Crossword Puzzles Save Lives
Flying means one thing for me these days: crossword puzzles.
The first thing I do when boarding a flight is take the airline magazine out and flip to the back. The game is to complete the crossword puzzle before the plane takes off.
The logic is simple. Finish the puzzle before the plane takes off and we won’t crash. Fail, and, well…let’s just say that my fellow passengers should be very thankful I’m so good at word games.
I invented this ritual many years ago in response to my latent fear of flying, which, I’ll admit, seems at odds with the implied God complex. But that’s a dilemma for another blog post.
Now, when I say that I’m good at crossword puzzles it should be understood what I mean. In my experience, crossword puzzles are less like an IQ test and more like learning a rudimentary language. Do enough of them and you’ll start to see certain clues and answers repeated. When’s the last time you used words like “apse,” “etui,” and “oleo” (or “olio,” for that matter) in polite conversation?
You haven’t, and neither have I. That’s the point.
And speaking of points, finishing the puzzle is just as important to me as the pen I use to do it. I prefer a black Uni Ball Roller or, in a pinch, a black Paper Mate Flair. Why? See “God complex” above because, really, that’s like asking Superman why he prefers a red cape. I’ve got lives to save, damn it!
Of course, I also do crossword puzzles when I’m not flying. In most cases it’s either when I’m at a cafe, out to breakfast on a weekend morning or when I’m getting an oil change for my car. Nothing quite screams “No I don’t want see how dirty my air filter is!” quite like being intently focused on a folded piece of newspaper in your lap.
My love of crossword puzzles started in college, when my friends and I had lots of time to kill and an almost constant need to prove how smart we were. Or, at least, I did. You see, I was a terminal “C” student in high school who only reluctantly went to community college after all my drinking buddies moved away.
I eventually left Los Angeles for Santa Barbara when I was nineteen to play drums in my friends’ band. My parents agreed to help out with the rent if I also took some classes at Santa Barbara City College. We lived in the bacchanalian student paradise of Isla Vista, where it was coffee and crosswords all day, cheap beer and music all night.
Surrounded as I was by people who were actively pursuing college degrees, I quickly developed an inferiority complex about my intelligence. I was happy to embody the out of control rock drummer cliché on the outside, but inside I was trying to decide if I really was a moron or not (some would say the jury’s still out).
Silly as it sounds, it was crossword puzzles that gave me a glimmer of hope. Once I figured out how to keep up with solving clues, I stopped doubting myself just enough.
Before long I had actually chosen Journalism as a major. I didn’t stop playing drums, and it would be decades before I gave up on the coffee and beer diet, but I was on my way to a future that I previously couldn’t envision for myself.
So when I made crossword puzzles the driving force behind my new novella Crosswise (Down & Out Books), it was because I love them. I love they way the pen feels on the newsprint. I love the cheap thrill I get from conquering the puns and themed clues. And I still love the sense of satisfaction I feel when all those little boxes are filled in—especially when it happens before the plane takes off.
Sure, saving lives with a pen can be a stressful, but it’s the least I can do to keep the skies safe. A hero’s work is never done.