I have just a few moments ago finished solving the Tuesday crossword puzzle in the New York Times. It was a struggle. But there was the satisfaction that I’d been able to work through a morning incapacitation of my brain. I tapped my head. It sounded woody. But, struggle or not, it is a routine I’ve come to enjoy.
I do the NYT puzzle almost every morning, usually first thing, seated in my comfy chair by the dining room windows. At my side there is a cup of heavy black coffee. Usually the java is placed on a stone coaster on a nearby table — unless my elderly cat Obie needs space and objects with a squawky meow. Then I take a risk and move the cup to the arm rest. In the far bathroom, I hear Nebra getting ready for work, radio tuned in softly to NPR.
Aaah, the routine of it all!
The theme of today’s puzzle, “interior designer,” did not strike home until it was all over. The answers contained the names of famous designers. Like the answer “barn animals” with “Armani” in the middle, or, aha, the interior of “designer.” Clever, clever.
Other woes: Who was the Queen of Sparta?” Well, I didn’t need to know “Leda” because I was able to answer the surrounding clues. Another was the clue, “Any of the Filipinas.” First thinking it was a female living in the Philippines, I jotted down “ella.” I eventually realized the puzzle constructor wanted the country itself, a land of islands. So I changed it to “isla,” Spanish for island. Well, I had two letters right. But it is messy that way. I do my puzzles in ink pen. They look nice only if I don’t make mistakes.
A tangential reward is discovering facts you can not live without. Like the origins of the popular 1980s band, REO Speedwagon. Or who the hell is Aaron Sorkin? I now know that the REO Speedwagon was named after a popular vehicle prior to WWII. And the “REO” stands for the company’s founder, Ransom Eli Olds, of Oldsmobile fame.
Sorkin, I learned, is the playwright who created Broadway’s “A Few Good Men.” He sold the film rights, and it became a successful movie with Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. I now know the plot came from a phone conversation with Sorkin’s sister, a lawyer who was representing two soldiers in a hazing incident at Gitmo. To what parts of my mind this stuff has been disseminated, I haven’t a clue.
Although The Times, publishes the solved puzzle the next day in a corner of the new one, I do not have to wait nearly that long to check my answers. I can find them on the Internet as early as one minute after midnight and no later than 7 a.m. of the same day. Rex Parker, who describes himself as “the 9th Greatest Crossword Solver in the Universe!” is my go-to guy. He lives in Binghamton, NY, I believe. His blog is entertaining, even if you don’t come away with the smug feeling of having solved the puzzle.
I remember doing crosswords as early as my college days. In the fog of time, I see myself sitting in the Student Union over lunch, doing a puzzle in the college newspaper, sometimes after reading the editor’s column, “Infallible Fallacies.” And, yes, swilling coffee but no cat to boss me around. So the crossword habit has enveloped me with its charms for many years.
I have often thought of trying to create my own puzzles. But that is a lot of work and the pay for constructors, about $200 a puzzle or $1,000 for the Sunday puzzle in the New York Times Magazine, does not measure up to even my simple lifestyle.
An average solver. That’s how I rate myself. Shouldn’t I be better after all this passage of time?
The NYT puzzles, edited by the veteran Will Shortz, are the best in the business and get harder to solve as the week goes along. By Saturday I’ve been brought to my knees.
Oh, the anguish!
There must be better ways to start the day. I don’t have all the answers to that either.