I’ve recently been getting the New Yorker which means I’ve recently been doing crossword puzzles. I have a lot of love for the game and a lot of fun memories of doing them with family members or being read clues from across the kitchen table. That said, it’s been a while since I did crossword puzzles with any regularity. I forgot the lessons that they teach.
Anyway, now, because of the weekly magazine, I’ve added a pencil to my pen collection. And a month of magazines in, I’ve started to notice patterns in how my brain approaches them.
There are times when I get to a clue that I think I know but uncertainty buzzes. Pending how much information I have around it, I will sometimes pencil it in below the puzzle, next to the clue. And sometimes, I’ll continue to build out my hypothetical world: “if this is 15A, then 16D would start with ‘H’...”
Sometimes, I’ll build a multiverse in my margins. “Okay but if 15A is that, then 16D would start with ‘R’...”
Doing this recently, I couldn’t help but think about whether it’s just easier to try. In my top left corner, I knew the clue could be one of two things. I penciled it into the margin. In my bottom right corner, I was pretty sure the clue was this one thing and after feeling stumped elsewhere, decided to just dive in.
It turned out my bottom right answer was correct and like dominos, one clue gave me others and off I went, scribbling and filling in the whole section. But then I went back to the top left. Still unsure, I was hesitant to write in one of my two possible answers—what if it was wrong?
Ah but isn’t that why I’m writing in pencil?
I chose between my two possible answers and felt immediately justified when it helped set off a few others. Success! Until it wasn’t. It only takes a couple of gnashing letters to realize you’ve made a mistake.
So, I erased, tried the other option, and finished the rest of the puzzle in a snap. It was not lost on me that if I had just put any proposed answer in from the beginning, I would have either filled it out quickly (pending I was correct) or realized my mistake even quicker and been able to course correct.
Ah but isn’t that the lesson then?
I only wish I’d made that mistake sooner.
I only wish I’d tried that really hard thing because even if it fails? Even if it doesn’t work? Even if it all crashes around you? Well, then you know. Then you learn. And then you know you have another option in the margins.