Crossword Contemplation

Scrabble, word searches, acrostics. I’ve played them all. Magnetism exists in letter boards and spaces, clues and calibrated game points. They beckon and I’m compelled to fill in blanks, circle words, rearrange letters, or discover phrases.

Word puzzles stimulate my brain. They cause me to seek existential abstracts and their corresponding resolutions, or they flummox me by taking me to places where nothing makes sense. The games lead me to the edge of leisure’s uppermost atmosphere where all combinations of letters, phrasings, and associations coalesce.

But it’s the crossword puzzle that propels me past all that and into the Valhalla of locution.

So what is about crossword puzzles? What happens when my eye meets the empty grid of black and white squares and the clue list beside it?

Working a crossword puzzle is a solitary endeavor. I work them in the quiet of my home. Or I carve out an inner sanctuary in places filled with other people– airports, waiting rooms, lobbies. This tendency to remove myself from social influence may be construed as anti-social. Perhaps so. It’s difficult to explain why I can sit for hours caught up in filling out little boxes with letters.

Solving crossword puzzles is a mystical experience, an interactive mind-body-paper-pencil meditation that reduces stress in my life. As I begin, I sense the endorphins in my brain releasing their calm. My body relaxes. My mood changes. My breathing slows as I peer across the page. I scan the clues. I concentrate. I start the puzzle.


1. Fred Astaire’s first dancing partner

8. Riga’s country


2. He wrote the Maltese Falcon


I continue. Seventy clues across, sixty-four down. I don’t know all the answers but I’ll take my time and link letters together until it’s done. Or until I finish as much of it as I can with the knowledge I have.

In essence, there are times I need diversion and ways to cope with the pressures that bog me down and impede the fulfillment of my goals and responsibilities.

Simple concept:

Let go of what stresses me for a bit.

Switch focus.

Engage in an enjoyable or challenging activity for a while.

Emerge refreshed.

Return to original task–job, kids, travel, peace negotiations, national security, etc.

The process is contemplative. I find I can broaden or change my perspectives in ways that are simple, enjoyable, and knowledgeable anytime, anywhere. Puzzle answers are not always obvious. Sometimes I’m forced to think outside the little squares. Is a BMT a Subway sandwich or an old New York City subway line?

Find the correct context and the answer becomes obvious.

Context within a crossword puzzle is the overlapping of letters in two or more words. Thus, in reference to the clues above the answers appear:









And so it goes.

My love of crossword puzzles is a commitment. I go nowhere without a puzzle handy. I’ve been known to peruse the puzzle sections of bookstores for the perfect ones. There’s need over preference here. Too easy puzzles bore. Too hard, they erode confidence or cause me to chea– (ahem) learn.

I need puzzles that challenge my cognitive skills, memory, and knowledge all at the same time. And I have an allegiance to specific publications, (e.g., The New York Times) and puzzle masters (e.g., Will Shortz.) This allows me a level of comfort and expectation. Puzzles are not equal in size, scope, situation, or setting.

Puzzles tend to reflect specific locales. I once attempted to solve one in a London newspaper. Disaster. I was unfamiliar with the nuances of the Queen’s English. Perhaps in time I’ll develop a cozier relationship with British vernacular and culture. Good objective for future crossword ventures. International crossword puzzle solver. Sounds pretty cool.

As a crossword puzzler, I admit to sometimes viewing myself as an information reservoir. My intellect is a cistern that catches bits and pieces of details and stores them like rainwater. And when I need it, the information flows –items, issues, descriptions, customs, literary and movie trivia, culture, traditions, colors, shapes.

Free-floating concepts transform into interconnected words, one letter at a time, one space at a time.

Most challenging “cerebrations.”

7 thoughts on “Crossword Contemplation

  1. Beautifully written and so enjoyable to have this peak into what crossword puzzles mean to you. My Dad did the New York Times puzzle along with the word jumble in the local paper almost every day until he passed at almost 96 yrs. As a kid I would watch him with a pipe in his mouth and a pencil in his hand and it was calming to both of us.

    Thanks for sharing this entertaining and enlightening post with us.


    1. What a sweet, touching memory, Bigi. I didn’t think about the calm that radiates out to others. So glad my own experience connected with yours. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. I really enjoy this piece about crosswords puzzles Joann. You somehow managed to describe crosswords in a very lyrical way. As a fellow puzzle enthusiast, I understood perfectly what you meant by “existential abstracts and their corresponding resolutions.” So beautifully poetic! Did you ever try constructing? I recently constructed my first puzzle, and while I had fun, it was a whole other experience… Definitely not as relaxing as solving.


    1. Hi Veronica, Thank you for your kind words about my post and about my writing. And congratulations on your own puzzle development.I have not attempted to construct a crossword puzzle, myself. I’ve thought about it, though. It’s a definite challenge. Perhaps one day– For now, I really love the pull of the puzzles of others.


    1. Thank you for the reblog on
      Veronica. I really appreciate your sharing this essay. It’s one of my favorites. A challenge to write.


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