April 25, 2018
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A puzzling pastime? Not when you love words

By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

It’s bad enough that “they” are predicting the approaching demise of newspapers, which paid for my BelGioioso provolone cheese for the past 35 years. Now, “they” are talking about the demise of the crossword puzzle as well.


Man cannot live on bread alone. Man, at least this one, must have his crossword puzzle.

Clearly, I am an addict.

My day starts with the crossword puzzle, when the Bangor Daily News drops on my front door, around 6:30 a.m., give or take. After I determine that no federal bailouts are coming in the direction of Cobb Manor, I read the sports and the funnies (talk about shrinkage). Then I either take to the couch or, if it is not raining, to the deck and the chaise longue.

There with special “bold” pens from Staples, I do the puzzle.

One of my favorite clues? Supreme leader. While I was thinking of everyone from Genghis Khan to Ike, I eventually got the answers from the vertical words. Diana Ross.

My day ends with the crossword puzzle. My lovely queen-size bed gets more and more appealing as the day wears on. But I must stay up until 10 p.m. because that is the magic hour when The New York Times releases its daily puzzle on the Internet. Believe me, I pay dearly for this service. If you know NYT puzzles, then you know they get progressively more difficult. The Monday puzzle is almost an insult, but it will contain enough jokes, puns and snob references to keep you awake. The Saturday puzzle can take me up to three hours (I have no life) even with the aid of Internet searches. Some call this cheating. You don’t think the maniacs and perverts who devise these puzzles don’t use the Internet? Please.

During the day I buy the Boston Globe ($1.50!) mostly for the (shrinking) sports page and — the crossword puzzle.

In the Bad Old Days, the BDN and the Globe had the same puzzle. I would do the BDN puzzle at home. Then I would buy the Globe and go on my interminable coffee break at Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe. I would dazzle my tablemates when I opened the Globe, took out a ballpoint pen with great flourish and finished the (same) Globe puzzle in record time. “Boy, are you smart,” one rube said.

I loved it.

I have no idea what the appeal is of crossword puzzles. I only know that they make my head feel good. It has been reported that doctors have prescribed crosswords to aging patients to help offset dementia.

Not everyone agrees.

Dean Olsher, a lifelong crossword puzzler, thinks of them as “a habit, like smoking.” Olsher, author of “From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords,” said, “On the one hand we think that puzzles are helpful when it comes to mental health. But then the flip side of that is that they may be just the opposite; maybe crosswords are not only not going to keep us from getting Alzheimer’s … but may in fact be its own form of mental illness.”


The crossword puzzle, born in a newspaper, was invented by Arthur Wynne, a journalist, in 1913. By the 1920s, most American newspapers carried crossword puzzles.

Like raccoon overcoats and bathtub gin, crossword puzzles were the rage in the 1920s. The New York Public Library reported that people were flocking to dictionaries and encyclopedias to look up clues. In 1924, Simon and Schuster published the first crossword puzzle book. Then the predictable backlash began, with The New York Times, Time magazine, and others lamenting how much time people were wasting on this frivolous game.


The Times, God love ’em, was one of the last American papers to print a daily crossword. Initially, they refused to include this “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words” until 1942.

I, for one, would never deny this “frivolous, sinful waste.” And I can’t wait until 10 tonight to download the next sin.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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