Now that we are mostly “sheltering in place” due to the Corona Virus threat, I’ll bet a few more of us are working on crossword puzzles. (At least that’s what I heard on Wisconsin Public Radio recently. They had a story about when the New York Times started publishing in the early 20th century. At first the NYT editors thought crosswords were too “low-brow” for their paper, but there was a crisis in the country–either wartime or the flu epidemic, I think–and they decided maybe their readers could use a distraction of some kind.)
I must say, I used to think that doing crosswords was an unproductive use of my time, because I had nothing to show for it except a vague feeling of accomplishment. Then I realized that not everything in life has to have a goal or a productive outcome, so I began to do them guilt-free. (I later learned that people who do crosswords are less likely to get early Alzheimer’s, though the cause-and-effect arrow is not clearly understood.)
Having been something of a crossword fanatic for the last 20 years, I now comfort myself with the belief (rationalization?) that doing crosswords helps me be a better UU. A stretch, you say? Well, maybe. But I do find that crossword puzzles help me question my assumptions–at least in the area of words–and it’s not too big a stretch to carry that insight into other areas of my life.
Here are some examples of what I mean, from a puzzle I was doing recently. The first clue was “from the top.” The answer was supposed to be 4 letters. Naturally, I thought of “down” or “over,” but neither fit the words crossing from the other direction.The answer turned out to be…”anew.” And I thought, “What does that have to do with ‘from the top’?” But then I remembered that “from the top” is another way of saying, “Let’s start over from the beginning–in other words, let’s start anew”–and it all suddenly made sense.
Here’s another example: What’s a 15-letter synonym for “Whopper Juniors”? Well, naturally I started thinking about a Burger King order, but the answer turned out to be…”little white lies.” (Get it? Whopper is another word for a lie, so junior ones would be fibs, or little white lies.)
Still another: The clue was “Prepare to be shot.” Naturally, I was thinking of someone standing before a firing line, but the answer was only 4 letters. Turns out, it was “pose”–and then I remembered that “shot” can mean having your picture taken!
And my favorite: “Joe of great strength.” The answer was 8 letters. I was thinking of DiMaggio. (Or was there a boxer or body builder with an 8-letter last name?) Turns out, the answer was…”espresso”–and I remembered that “Joe” is another word for coffee.
I suppose it would be an exaggeration to say that working crossword puzzles is a UU spiritual exercise. But it does help me see the assumptions I make. And if I apply my insight to the world of prejudice, preconceptions, and rigid thinking, I see that crossword puzzling just might be a metaphor for our 4th UU principle: the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Well, as I say, maybe that’s a rationalization for an activity that actually needs no justification. But I like to think crossword puzzling is at least a little bit spiritual. In any case, I hope you are staying safe and well, and I look forward to seeing you at church eventually, and I leave you with a 14-letter synonym for …
“concord plus sedition”*
* Hint: It’s what I say at the end of every service I do at UCN.