Michelle Martin

Crossword puzzler

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Earlier this year, Frank got into crossword puzzles.

He’d grab the crossword page from the newspaper every day and work on filling in the grid.

Before long, he decided he wanted to try constructing crossword puzzles.

He soon learned that it’s more difficult than it looks.

Creating a grid with interlocking words, one in which every square is occupied by a letter that is part of two different words, takes a wide vocabulary, especially when it comes to three-, four- and five-letter words and expressions, patience and skill.

I don’t think he ever managed to finish one; he was trying, but then summer classes and work got in the way.

I hope he continues doing crosswords, though. It’s a good vehicle to learn a little bit about all sorts of stuff, from Winthrop speaking with a lisp in “The Music Man” to Mendeleev’s first name being Dmitri and the Alero being the last model of car made by Oldsmobile.

Maybe it’s just that I like having a kindred spirit in the house, someone else drawn to puzzles and activities that involve putting things in their proper boxes, whether it’s crossword puzzles and sudokus, Tetris and Candy Crush, or even counted cross-stitch. I’d say I’m organized, but my house is still a mess.

That doesn’t stop me from spending time on puzzles requiring some knowledge of pop culture (Alec Baldwin won two Emmys for “30 Rock”), that Renee, not Peggy, Fleming was an opera singer and Essex is a county on the Thames.

To give credit where it is due, most of the clues listed above come from the July 26 New York Times crossword, created by Trenton Charlson and edited by Will Shortz.

As in life, finishing a crossword puzzle means pulling in info from all kinds of disciplines. Everything is connected, with “Bobcat” (a new Cub Scout) intersecting with “base two” (system used in computer code).

Living a life of faith means not compartmentalizing your spiritual life, not putting it in a box that is only opened on Sunday mornings. It means looking for God in all things and in all people, and taking the lessons learned from Scriptures and homilies and carrying them through the week.

I work for a Catholic paper, so I obviously think a lot about faith when I’m interviewing and writing. But there’s nothing stopping secular reporters from doing the same thing. Business owners and baseball players and attorneys all are called to recognize the dignity of every person they interact with, whether they are employees or clients or rivals.

Sometimes it’s easy to apply those lessons, if only because of familiarity. Just like every crossword fan knows a four-letter needle case is an etui, most of us manage to show generosity and gratitude to our families and those we love.

Sometimes it’s hard, especially when the crossword constructor throws a curveball and changes the spelling of an answer to fit a theme. But it’s on all of us to take the time to draw on what we know, the lessons learned from all parts of our lives, to figure it out.


  • family life