I’m getting old, and I’m kind of nerdy. But I’m a happy old nerd. Today, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to solve every day of February’s crossword puzzles in the New York Times.
For Father’s Day last June, my kids gifted me a one-year subscription to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle app. I’d been doing their “Daily Mini”s for awhile before that, so I was excited about the gift. But it’s turned out to be an even more enjoyable pastime than I expected. I enjoy the puzzles even when they stump me. But the enjoyment is enhanced when I successfully solve a puzzle. Or 28 of them. In a row. Like I did for the month of February.
The puzzles still challenge for me — even though I managed to complete every puzzle for the month of February. (Have I mentioned that previously?) What I’ve learned is that solving crossword puzzles is a skill that develops like any other discipline: with practice.
I didn’t get my subscription to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle app until half-way through June, so that’s part of the reason why I only managed to solve 13 percent of that month’s puzzles. But I did scarcely better — a solve rate of about 26 percent — in July. Each month, I got a little bit better. But this month has been the first month that I’ve managed to solve 100 percent of the puzzles. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- The New York Times Crossword Puzzles publish their easiest puzzles on Mondays. Their second-easiest come out on Tuesdays, and so on. Saturdays have been the hardest for me. And Sunday puzzles are just bigger and longer. But I first started getting a taste for success on Mondays, and then I built from there.
- There are repetitions and patterns in the clues that recur from day to day and month to month. Like, an unusual predilection for the rapper Lil’ Nas X and the actor Ed Asner… Or the recurrence of words like “Nee” and “Ere”… Weird, huh? But at least they’re consistent. Clues involving these sorts of things may have stumped me in the beginning, but I’ve caught onto them with repetition.
- Sometimes, it helps to just run through the clues several different times at different times of day. I’ll catch stuff in the afternoon that I wasn’t able to catch in the morning. And it will feel obvious, except it totally wasn’t the first three times I ran through that clue in the morning.
- Sometimes, I just need to gain a “toehold” in one section of the puzzle, where I can put three or four answers together and build out from there. After my first run-through of the clues, the grid can look totally desolate and impossible — except for a little glimmer of hope in the southwest corner of the puzzle. Building out from there, however, I can spread the solve further and further until it’s done.
- There are no real “rules” when it comes to solving crossword puzzles (the New York Times people say so themselves!). Looking up answers is allowed (I try to get to a point where I can make an educated guess and then cross-check my answers through other sources. I regularly have to use the official tip sheet in the later part of the week (which still doesn’t provide anything approaching a full answer key).
- A crossword puzzle is a highly-effective “methadone” for the “heroin” of social media. This has now become the thing that I do when I’m in a waiting room or idling in a driveway while playing the part of chauffeur for my kids. I’ve almost completely weaned myself from dependence on Facebook and Instagram! And I think it’s a much healthier substitution!
I don’t know why I’m writing all this. Does anyone really care that I completed all of the daily crossword puzzles for the month of February? It’s really not all that important, in the grander scheme of things. But I’m proud of the accomplishment. And that counts for something.