Cross Words for Trying Times

Daily word games boost my brain and spirits

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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Screenshot from the New York Times Games website, with one section showing the date and author of today’s crossword, and another section showing current, best, and average times, and current and longest streaks.

As I’ve written previously, I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety. These have worsened in recent years with the growing realization of the extent of hate and violence against marginalized people like myself. As I also haven’t had a day job for some time, I sometimes need motivation just to get out of bed in the morning. One motivator is my daily tea. Another is my daily crossword.

Like many people, I was drawn into the New York Times Games site after that company acquired Wordle early last year. I had been playing Wordle daily for months by then, and when I saw a link from my Wordle results to the Spelling Bee, I decided to check it out. I was quickly hooked, sprung for a games subscription, and began playing the Mini Crossword daily as well.

Screenshot showing Wordle statistics (500 played, 99% win, 145 current and max streak), guess distribution, a Share link, and a link to “Play Today’s Spelling Bee”.

I was hesitant to take on the full crossword, however, as I had little experience or interest in doing crossword puzzles. I have large gaps in my knowledge of facts and trivia both modern and historical, so I thought solving a large grid would be a tough slog. And it was at first, especially for the more difficult late-week puzzles and for those that used tricky rebuses. I had to look up a lot of clues, and my first Sunday puzzle took me over five hours to finish.

I enjoyed reading the Wordplay column after finishing each puzzle, however, as it offered useful tips and fun facts. I found my skills improving steadily, my streaks growing longer and my finishing times shorter. Even the rebus puzzles (usually on Thursdays and Sundays) that I dreaded started to become fun.

Eventually, I challenged myself not to look up any clues or hints at all; I would either finish the puzzle with no help on the day it was released, or concede defeat (though some puzzles I would revisit at a later time). This challenge proved to be good for my brain — and ego — as I now get much greater satisfaction after each solve, especially the really difficult ones.

I’ve found that my daily Duolingo lessons have also helped a good deal when solving crosswords. Clues and answers in Spanish…

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch