There are few things that have been more elusive in my life than the ability to finish a crossword puzzle.
I’ve been doing crossword puzzles since before high school, but I’ve probably only completed a dozen of them. I didn’t buy the newspaper when I lived in Philly, but my family does in Jersey, so I am now tempted daily by the little grids. I do all the other puzzles as well. Cryptoquote? Pshhht, like cake. Word Jumble? Conquered in record time. Even the Sudoku, which has those dreaded little things I despise called numbers, collapse under my pen.
But not the crosswords. No matter how much knowledge or vocabulary I collect, I can never figure out all the answers.
It’s always the same. I start off strong, tackling the top two squares, the bottom right or left and then the middle. But one corner of the grid always remains unfilled. Sometimes it’s only by a single answer. And maybe that answer is easy and I know it, but I just psyche myself out. Regardless, I refuse to look up answers or cheat.
In fact, I am particularly territorial with my puzzles. I used to do them in my first period honors physics class senior year of high school (because who the hell wants to do physics at 8 a.m.?). That class was full of some of the smartest students in my year, and they’d always sneak peeks at my paper to try to figure out the answers. Instead of accepting their help, I treated them like they were trying to cheat on a test, crossing my elbow over the puzzle to shelter it from their gaze. Of course, the white squares remained incomplete, but I preferred to fail on my own than succeed with the help of others.
I started realizing the other day that it may be a good thing that I always try to do the crosswords despite sure failure. It’s some mixture of stubbornness and determination that keeps me coming back. Maybe that’s what helps me in other areas of my life when people say, “You can’t,” and I say, “But I can try.”
So I will continue to do the crossword puzzles, even if I never master them regularly. In the meantime, I’m maybe helping to ward off Alzheimer’s, so that’s reason enough to keep at it.