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Crossword puzzles have humbled me

Crossword puzzles have humbled me Crossword puzzles have humbled me


Completing the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen — with no ability to cleanly erase wrong answers — is considered quite a feat. It’s something that requires supreme confidence in your vocabulary and the innate power to spell words correctly.

As someone who works with words every day as part of my job, I would like to think I have the linguistic skills to answer that challenge. After a week or so of playing much simpler crosswords on my smartphone, however, I’m starting to think I would need a large standalone eraser just to get halfway through an NYT puzzle.

I have long avoided the temptation to download games onto my phone, thinking of it as just another excuse to waste time on my device. Last week, though, I decided to see what was out there on the “App Store.” Most of the games I saw seemed either too simple or too complicated. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time learning how to navigate through an “arcade-style” video game, and I also didn’t want to get stuck doing some repetitive task just to get rewarded with meaningless “points” and obnoxious bells and whistles.

Even though I’ve never been one to actually do crossword puzzles in a newspaper, I figured the digital version would appeal to me. There’s no need for a messy eraser or a hard surface to work on; it’s just moving my clumsy thumb around to fill in the blanks.

It didn’t take long for me to develop a low-grade addiction. I was able to breeze through some of the easier puzzles in a way that made me feel like some kind of crossword prodigy. But, inevitably, I would encounter one or two clues in each puzzle that left me stumped for an extended period of time. This would only make me want to play more, though, as I can’t stand the empty spaces staring back at me.

One that really had me going was an 11-letter synonym for ointment. No matter how many different ways I tried to fill the spaces, I couldn’t come up with anything that even looked like a real word. Finally, I broke down and consulted Google’s thesaurus, which led me to learning a new word, “embrocation.” I don’t know how, put at some point in my life, I’m determined to drop that ridiculous word into a sentence as naturally as possible.

I have to admit, though, that I’m playing a watered-down version of crossword puzzles. The app I downloaded provides two rows of letters to choose from for each clue, so I never have to pluck around the entire 26-letter alphabet.

So, yeah, I could never make it through an NYT puzzle without plenty of eraser to burn.