How many times do the words “she loved to do cross-word puzzles” appear in obituaries? The answer is, often.

I’ve always found it hard to believe, that in summarizing someone’s entire life via a few paragraphs in an obituary, solving crossword puzzles could possibly be among a person’s life-long highlights.

Delivering Meals-on-Wheels, maybe, or volunteering to call bingo at church functions, maybe, or finding a cure for a disease, maybe, but doing crossword puzzles?

Then again, for those who are hooked on puzzling on a daily basis, that does tend to use up an inordinate chuck of a person’s life, so the number of hours spent filling in squares with letters may indeed be a highlight of one’s life on this planet.

I am one who can attest to spending a lot of time doing the daily New York Times puzzles. As a youngster, I watched my father doing puzzles each evening after supper sitting in his easy chair, leading me to wonder what was the infatuation. But, when I was in my adulthood, I subscribed to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and soon I was lured into puzzling or what some think is an inane waste of time.

But, is puzzling really a waste of time?

Those who “puzzle” have come up with all sorts of excuses for whiling away the hours spent trying to fill in the white squares. One excuse often heard is this: “The brain is a muscle, and must be exercised.” My attending physician would challenge this saying the brain is not a muscle, and the jury is out as to whether or not solving puzzles helps keep a person’s mind in “shape.”

If there is such a phenomenon of puzzling keeping one’s mind active, I tell myself this: “If I can come up with an answer to a difficult clue, this proves I am not, at least for that moment, in the throws of dementia.” How about that for rationalization?

An important lure for solving puzzles which is often overlooked, is this: it allows folk to take on a task, tackle that task and see the results of completing the task. How many people have jobs that are open-ended, in that they have a tough time seeing the results of what they do for a living. Completing a cross-word project can bring consolation in some respects. One finds a certain sense of accomplishment in completing a puzzle.

But high on the list of excuses for me doing puzzles is that it strokes my ego. I get a sense of satisfaction when I can figure out the special quirk that sometimes appears in a puzzle, or I get a sense of accomplishment when I come up with an answer that I know few others would get.

And most of all, I get a sense of bravado knowing I may have done better on a puzzle than my next door neighbor, who also happens to be my attending physician. You see, I realize this doctor is way smarter than me, and we both know that to be true. And to rub in that truth, he will often  text me concerning how he solved that days puzzle, obviously just to prove his intellectual superiority. But, the few times I may have bettered him on a puzzle, I walk around my living room with a puffed up chest and sometimes even gloating to my life partner that I may have outdone my neighbor. Wow … no better feeling than that! My ego is reinforced for a moment in time, and all that because of doing a daily puzzle.

But, in the long run, I hope puzzling does not come near to defining my life. I feel I have left my mark on my community and affected others in what I hope to be profound ways, and none of what I have left behind ought to have anything to do with my penchant for daily work on cross-wording.

So, when my obituary is written, I implore those making up the lies about my life not to include, “He loved to do cross-word puzzles.”

Bob Statz is a Messenger staff writer.

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