Ours is a marriage made in black and white squares. Two people with the relentless need to put letters into little empty spaces.
It’s an ingrained compulsion that traces back to my husband’s youth in a small Michigan town and my childhood in a small Connecticut town. Somehow the twain met and discovered our shared interest.
Puzzles of some sort entered my life at a tender age. I’m not sure how tender, but the fever was full-blown by high school, and when I left home for college I was seriously addicted. Away at school, my Sunday morning ritual was a 1-mile walk to the drug store where I bought The New York Times, had coffee and a doughnut at the marble soda fountain, and walked back to my dorm, where I extracted the magazine and turned to that special page.
Later, when my spouse and I were courting — quaint term — my Sundays involved a cozier routine. He and I would bring the Times to a local park and, sitting side by side under a tree, we’d work the puzzle together. Romantic? Not really. I wanted that page all to myself.
With some trepidation, I suggested that despite the paucity of our premarital funds, couldn’t we splurge on another copy of the paper?
His ultra-frugal nature gave him pause, but when I began to loosen my engagement ring he gave in.
There were other reasons that necessitated buying two papers. One is that he works the crossword in ink, which I think smacks of overconfidence. I prefer a pencil. His crossing-outs make a sorry mess of the page, whereas my pencil, with eraser, never shows mistakes.
Another serious bone of contention, which I have gnawed at for years, is the pile of “helpers” he keeps at hand: Dictionary. Thesaurus. Atlas. The Dead Sea Scrolls.
He calls it research. I call it cheating.
When we migrated from Connecticut to Massachusetts, The Boston Sunday Globe took an honored position in our household and provided us with another puzzle every week. But Sunday is just the beginning. There are seven days’ worth of mental challenges in the host of publications on our chairs, tables, and floors. There are spiral-bound collections at home and in my car. There are six puzzles I receive in the mail every month.
My other special pleasure is the Acrostic, which appears every two weeks in the Times. I first discovered that engrossing form in the long-gone and much-missed Saturday Review. The Review also had a Cryptogram as an added attraction. One could wallow in words all week long.
Then there’s the Olympics of puzzles — “The World’s Largest Crossword Puzzle,” or so it says on the box. It measures more than 42 square feet, has 28,000 clues, and is divided into six sections. I am barely 5 feet tall and have to sprawl across the dining room table to fill in the top lines. It was a gift from my granddaughter, who has much more faith in Gramma’s ability to complete it than I do. Thanks, Claudia.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had to buy two copies of anything, thanks to the advent of the printer. And so we sit, after 56 years of puzzling togetherness, he with his ballpoint pen and tower of “research” and I with my trusty Papermate Sharpwriter #2. We light a candle to Will Shortz and peace reigns, both across and down.
Lucia Hotton and her husband, Peter, live in Weymouth. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.