I have a long and intimate relationship with the New York Times crossword puzzle. An “intimate relationship” ? Really? Well, yes and I know more than a few folks who will read this blog and understand that statement implicitly. I started doing the puzzle during my New Jersey to New York City commuting days when I filled my travel time by munching on a “buttered roll” and reading The Times. Three decades later my gluten-free self will no longer touch that buttered roll but my relationship to the puzzle lives on. Over the past few years, however, that relationship has changed.
I come by my relationship with the puzzle honestly. One of my most enduring childhood memories is of my mother doing The Times crossword puzzle. In fact my parents would buy the Sunday Times on Saturday night so that my mother could do the puzzle after she and my Dad got home from their usual evening out. Except for asking my Dad for some help with the occasional sports clue Mom did the puzzle herself, and she was (and is) a whiz. I’m pretty sure that Mom still does the daily puzzle each morning and the Sunday puzzle on Saturday nights.
Fast forward to my early married life. I was a stay-at-home mother with three children all born within five years of each other. Waking early, putting on the coffee, padding down the driveway in my bare feet to pick up my newspaper in its signature bright blue wrapper and settling in to do the puzzle was a moment just for me before the craziness of the day began. It was a small thing that I did for myself and one of the few that I had time for. It’s no wonder that I started connecting this ritual with a feeling of spaciousness, peace and autonomy. And like my mother, I did not ask for or want help. It was a solo gig.
As my marriage deteriorated, I clung to this ritual. No matter what emotional upheaval I was experiencing I could still quiet my mind for the time it took to finish the puzzle. The structure was particularly helpful during a very difficult time.
A New Way to See Things
When David and I started dating he had no choice but to be introduced to The Times crossword puzzle. Why should a new relationship, however intense, get in the way of my ritual? Since I wasn’t getting off this cloud any time soon, David got on mine. And he, unlike my Dad or my ex-husband wanted in. Admittedly I was torn at first. Every pore in my self-protected body was screaming “MINE! This puzzle is MINE!!!!” But another part of me knew that it was time to let it go and try something new. So I did. And I wasn’t sorry.
Today doing the puzzle is a me and David affair. For the easier weekday puzzles we sip our coffee, sit together in our comfy chairs with our laptops and each do our own. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we cuddle up together on one of those comfy chairs and work the paper and pencil version. David knows the science and history; I know the opera and literature. And the rest is pretty much up for grabs. As far as rituals go this one is pretty divine. As far as structure goes, I know that every morning, no matter where we are, one of us will say, “Wanna puzzle?”
You bet I do.