I’ve slowly become a crossword enthusiast over the years. I don’t know if I’ll ever get good enough to attempt the ones in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but there is just something about filling in those little blank squares of a crossword puzzle that brings me a certain sense of peace and satisfaction.
I have many friends and family members who simply cannot relate to this. They cannot fathom why I would want to sit and stare at little black and white squares for hours picking away at strange clues–digits that really mean toes, picnic guests that are ants, and words that are simply not what they seem.
But word lovers everywhere know what I mean. They know the feeling that comes with solving the clues, the exhilaration of filling in that final blank space that completes the puzzle; and if you did it without help from your crossword dictionary or a clue from Google, this is certainly cause for celebration.
Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman of the Huffington Post says, “Every day, I do the New York Times crossword puzzle. It truly is a ritual for me, almost as sacred as Shabbat: Every night before going to bed, I load up the crossword on my phone or my computer, and try to plow through that mental challenge. I’ve discovered that there’s a deep satisfaction that goes far beyond filling in that last box to complete the puzzle.”
Research shows that people’s love for puzzles, in general, stems from many different reasons:
- Rising to a challenge
- Exploring language
- Proving something about yourself to yourself
- Demonstrating abilities to other solvers
- Expanding vocabulary
- Testing abilities
- Broadening general knowledge
- Playing with other solvers
- Competing in crossword tournaments
- Escaping boredom or depression
- Passing the time
- Learning something new
- Using wordplay to stay mentally alert
- Thinking outside the box by thinking inside the box
- Improving memory
- Having fun
And forget the myth that you have to be a wizard to decipher a crossword. “Gee, you must be really smart” people say to you in fascination, with the grave misconception that you have to be some kind of genius to figure out the clues. And God forbid you’re filling the answers in with pen– you’re mentally elevated to Jeopardy status!
Rubbish all of it. I’m no pro as I said, but I believe that there is a method to the seeming madness. Maybe everyone creates their own method as they go along, but a lot of it you get after doing it for a while. There are words that pop up almost every time that are called repeaters, and I go for these first because after getting them filled in it gives me more to work with in solving the remaining clues. And yes, some might make you scratch your head for a bit, but this makes getting the right answer all the more rewarding.
How helpful are these puzzles and word games to brain fitness? I had always believed the answer to this to be “very” and was surprised to discover that it varied depending on who you asked. While some believed that a link could definitely be found between the two, there are others who now challenge the belief that crossword puzzles help with brain fitness and keeping Alzheimer and dementia at bay. Here are two articles that support each theory:
So maybe you’re not a fan of crossword puzzles per say. Maybe sudoku is more your thing or cryptograms (another of my favorite). If you just have a love for words and word solving, here are some great word games that are guaranteed to keep you occupied for hours:
Bookworm Words with Friends Missclass Boggle 4 Pics- 1Word Letter Press
Here are just a few of many great books to be found on puzzles at your local DCPL:
How to conquer the New York Times crossword puzzle– Amy Renaldo
Four-letter words: and other secrets of a crossword insider– Michelle Arnot
The crossword century– Alan Connor
Cracking codes & cryptograms for dummies– Denise Sutherland and Mark Koltko-Rivera