In Praise of Crossword Puzzles

For many people, the crossword is a daily ritual. Some consider the puzzle an essential component of their mornings, treating it like a vitamin for the brain. Others think of the puzzle as a quick escape from the day’s demands. And a few, like late actress Olivia de Havilland, fantasize about the perfect evening spent completing a crossword.

Famous crossworders include Bill Clinton, Yo-Yo Ma, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Kate Hudson, Dustin Hoffman, and Sting.

My Crossword Journey…

Twenty years ago, I faced several family and personal health challenges. While spending time in waiting rooms, I craved an activity that would keep my mind occupied for short bursts of time. Crossword puzzles were the ideal solution during those stressful days.

When the stress abated, I found myself unable to let go of my daily “date” with the crossword. I was pleased with the sense of accomplishment I experienced each day, and I also believed (and still believe) that doing crosswords will help keep my brain young.

Not everyone in the medical community agrees with the health benefits of crosswords. In his recent release, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out that crossword puzzles can improve the ability to remember and retrieve information. But their benefits do not extend to brain functions like reasoning and problem solving, both of which are key to building cognitive reserve. He does concede that keeping an active mind can help reduce a decline in thinking skills, and for some people, doing crossword puzzles is a way to do that.

I have noticed that several crossworders in my circle (and I include myself) have also taken other steps to help prevent memory loss. We read voraciously, attend lectures and author events, and sign up for courses and workshops.

Tips for Solving Crossword Puzzles

  • Use a pencil. This will allow you to guess at different possibilities and not give up too quickly. Mistakes can be simply erased.
  • Skim the ACROSS and DOWN clues, and zero in on the easy answers. At least ten percent of each crossword can be completed quickly.
  • Check off each clue that you solve. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and allow you to focus on the remaining clues.
  • Become familiar with crosswordese, those short three- and four-letter words that puzzle constructors love to use. Some examples include eke, oreo, idea, area, olio, and idea.
  • Look for clues written in plural form. Using your pencil, write an S at the end of each grid entry. Often (but not always), the S will be correct.
  • Note the parts of speech in the clues. The answers will call for the same endings: ED, EST, or ING. Insert these endings into the grid entries.
  • Work with the intersections. If you are stumped by the ACROSS clue, look at the DOWN clue for hints.
  • Take a break if the puzzle starts to feel like work. The answers may come more quickly once you’ve taken a breather.
  • Don’t be afraid to use outside resources. Looking up answers in a dictionary, atlas, thesaurus, or the Internet is not cheating. You are learning something new and will likely reuse that information in a future puzzle. I like to keep a copy of The New Comprehensive A-Z Crossword Dictionary on hand. If I’m really stumped, I will visit Crossword Heaven on the Internet.

Any crossword experiences (and/or tips) to share?

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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About Joanne Guidoccio

In 2008, Joanne retired from a 31-year teaching career and launched a second act that tapped into her creative side. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
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15 Responses to In Praise of Crossword Puzzles

  1. sueberger3 says:

    You are in Canada. Does that mean you do British crosswords? I have nothing but admiration for people who can do them. Their cluing stumps me.
    I usually do the Sunday NY Times and the occasional weekday puzzle. My wasband and I used to race them. He usually won. He’s very good. I could beat him in Scrabble though.
    Puzzle on. When I get the time I am a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles. I’m working on one now.

    • I’m a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles too. Until the lockdown last year, I never really had the time. Now I always have one in progress for whenever I have a few minutes. I like crossword puzzles too, but generally can’t sit still long enough to complete one in one sitting.

      • Thanks for dropping by, Rebecca. It’s been a while since I’ve done a jigsaw puzzle. I gather it’s a huge trend during the pandemic. Something to consider…

    • Good to see you here, Sue. I stick to the crossword puzzles in the newspaper and the lovely collection of 200 NYT puzzles I received last year. Like you, I have great admiration for people who take on the challenge of the British puzzles. 🙂

  2. pamelagibson says:

    I love crossword puzzles, but lately I have distracted myself with computer solitaire (sitting) or jigsaw puzzles (standing up for back relief). I might get back to them, though.

  3. I used to work on the NY Times puzzle with my elderly neighbor every Thursday morning at our local coffee shop. He died two years ago and I haven’t found a crossword pal since. Once this pandemic is over however I’ll begin a search for a new weekly pal. I enjoy working on these crazy things most in the company of extraordinary people.

    • Hi Gwen, How thoughtful of you to partner up with your neighbor. I’m certain he looked forward to your Thursday meet-ups at the coffee shop. Good luck finding another crossword pal. 🙂

  4. tidalscribe says:

    The puzzle pages in our newspapers now include lots of number puzzles – more interesting than sudokus. So I find them addictive and a break from words. But I still enjoy crosswords as well – in fact I skip the news to get to the puzzle pages.Since Covid the puzzle pages have expanded to cheer us up!

  5. Gay Yellen says:

    When I’m working on a book, crosswords are my go-to for short quiet breaks from the computer. Without pulling me out of the story I’m working on, they keep the word-search part of my brain active, and at the same time, reduce stress as I spend a few minutes in my comfy lounge chair with pen and paper in hand. Besides solving the puzzle in front of me, my brain sometimes hits on the solution to an issue in my manuscript. For me, writing (or reading) a mystery, is like solving a different kind of puzzle. So satisfying when you get it right!

    • So true! Solving a crossword can provide a temporary but necessary distraction from our manuscripts. Afterward, we can face whatever plot hole or issue exists. Hope that all is well with you, Gay. 🙂

      • Gay Yellen says:

        Thanks, Joanne. Struggling to finish Book#3. The first two were a breeze compared to this one! Lots of crossword breaks happening here. I hope you are healthy and happy, too.

  6. I love crossword puzzles! They’re not only challenging, but you learn new things along the way. It’s always so satisfying finding that answer that you couldn’t figure out at the start. Great way to pass the time.

    Ang |

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