For many years I honed my talents, even subscribing to the monthly Dell Crosswords magazine. At my peak, I had reached Princely status (there were far more accomplished masters than I who rightly could claim the true Kingly crown), with only expert level puzzles giving me pause.
Then, years passed while I pursued other forms of entertainment. My subscription lapsed and my skills fell into disuse. Oh, there was the occasional airplane magazine puzzle during my years of business travel, but I tended to finish those before the plane had even gotten airborne.
A couple of weeks ago, I took up the challenge of crosswords once more. I regularly get the Sunday newspaper (which affords me “e-papers” on a daily basis) and I decided to pull out the puzzle section and try my hand.
To my surprise and delight, I discovered my paper includes two puzzles on Sunday, the famous New York Times crossword and the Los Angeles Times crossword.
Diving in, I noticed a number of changes have taken place over my years of absence. In retrospect, it seems obvious, considering the tens of thousands of puzzles that have been created in the 50 years I’ve played around with them.
For one, the puzzles no longer give you hints such as “2 wds” or “slang”. Many times, they don’t actually tell you “abbr” (abbreviation), leaving you to infer it from the clue.
Plus, of course, since these are (presumably) expert or higher level puzzles, there are a number of “cutesy” answers. These are either punny or word play type answers to an often times “wink wink” type clue.
My first attempt at a puzzle (NY Times) yielded a pitiful 20-25% completion rate. Even after several days, I fared little better than half. I was forced to commit the unpardonable and personally humiliating act of sneaking a peek at the answers. Ugh.
My next attempt (LA Times) was a bit more successful, about 50-60% on first pass, but I still could not get closer than maybe 85%.
My numbers improved by the second week, but nowhere near my old Princely skills. Better than peasant, but certainly nowhere near nobility. I concluded the LA puzzle was easier than the NY puzzle, though.
I’m quite perturbed by how much my crossword skills have atrophied, ameliorated only somewhat by the recognition that these puzzles’ preoccupation with pop media culture is outside my field of knowledge (or interest).
The whole exercise has brought back an itch I thought no longer needed scratching. I have no interest to do these on the internet. For me, crosswords are something you scratch out on cheap newsprint with a pen or pencil.
Still, the internet, with all its wondrous sources, is sure to provide quick access for me to order a collection of puzzles to enjoy again.