Crosswords and fiction

I have fallen egregiously behind on Proust, in case that wasn’t evident from my lack of posts. I have been busy and anxious since returning from vacation, and am just barely within “the budding grove.” The past few weeks have been punctuated by myriad stressors, with which I won’t bore our readers.

And instead of reading Proust to decompress, as I should be, I have rediscovered my favorite vice from this past year: the New York Times Crossword. Now that I get it on my iPhone, it’s a lot more portable than Proust.

Let’s be clear: the crossword is not a good thing for me–it is a pharmaceutical-grade narcotic that takes over my life.

At Hamilton we received the New York Times on weekdays, and my morning routine–sometimes my day–hinged on the crossword. I grabbed a cup of tepid coffee and the Arts section on my way to class or work, then sat in the atrium of a campus building obsessively penciling in letters. I remember one brutally trying winter Monday where I crept out of the Social Sciences building at 2 a.m. with the day’s crossword to the table usually reserved for campus smokers. With shivering fingers, I filled in the grid in a few minutes, enjoyed the momentary high, then shuffled back inside to finish my paper.

A crossword is a puzzle that works much like a work of fiction. There are clues that you can’t understand until you have filled in later parts of the grid, so your mind has to retain some of the earlier hints in order to make sense of both what comes after and what came before. The most intoxicating part of the puzzle is when your mind clicks into reason what seemed to be utter nonsense before. Every additional layer of cluing is another level of suspense and satisfaction.

Hopefully at this point you’ve sensed the parallels to Proust. As we are now past the first book, I think the memory games Proust plays with us are bound to increase, and thus, the satisfaction we derive from them can only respond in kind.

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