June 11, 1998


I confess. I am addicted - to crossword puzzles. The obsession is only in its formative stages, so there still is hope. But I can feel those strong pulls of compulsion - waking up and needing a clue, rushing out to get the newspaper before anyone else is awake, pretending to eat lunch as an excuse for working on the puzzle, sneaking extra newspapers into the house, and thinking about it all the time. And writing about it.

It is all my daughter’s fault. A lot of big problems exit on college campuses these days and she brought this one home with her. It started innocently enough as a way to get through boring classes. The school newspaper was free so what the heck. But that was not enough for her. Soon she was hanging out on street corners buying newspapers.

When she returned home for summer vacation she caught me in her web. At first it was a question for me now and then, but then it became a full time co-conspiracy - an alliance to solve the puzzle of the day.

This alliance stuff is for the birds. It is like being on a team at work. Who wants it? Who wants to collaborate, to share the very best stuff there is when you could have it all to yourself? A half of a puzzle is like no puzzle at all.

Since I am a loving father, I have decreed that the crossword puzzle belongs to my daughter unless she voluntarily waives her right to it. Fortunately, she is often busy from early in the morning to late at night, so there are not too many days when I have to buy an extra paper. Father’s Day is approaching so I think that the royal decree may need to be set aside for a few weeks or months in order to give the pater his due allegiance.

I am thinking about going to a crossword camp in to approve my performance. Do they have crossword camps? I have to do something. The experience now is a frustrating, tense and empty period of time. I now know why they call it crosswords. That is all that I have for myself - cross words. And that is the good part. It feels a lot like golf. If only I could calm down I would enjoy it, but of course I cannot possibly calm down. Being uncalm is hard-wired into my competitive self.

The crossword camp would start with breathing exercises. I bet that it would be good to breathe during the process of doing the puzzle. Then we would move onto short words - sort of like working on short irons. We would learn to complete short words while relaxed to get a sense of how the game could be played. Eventually we would work up to the driver, the big daddy of them all, the New York Sunday Times puzzle. I can already hear the gallery clapping.

Just writing this piece has been cathartic. I can feel the worry lines dissolving. My back muscles are releasing. I know that I can make it through today without a crossword. I am pretty sure I can. And anyway, the anagrams are mine!

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