That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. No, I did not voluntarily walk into a bookstore and purchase what may turn out to be the makings of a brand new obsession.


I’ve only recently started doing crosswords at all — we shall not count those dreadfully boring puzzles my elementary school teachers used to try to liven up the endless rounds of spelling practice and vocabulary-building — but already I find myself jonesing for a Monday-morning difficulty NYT crossword puzzle at the oddest moments. I try to shame myself for wanting to play so badly when I can only solve the simplest ones (and have to look up any pop culture references for those), but it’s no good. I want to play.

But those pop culture references I don’t care about? The historical figures I’m embarrassingly unfamiliar with? The stars of the silver screen and sports heros I have no context for? I’m improving at guessing them, but my annoyance at having to guess at or look up the ones I don’t care about isn’t always mitigated by the pleasure of learning about the interesting ones I’d missed.

There’s another kind of puzzle, though: one I’d heard about, and suspected would have all the pleasures and none of the pain of the plain-vanilla crosswords I could find easily. Cryptic crosswords involve common words, but they use every kind of word play in their solution; part of the trick is figuring out which kind of word play to use (anagrams? puns? homophones? word within another word?) to solve each clue. And then you have to actually solve the clue. And do this for a whole puzzle’s worth.

So far, I’m finding this almost frustrating, yet as addictive as potato chips: when you solve one, after stretching your brain in several directions, it feels so good you want to try another one. Until before you know it, you’ve solved another puzzle, and several hours have passed.

I’m blaming Orange Tangerine.

(If I ever can find her actual discussion of cryptics, I’ll link it. It may have appeared in her comments, which would account for why it’s not turning up in my searches. Meantime, we’ll just have to make do with her main page.)