Ode to Crosswords

Are you down for a cross?
Sept 2020
Mingyu
Y.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

(If you are interested in listening along to me reading the poem aloud, click here)

 

Eighteen across,

“Ponzi scheme”: fraud.

Twenty-four down,

“Heap kudos on”: laud.

 

“Opening word”,

“Deli stock seed”,

Two clues, one key, 

The word: sesame.

 

“Catcher’s spot?”

“With pastrami it’s bought?”
As the hints would imply,

The answer is rye!

 

Now I know what you’re thinking:

“This is too much for me!

I can’t take much more of

this punny menagerie.”

 

Only three years ago, I was in your boat too.

“Crosswords are for the intellectual few.”

But that was before I discovered the light,

That crosswords need not invite such a fright.

You don’t need the brain of a linguistic sleuth -

All it takes is some practice, to tell you the truth.

The delight of the wordplay’s what makes it worthwhile.

I’ll show an example, give you a sense for the style.

 

“Stalls by the road?” A ten-letter word.

Although ambiguous, proceed undeterred.

Open your mind to how the clue could be read.

“Stall” as in engine, or a kiosk instead?

Breaks down” perhaps, as a motor might do.

Or perhaps it’s “flea market” - plausible too.

Although we’re uncertain, that’s part of the fun!

No crossword’s complete ‘til you’re stumped by a pun.

Try the rest of the grid, and return once you’re done.

 

See? What did that take? No magic, no tricks. 

It does take some time ‘til your mind really clicks. 

But once you’re acquainted with the wordplaying process

You don’t need special powers to start making progress. 

And although I’ll concede these are no easy feat,

The joy of the solve truly cannot be beat.

 

Let me now take you back and tell you the tale

Of my first semester as I prepared to set sail:

When I started grad school in August last year,

I set foot on campus with one major fear.

“Would I find kindred people? Do I even belong?”

“Was my acceptance to this place a mistake all along?”

 

September the third was my first day of class,

We all arrived early, thirty minutes to pass.

(Twas our first trip to campus, a brand new commute,

Trust me, we actually aren’t this astute.)

While twiddling our thumbs, half an hour to kill,

An idea came to mind, how this time could be filled.

 

“Is anyone partial to crosswords?” I said.

“I’m more of a sudoku person instead”.

replied a classmate of mine who was sitting nearby.

“But I’m happy to do one if you want to try.”

So I pulled out the Monday puzzle that week,

(The Mondays are simpler and not as oblique).

We looked through the clues, gave the puzzle a swing,

I thought “hey, we could make this a regular thing.”

 

Every week thereafter, as we waited for class,

We’d pull out a crossword and try it en masse.

At first there were two: just me and a friend.

As the weeks went on, though, our group would extend.

First three, then four, then five, then six,

At quarter past eight: our weekly puzzle fix.

 

I knew we had made it when my classmate would say

upon entering the lounge “Where’s the crossword today?”

It gave me such joy, when the puzzle was done

to hear my friends say “That theme was so fun!”

To hear that my fondness for wordplay had spread,

when we graduated from Mondays and steamed on ahead

to yet punnier puzzles and trickier clues,

I felt proud. I felt grateful. I feel lucky, I do.

 

Merely solving the puzzle wasn’t what made me smile.

Twas the sense of togetherness that made it worthwhile.

To see the whole cohort, all huddled around,

looking deep in the grid, not making a sound.

To hear guesses start coming, some right on the money,

others egregiously wrong but delightfully funny.

To be in that moment, when we joined forces as one,

united in crosswordship til the puzzle was done.

 

And then, this past March, when campus shut down,

when friends hastily returned to their own hometowns.

We’d hop on a call every couple of weeks,

Share a puzzle or two, hone our crossword technique.

Though the puzzles were quick and the calls were brief,

Just hearing their voices was a giant relief.

 

Crosswords are more than just brain-twisting clues;

They helped me to find my community too.

To the friends who indulged me every step of the way,

Thank you, I miss you, and let me just say:

Although we’re apart and our days aren’t so free,

I hope you’ll find time to do a crossword with me.