The obsession began one summer, when I took a job an hour and a half commute from home. Bus, then train, then another bus. At every transfer, there was an eager hand passing me the daily free paper. I skimmed the articles quickly, feigning some kind of artificial worldliness to the other riders. But really, it was a show to get to the end, to those 50 questions tucked into the crossword puzzle.
I could sail through the first answers quick enough. Confidence boosted, I’d dig into the rest, teetering between frustration and satisfaction as I’d try and fill in every last space. If my ink-stained palms were any testament, those crosswords taught me a whole lot more that summer then an alternative word for “cushion,” or a 4-letter New York sports team. Here’s what I learned.
You’ve got to have patience
Not everything falls into place exactly when you think it should. Be it a certain job, a relationship, or 14 across, sometimes you must simply bide your time. And work on other things (like 14 down) until they do. Don’t pursue one thing so relentlessly that you ignore every big shining clue surrounding it. Soon enough, you will figure out that single character that connects everything, and makes the scramble of life’s letters a little more clear.
Never underestimate the worth of seemingly random knowledge and experiences
Maybe you will never forget the name of that town you got lost in, or the name of that plant that stung you in the woods. And perhaps the only reason those things happened was so that you could confidently fill in the last clue on a crossword, on some distant day when you just needed a boost. While not every trial you face may be remedied by filling in random questions, you never know when information might come in handy.
You’ve got to lean on other people sometimes
You don’t know everything, and you never will. And that’s OK. I have no idea what ignimbrite rocks are, but my sister sure does. As in any challenge, try everything in your power, and then ask for help. Or, as I might have done once or twice, fill it out discreetly in a boring lecture, then pass it around the back of class. Let the varied experiences of others fill in your blanks.
Commitment is key
Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and commit. With a pen, that is. And trust that there’s always (OK, almost always) a way out—even when you’ve written with the heaviest of strokes and the most permanent of pens. Whiteout may be a look a bit messy, and you might have to wait for it to dry, but it will always give you a clean start.
There is more then one right answer
Despite the lessons they may teach, crosswords and life are different. In crosswords, only one word will fit the space. In life, there is not always a right answer. There is more then one way to say something. Ask four people to name a four-letter “type of meat” and you could very well get four different answers—and they’d all be right (pork, beef, lamb, goat). Just because you think you know what you’re talking about doesn’t mean everyone else in the room is wrong. Even the right answer can be a bad fit at the wrong time or place.
Sarah Marsh is a 20-something woman from Vancouver, BC. She works behind-the-scenes in news and television production by day, and writes and blogs (at www.peopleplacesplates.ca) on the side.
[Image via Fox]