There’s nothing cheerier than thinking (with rich lashings of complacency) that you’re not losing it. This is especially heartening for people like me, who feel as if the stork delivered our parents a bundle of joy that wasn’t too tightly wrapped. As age loosens those ribbons the need for some kind of impartial gauge is important. No need to review your meds with the doc or decide to study Bengali at your handy community college — both fine ideas. Just buy a copy of the New York Times every Saturday and prepared to have your brain pumelled.
If you’re not a puzzler you may not know that the Times puzzle run in ascending order of difficulty: easy on Monday, fiendish on Saturday. (Sunday’s is hardish, largish and fun.) To fill in all those little blocks (without , heaven forfend, recourse to Google) and fill them in correctly makes me feel like a cross between Stephen Hawking and Gertrude Stein. It’s not important to finish it on a Saturday — it can sit on the corner of the kitchen table hissing and jeering for a few days — but it demands to be finished.
That’s if I can get my hands on it. If my husband gets the paper first it’s Nelly bar the door. He retires to our private screening room upstairs with the puzzle and his coffee. He settles in front of the Jumbotron watching the Saturday afternoon cooking shows on PBS and working methodically thorough the grid. He’s not by nature a chatterbox at any time, but on Saturday afternoon it’s silence de glace. But when he emerges at kitty supper-time, man is he voluble! He recounts his latest puzzle war story battled that afternoon: the wiliness of the enemy and his superb strategy, tactics and brilliance. He’ll wave the paper in front of me and say “Look at 9 across! I got it right away! (Clue:Film about the Statue of Liberty. Answer: patina.)
In the bad old days we had to wait for the Sunday paper to settle any misgivings about our performance. That was before my buddy Dave Scantland turned me on to The Site of the Day:
Rex Parker grades each puzzle on theme, difficulty and Word of the Day. He also writes wittily about all the secrets of the puzzle and, of course, gives the answers.
So, what if you can’t or won’t buy a copy of the Saturday Times? Here in Chicago the Sun-Times publishes the previous week’s rotation, as does the Ottawa Citizen. Cheapest is planning a Saturday morning library run when you slap the puzzle on the copier and feed it a dime.
Go home, forget about the laundry and the lawn and reclaim your brain, one word at a time.