On Sunday mornings I luxuriate in the pages of the New York Times. It’s the only day of the week we get the Times, the rest of the week we stick to our local paper, the Washington Post.
The first thing I do (and my husband always lets me, even if I sleep in) is take the paper out of its plastic sleeve, lay out the different sections, shake the heavier sections to free the NYT magazine and book review section (yes! they still have one), and put the sections together in the order I want to read them. On some Sundays the paper is especially heavy with the addition of a special T-Magazine – a glossy fashion spread that weighs a ton – I usually don’t get to this until Monday or Tuesday.
With the paper laid out on the table, I take the NYT magazine to the kitchen with me to make coffee. I open it to the puzzles page and find the “Spelling Bee” puzzle. This puzzle looks like a simple dartboard with one letter in the middle, surrounded by 6 other letters. I take a picture of it and forward it to a few friends who are also obsessed with this puzzle. Usually I see a word or two right away and I scribble them in the margins. I know that every word has to have at least 5 letters and has to use the letter in the center. I also know that one of the words is likely to use all 7 letters.
The puzzle lives with me all morning. It sits in front of me as I read the paper – a glance now and then helps me see another word. I have it next to my plate of gluten-free blueberry pancakes and bacon – my husband’s treat to me every Sunday. I take it upstairs and lay it on my dresser as I make the bed and if I need to iron some shirts for my husband, it sits to the left on the ironing board (I am left-handed).
The first 5-10 words come easily, but my goal is to achieve “genius” status, as defined by the puzzle-maker. I am competitive and it drives me nuts if my fellow puzzlers find more words than me. To keep going, I list base words and use letters to make prefixes and suffixes that might help me find a word. Sometimes I mess up and find words that use letters not in the puzzle grid and have to cross them out. When I least expect it, I see the 7 letter word just staring at me, taunting me: why didn’t you see me earlier you fool?
When I’ve reached genius status, or I don’t have any more patience, or I run out of time, I look at the answers. I groan when I see the obvious plain old words I missed. I get a bit miffed when there is a word that I didn’t know was a word – I might look it up to make sure it exists and to find out what it means. I’ve learned that the puzzle maker often counts hyphenated words without the hyphens (hyphenated words not allowed), so I include them now, just in case. And so it goes…
Once I’m done, I’m free to start on the NYT magazine crossword puzzle. That’s a another story. (Anyone else out there follow Rex Parker’s blog?)