Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014

Learning the art of crossword puzzles


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Since baseball season ended, I've had trouble finding a way to waste my time when I should be doing homework. Procrastination is sometimes very hard work and nothing I tried seemed to work. Ping pong is too hard to play by myself, books feel too much like real work, and I've never been artsy enough to start any projects. Of all the enticing options, I've only found one way to effectively (and irresponsibly) pass the time: crossword puzzles.

It started in chemistry class two weeks ago when we finished reviewing and still had half an hour left. I picked up the newspaper and browsed the comics. A few chuckles later, my eyes came upon the crossword puzzle.

I'd done them before with my parents but never alone. Usually, my mom or dad would get almost every clue and leave a few for me, most with half of the letters already filled in. I'd attempted one on my own a few years ago, but it ended tragically. I answered only five clues and, after showing my dad, learned that only three were right.

On this day, however, things felt different. I glanced at one across and caught a glimmer of hope. "Peaceful" was the clue; my first thought was "serene" and, sure enough, it fit! I pieced together the entire top left corner before encountering some trouble. I ended up filling about half of the boxes in half an hour and leaving the class with more confidence than ever. The collective knowledge of my classmates was able to finish the puzzle during the next period and I had successfully completed my first crossword puzzle (with a little help).

Since that day, it's become a habit of mine to grab the newspaper upon walking into first period. Before the bell rings, I breeze through and answer any obvious ones then spend the rest of class secretly deciphering clues as lessons are taught and work handed out. After first period, I open the puzzle up to my classmates so they can answer any clues I didn't know. If it's still not finished after that, my third and fourth period teachers are consulted. The absolute hardest clues that pass all these tests are then presented to the crossword master: my dad.

While I go through this routine, my dad is going through one of his own. His is a little simpler though. He gets the newspaper in the morning, and finishes the crossword, without fail, before first period ends. Then, by the end of second period, he has the larger inside crossword puzzle done. When I see him at lunch, he politely asks me how my puzzle is going, though I know he has already finished two.

One thing my dad has taught me is to pay special attention to the answers of clues, as they are often repeated. While any word could be used and it seems highly unlikely that clues will repeat from day to day, I have indeed found that some clues just find their way into puzzles every couple days. In only the two weeks that I have been doing puzzles, I have gotten these clues twice each: "Tennis player Agassi" (Andre), "traditional Japanese sash" (obi), and "last Whig president" (Taylor). Because of this, and overall familiarity with clues and answers, my crossword skills are rapidly increasing.

My fun with these puzzles has started to transcend the classroom as I find myself doing them at home and even in public. Though if you ever catch me with one in hand, I should probably be doing something else!

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