I confess. I’m an addict. Like the tragic well-known celebrity addicts Heath Williams and John Belushi, I too can’t go a day without succumbing to my habit. Twice a day I retire to the privacy of either my office or my den and enter that nether world of pleasure mixed with pure passion. My eyes glazed over with anticipatory fervor, I reach out for the one gatekeeper–my daily newspaper– that lures me into that seventh circle of hell and damnation.
Yes, that’s right. I’m addicted to crossword puzzles, and I have the pencils to prove it.
I used to laugh at people chicken scratching their ways through the daily newspaper. Now I’m one of those people. With two puzzles a day–kindly provided by Universal Press Syndicate and the Los Angeles Times–I need go no farther than my driveway to fall victim to the Addiction I Never Thought I’d Have.
Truth is, my mother was a crossword puzzle addict too. But, unlike mom, my puzzle gene seemingly did not surface until I passed the 50-plus AARP benchmark. I went years without a mote of interest in mining the store of trivia within my cortex. Now when I think back to those wasted days, I could cry. I’m sure some people feel that way about the comics section or even the weather map, but I’ve never been the type to gravitate to easy challenges. I don’t see the thrill in glancing through that tabular listing of cities until you find at least one geographic area in the world with weather worse than yours. For instance, just yesterday the paper flopped open to that national weather map and my eyes happened to fall upon NYC, where the forecast was for thunderstorms. Again! It had been the same for at least a week, so where’s the new excitement in hearing another gloomy prognosis from the same city. I admit it did make the 105 degree Phoenix forecast seem not so terrible, but that brief instant of glee followed by the Happy Dance didn’t last more than five or ten minutes, at the most. Honest.
But back to my addiction: crossword puzzles. I could lay the blame entirely on that maternal gene, but that’s too easy. At least part of the onus lies squarely on technology, specifically Apps. If not for the New York Times Crossword Puzzle App (free, free, free!!) I downloaded onto my iPhone, I might not have gotten hooked at all. The problem was that as difficult as the puzzles were (especially that notorious Sunday one), the Times digital puzzle meister provided something that ordinary newspaper-embedded puzzles seldom offer. I’m talking “hints.” Say, for example, you couldn’t figure out 33 Down, “Krazy” comics feline. With one easy tap of the finger you could reveal the first letter of the answer. Easy, peasy. Well, anyone can improve their puzzle prowess that way if they’re willing to compromise their crossword ethics .
When I look back on this cheap, rotten trick, I now see its parallel in the drug culture. For example: You go to a party, and before you can get yourself your standard glass of spiked punch and your tiny cocktail plate of brie and baby shrimp, some chap smoking a reefer is walking over in your direction. You think–you hope–he’s going to bypass you and drift over to the hot hors d’oeuvres, but no, no, he stops. By you. He’s got a cute smile, floppy hair you remember from your dating days and a self-confident air you hope is catching. And your husband has disappeared again. This adorable yuppie wants to know if you’d like a drag. Of course you say no, emphasizing your adamant refusal with one of your goofy grins. Do I look like I need an addiction? And with that one last word, he laughs uproariously and you feel like a jerk.
Of course you can take a drag and not become a druggie. So why is he doing that noisy, cackling “I dare you” dance?
It’s the same with crossword puzzles. You think you can do just one and walk away. Just do a few simple ones–ones you’re not tempted to google the answers for–and then return to your pristine life watching Netflix and eating fruit loops. But that is not the case. And oddly enough the danger of addiction becomes higher the more successful you are at completing a puzzle. Just the other day, for instance, I finished a Los Angeles Times Puzzle (never mind that it was on a Tuesday and the puzzles become harder as the week progresses) and when I inked in the last answer–I believe it was 19 Across, “Overly affected”–I felt my heart skip several beats at the rightness and integrity of this amazing intellectual accomplishment. Plus, a euphoria spread over me similar to what I understand druggies experience when taking meth or its evil twin, coke.
Of course my addiction, unlike the pharmaceutical variety, is perfectly harmless. So what if my husband and/or dogs have to wait an hour or two before I stagger to the kitchen and ready their dinners. So what if the laundry gets a little behind and I don’t return editorial emails because I’m too busy with pen and paper. It’s not as if I can’t stop any time, right?