020 — Cruciverbalism
(Justin ⇒ Jasdev, 10/5/2020)
> If you were to give a mini talk — in Letters to J form — on something you know way too much about (or a lesser-known arcanum), what would it be about? > — Jasdev, in letter #19
For a split second, I was tempted to answer with a topic that we’ve given more than its fair shake recently: JRPGs (short for “Japanese RPGs,” a genre of video game with a particular set of motifs and common gameplay elements)
On second thought, though, I remembered a prerequisite of a good presentation is that it should have a compelling thesis or argument: the goal of oratory is to persuade, and while I love JRPGs I don’t think I would ever try and convince someone to play more of them or to treat them with more, uh, gravitas than they currently do. They are silly games that I like because they laminate my brain and remind me of being seven years old: that is useful, but not exactly Carthago delenda est.
I then turned to my second nerdiest obsession of choice (which, helpfully, I was engaged in just before writing this!), and the thesis I would want to make with such a talk became exceedingly clear.
Everyone should do the New York Times Crossword.
To bolster my argument, I offer three reasons:
- You learn trivia. I am notoriously bad with geography and ethnography, and crosswords help with both! After your third or fourth
Native speakers of Chiwere(
TRES), some of the knowledge starts to sink in. And, as you’re aware, crosswording is such a useful way to expand one’s vocabulary that I’ve even set up a feed of new words I’ve learned.
- It’s probably scientifically proven to improve your memory, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. Some scientific papers purport that solving crosswords, like Sudoku and KenKen, help fight dementia and Alzheimer’s. If this is a persuasive line of reasoning to you, then good — frankly, it is immaterial to me compared to the sheer joy and satisfaction of using your brain to solve a difficult puzzle.
- Setting aside time to do a single crossword is symbolic of a balanced life. It takes me around twenty minutes a day to do the crossword. This is not a tremendously large commitment, but its a canary for my work-life balance in general: if I run into a week where there’s more than one evening in which I forget to solve, then it’s a sign something is deeply out of whack. Similarly, if I find myself archive-digging through old crosswords then it’s a sign I have a bit too much energy, and should probably be putting a bit more on my plate.
The crossword curves gracefully in difficulty in accordance with the weekdays: Monday is a very easy crossword, Tuesday is a little harder, Wednesday harder than that, and so on until Saturday, which is traditionally the hardest day of the week. (Sunday is usually a jumbo crossword, with themes — themed puzzles tend to be easier than non-themed ones, since you can use clues within the construction of the board itself to solve it.)
If you’re new: start with the Monday and the Tuesday. It’ll take some time, but you start to recognize certain author’s favorite words (
IRE) and the certain tells for clues (does the clue end in a question mark? Then it’s a groan worthy pun!). It is satisfying and addicting to watch your mastery climb — if you’re anything like me, you’ll start out needing to cheat or peek for the Thursday and Fridays but quickly get to the point where you can solve all but the trickiest puzzles unassisted, and then it’s a race to improve your personal bests for each day.
At risk of a very lazy prompt, I’m genuinely curious: how about you? What would you do with your five minutes of soapbox?