The Puzzle

As someone who loves words, I enjoy doing the occasional crossword puzzle.


Sometimes one word after another is filled in with relative ease and the whole thing is completed, leaving me feeling like somewhat of a genius and ready to tackle Jeopardy later that night. It’s fun when that happens, but it’s not much of a challenge.

Then there are the puzzles where I start out feeling smart and then run into a string of clues that stump me. So I try to fill in some of the words around the challenging clues, and once I have enough letters filled in, the answers usually end up becoming pretty clear and I go on to complete the puzzle.

Or get frustrated, fill in the boxes with obscenities that fit and throw the paper in the recycling bin, but I’m trying to prove a point here, so we’ll just keep going.

And of course, there are (quite a few) puzzles that I absolutely can’t figure out. I come at them from every angle—filling in a letter here and there, but never enough to answer the clue.

Those are the times that I’m tempted to flip to the answer in the back of the paper, simply because the option is there and I want to make things a little bit easier.

When I see the answer, sometimes it’s embarrassingly obvious and I realize I was completely overthinking things instead of having the confidence to just fill in the box and move on, not worried if I’d made a mistake. Other times there is no way I would have ever known that particular word, no matter how long I sat there and thought about it.

Seriously. Who really knows the name of Albert Einstein’s first dog?

At any rate, here’s where I get entirely too introspective and compare it to life. Because while there are things I know with great certainty, there are dozens more in which I would constantly flip to the back page if possible—just for a hint—about how to finish my “puzzle.”

Hell, I’m going through one of those,what’s the pointof this?phases lately with so many things, that at this point I would even take just a few letters.

But as I was doing a crossword the other day, I rationalized that life is a series of questions—some with answers so glaringly obvious while others are harder to crack.

I can’t flip to the back for a clue.

I have no hints and mild frustration.

But even if I can’t see them, there are answers, and at some point all the blanks will fill in and I’ll see how it all fits together. If it were easy and there was no challenge attached, the rewards might not feel quite as, well, rewarding. 

So while I do puzzles in pen, life is a little more pencil, so to speak. Mistakes can be made and erased or scratched out. It’s putting something—anything—down in the blanks without overthinking each choice.

Easier said than done, of course, as I don’t even know where to start. But to bring all this back to the puzzle—I can fill in the blanks as I go.

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27 responses to “The Puzzle

  1. I went through a crossword phase, but it takes a while to learn “the language” of crosswords. There are definitely abbreviations and words you will ONLY see in crosswords. My problem is I’ve always done life in pen. 🙂

  2. Right, I’ve googled, and can’t find a definitive answer to the name of Einstein’s Dog. Answer please? Argos/Chico Marx/Newton or none of the above?!

  3. I am lousy (LOUSY) at crossword puzzles, but something about them maks me want to try them. It’s like punishment I think. LOL.

    I get this, the puzzles of life keep me up at night , they leave me wondering and dstracted in my wanting to solve them but they also give me chance to go beyond myself and find the answers.

    For whatever reason this post really spoke to me today ..thanks Abby. 🙂

  4. A nice metaphor! You do puzzles in pen? BADASS.

  5. I always cheat at crossword puzzles. It drives me crazy when I can’t get a word. I take it personally, as an editor. Sometimes, I tell myself that I’m only looking at one particular answer, but if I “happen to see” the ones next to it at the back of the book, I’ll still pretend I guessed it myself. YEAH. On another note, I totally get how you feel; I’m in the same boat, except in my case, it feels like the puzzle keeps changing on me just when I feel I’m starting to figure out the letters. I guess the lesson is just to keep chipping away at it, without putting too much pressure on ourselves to get it “right”. Remember, you’re ______ (7-letter word starting with “A”; rhymes with “possum”).

  6. I, too, am better at crosswords than life.

  7. Is there anything more triumphant than completing an entire crossword puzzle? I think not.

  8. You know what I cannot, for the life of me, figure out? Sudoku. What’s all the fuss about?

  9. I’m in a point in my life, professionally, that I just wish there was an answer key. Or that someone would just tell me what the right answer is. Sadly, that is not real life, but oh how I wish it was. It would just be so much simpler. But I just can’t for the life of me figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and would really like for someone who knows me to just be like, “duh, obviously your talents would be best served doing X.” Where is my damn answer key?

    • I wish I had an answer key for that exact issue, too, Misty. Of course, I’m extremely contrary, so if the back of the book told me “x,” I would still probably naysay it. And, you’d think that would be a sign that I actually know what I want. Unfortunately, nope!

  10. Good analogy! I like puzzle games period. I even sometimes buy the Sunday New York Times if I’m feeling really frisky. I am an admitted Sudoku addict as well.

  11. I’ve been thinking along that line of thought a good deal lately. When I started blogging again I asked myself why I thought there were things I was not capable of doing now at going on 40 than when I was 20. I don’t have a good answer and it seems like more of an excuse. I am trying to bat it away as much as possible.

  12. OOOOHHHHH I like the comparison of puzzles to life. Ever think that in life sometimes if you don’t have the exact right answer at the time, you can sometimes fudge it, and make it work to the best of your ability until you figure out the correct answer?

  13. You’re a total rock-star for doing the crossword in PEN.

    “without overthinking each choice.” – yeah, um… I’m working on that, but some days, I still obsess WAY too much and over analyze to the point of insanity.

  14. I feel the same way about Sudoku.

  15. I leave ’em all blank when I work ’em, so no one can tell whether I knew the answers or not. Yeah, that’s a lot like my life too. And I can’t even pronounce Sudoku!

  16. I’m pretty useless at cross word puzzles, but I like the image of life being like one. Overthinking it is certainly the key to not being able to answer some questions.

  17. Such an insightful post, it gave me so much to think about, Abby.

    I think I spend too much time trying to find the missing pieces by analysing and over-thinking. Often, when I stop looking, I find that they’ve been in front of me the entire time.

    And as for Sudoko? NO.

  18. Although I love words, have an utter fascination for them, love learning them in different languages and all that – when I see a cluster of letters all I see is a cluster of letters. Word jumble and stuff like that? I rock at finding “the” and “at” and “ass” but clever words? Never. I need clues that are obvious, think Peter Griffin “what color is a red fire truck?”

    But give me numbers and I’m all over it, I cannot go to the toilet without my iPod so I can play Sudoku until Leo knocks on the door for me to get out…

    My mom plays crosswords daily. She says it keeps her brain active so she won’t get Alzheimer’s. Looks like you’ll have your brain to keep us entertained a long-long time!

  19. My mom is super into crosswords. She likes to keep her mind active. I used to do them, too, until the Sunday crossword kept making me feel like a complete idiot. Now I just play scramble with friends and pretend it’s the same thing…

    I live my life in pen. I blame my stubborness (which can be blamed on both parents?). I need to remember, metaphorically speaking, that sometimes it’s ok to break out the pencil from time to time.

  20. I do everything in pen. overconfident? too often. 😉

    I love this post, Abby – the puzzle within the puzzle.

  21. I really love your analogy of life and the crossword puzzle. So, so true. I am glad most of life can be lived with a pencil, but sometimes we just have to make a decision and write with the dingdang pen!!! (I’m really getting into your analogy here.)

  22. Goodness – another thing we have in common! I’m obsessed with crosswords and other word games. They feel like a mini-break for my brain!

  23. Love the analogy you used too – I’m so impatient with unfilled blanks, both in puzzles an din my life!

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