Four letters. FOUR STINKING LETTERS.
That’s how close I came to successfully finishing a crossword puzzle in the Plain Dealer last week. The crossword gods are taunting me.
I am a beginner at this, but I’ve been inching closer and closer to solving one. The Plain Dealer puzzles are easy enough that I can get most of the clues, but challenging enough to leave me cussing.
The New York Times Crossword, which appears in this paper, is worse. I can only get about halfway through Monday and Tuesday. Will Shortz, the well-known Times puzzle editor, is evil. Some day, Will, I will win.
I was once scared by the crosswords, especially the Times. I didn’t think I was smart enough to finish. I’m still not that smart, but I have mastered Sudoku. I saw it in the Plain Dealer about a year ago. It also looked daunting, but I wanted to try. On my first attempt, I solved the easiest level, but it took 90 minutes.
I took the brave first step to doing crosswords recently, after renting a documentary called Word Play.
The movie features former President Clinton, his 1996 election foe Bob Dole, Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina and Daily Show host Jon Stewart as well as the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, run by Shortz.
Clinton said he began doing crosswords after reading a connection to an active brain and a longer life. I tend to like that connection.
There’s a certain stigma attached to people who like to learn. I guess I should just confess: I’m a nerd, complete with pocket protector and thick black glasses.
IMPORTANT READER MESSAGE: Before I go any further, I have to get something off my chest. I swore I was never going to do this. Now I feel terrible. I just lied. If you look at my picture at the top, I have no glasses, thick, black or otherwise — although I do wear contacts. Nor do you see a pocket protector. So much for that stereotype.
But maybe I should embrace my nerdiness. Consider:
n Before I even entered school, I was eager to get homework — because I knew that’s what big kids did. So my mother gave me clocks with instructions to draw the hands to a certain time. There was another exercise involving counting change and small bills correctly.
n My fifth grade math teacher used multi-sided dice to teach us about probability. He had dice with eight sides, 12 sides and 20 sides in addition to the standard six. I thought they were so cool I asked to borrow the teachers’ catalog he bought them in and ordered my own.
n Ranked on my list of life achievements are viewing the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn through a sizeable telescope on the roof of an Ohio University campus building. Although I’m a little rusty, I know my way across the night sky. I celebrate blue moons and meteor showers.
n I currently have four books by my bedside: To prove how counterproductive this is, one of them is “The Da Vinci Code.” Most people can zoom through this book in hours. It’s taken me a few weeks, and I’m not even halfway through it.
It’s a great book — so far, it’s lived up to it’s hype. I don’t have ADHD. I just feel like I have be constantly reading something. My nose is always in at least one book.
The other books I’m reading now are Pete Rose’s book “My Prison Without Bars,” a collection of Dave Barry columns and “The Best American Sports Writing 2006”
Although I should probably limit myself to one book at a time, the plots never cross in my mind. And there’s no better feeling than finishing a book and deciding what’s next. My list seems endless.
Besides learning something, reading is a great way to escape into the lives of characters. It’s better than any reality show, which tends to erode the brain instead of enrich it.