It’s another grey winter day in Columbus. I woke up early and started puttering around the house. I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.
I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go. In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition. Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace. She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.
If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier. Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.
The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true. There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way. A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”? Red, perhaps? Nope! It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”
Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.