a sudden the diagnosis of benign atrophy becomes much clearer. Let’s do a special stain to prove it.
  4. Love your messes: Every messy square on the finished puzzle is one I struggled over. But in the end, I got it right. Just as every step we take in initiating some new testing may be messy. Time frames are relative, supplies ephemeral, especially in this resources-limited COVIDenvironment. But if in the end when we can look back and say we did it, the previous messes make it all the more rewarding.

So keep on plugging and solving and giving your all. Don’t erase your mistakes-remember them. And we will get this right.


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