Clued In

All day long, I think about words. For a writer, they are my lifeblood. Sometimes, my head feels so full of words that I need to do something, anything, nonverbal. Walking helps. So does weaving or sewing—making something with my hands, however challenging that may be.

But one of my favorite ways to relax is to immerse myself in words and more words—doing The New York Times crossword puzzle. I used to limit myself to the Sunday crossword because we have a print subscription to the big, hefty weekend edition. Then came the 2016 presidential election. I decided I needed to support a free press more actively and bought a digital subscription to the Times (as well as The Washington Post).

My Times subscription came with an added bonus—a reduced digital subscription to the crossword app. Why not? I thought. I need a break from all the bad headlines.

Doing the daily crossword has now become something of an addiction. There’s the Monday crossword, an easy start to the week that I can finish in about ten minutes. Tuesday is usually a snap, too. The puzzles get harder by midweek and can be a real challenge by Friday. Saturday’s puzzle is almost always a stumper. Sunday is a crapshoot. Sometimes I get the theme right away; others can take a few days to finish.

Aside from being a welcome distraction from upsetting news (which I certainly understand better, now that I’m reading more comprehensive coverage, but wish this weren’t such a disheartening civic responsibility), the crossword’s digital version has an added bonus: It’s so much easier to complete with a stroke of my laptop keys than to write in with pencil. My hands don’t get as tired. I don’t have to struggle with a smudgy eraser (no, I’m not one of those pen-wielding crossword purists).

This is especially true for the Sunday puzzle. A few years ago, the Times switched format to a semigloss paper stock, which I find incredibly difficult to write on. It requires far too much finger pressure to inscribe anything legible on it, and the light reflection off the paper makes it hard to see what you’ve written. Fine for magazine photos, not for Number Two pencils and bifocals.

The downside of the digital version: It’s much more tempting to cheat and look up answers on the Internet.

To avoid that downfall, I’ve invited Al, my crossword ninja, to do the puzzles with me. He has an uncanny ability to decipher clues. And it’s a fun way to relax together in the evening.

Who knew that “fake news” wars could have such a delightful side-effect?

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    Love crosswords as a stress reducer, but I am not as good at them as you are; I don’t have as much time to play with them, either. I save the Sunday crosswords from the Boston Globe and do one when I get a chance, like on a slow week-end or when I am travelling. I am also a word person, so it’s not surprising that I enjoy crosswords. But it might be surprising that I did not start doing them on a regular basis until my husband left me, very unexpectedly, some years ago. As my friends know, this was a devastating loss for me, and looking for comforting distractions, I lit on crosswords. There was something satisfying about getting all the squares filled in. It might also be surprising–it was surprising to me–that in using crosswords to buffer loss, I had something in common with Joan Didion, a wonderful word person, who describes turning to them after the very unexpected death of her husband. She tells about it in The Year of Magical Thinking.

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