Writers need to keep their mental gears greased and their perceptions tuned and sharp. They not only need to describe the things they are seeing, but also examine the manner and structure of the seeing- what did I notice that day? Particulars. Writing is all about being attuned.
However, staying attuned in the contemporary world is a challenge. We are pushed and pulled for time, and whether we’re working as a novelist or a web site content writer, our antennas often struggle to pull down the right frequencies. The system fails from time to time. Word retrieval is slow, and the mental gears are not as precise as they used to be. How do we maintain the elasticity of our brains? How do we build our vocabulary and synthesize our thoughts with accuracy and refinement? Put aside some time and do a crossword puzzle.
Clue: Elizabethan and Victorian? (Four Letters)
According to the figures compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, twice as many Americans play computer games than do crossword puzzles. At the same time, there are fans whose addiction to these clever mind games are as strong as their morning espresso. The square and rectangular grids started showing up in newspapers in the early 20th century (the first puzzle being created by Arthur Wynne in 1913), but this pre-Internet pastime seems as distant as Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare.
Clue: Times to Remember? (Four Letters)
The best way for writers to stay attuned is to read, but who has time to read these days? You might want to brush up on some classics, find a new poet or join a neighborhood book club, however, life’s nagging demands often win out, leaving you to enjoy 15 minutes and 5 pages (you read that last paragraph 4 times, too) before drifting off to sleep. You’re not going to keep your brain sharp that way. The beauty of a crossword puzzle is that you can pick it up, put it down, and then come back to it throughout the day. Whenever you have a snippet of time –on the commuter rail, during a lunch break- you can pencil in an answer to a clue. Crossword puzzles are perfectly designed for the modern world.
Diamond Stats? (Four Letters)
Crossword puzzles can be filled with tough, sneaky clues. From colloquial phrases and anagrams to homophones and famous quotes broken into parts, it’s the goal of the creator/editor to trick and mislead the reader.
Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle since 1993, came up with this jewel: A three-letter answer to the clue “Notable Tower?” Shortz’s answer: “AAA” The mind automatically reads the clue as a reference to a building, when in fact AAA tows cars and is therefore a “Notable Tower.”
It’s this sort of sideways thinking that keeps the mind sharp and the mental gears greased. It’s clues like “Notable Tower” that help us see language (and the world) in a different light.
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.