Crosswords taught me why people enjoy Dark Souls

25 Across: Playing music you’ve never practiced. 12 letters.
… Noodling? No
… Amateur–no



Sightreading! Christ.

I was never one for crossword puzzles. I found the ambiguity of the clues frustrating and whenever an answer is partially completed my mind refuses to open up and see more than a few examples that clearly don’t fit.

When the folks on Waypoint Radio started talking about doing the daily crosswords on the New York Times website, I was intrigued. I’m a writer, I like words, I like clever wordplay. Maybe I should give it a try? I watched Chris Remo’s excellent YouTube videos. I decided to start with the free daily crossword puzzles on dicionary.com

6 Down: Put in a worse position? 6 letters.


… Demote? Oh $%&@ you that’s not clever.

It didn’t take me long to get accustomed to the specific lingo of crossword puzzles. Lots of American culture (which as a Canadian is frustrating but not impossible), the occasional French of Spanish word. The same celebrities that appear because of the letters in their names (Ringo Starr, for one). The way a question mark hints at a pun, the way you have to pay attention to tense and plurals and whether the clue uses abbreviations.

I’ve bounced off of Bloodborne and Dark Souls several times. I get frustrated. I find the worlds fascinating but the fights too many and too lethal. I can’t keep all the move sets and tactics in my head at once.

But when I hear what other people get out of them: the mastery, the discipline, the earned victories, that’s how I feel when I finally beat a crossword puzzle. I put up with puns and wordplay that seems obtuse until it isn’t. I fill in enough letters on unfamiliar geographical locations until I can make a guess. I try to remember the puzzle’s theme to give me a step up.

34 Down: Baldwin or Guinness. 4 letters.
… Alec?
45 Down: Baldwin or Guinness. 6 letters.
Actors! Oh, that is clever.

Suddenly you find an opening. The knight overextends and you can get three swings in. You know that peyote and prickly pears are CACTI and suddenly you have RICH and ESTA and WHATROTTENLUCK. It feels good, it feels like an accomplishment. You put up with rules that don’t explain themselves and hidden surprises and get your earned victory.

Has anyone else caught the crossword bug recently? Are there folks who enjoy crosswords and Dark Souls for the same reason? Anyone else worried they won’t keep their streak going after they anted up for the NYT puzzles?

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For me, Dark Souls is like crosswords, because when I’m tired of beating my head against the wall I look up what the hell I need to do online.

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When I can’t get a solution I eventually cave and pray to glowing runes in my hallway for someone to help.

I also happened to get into crosswords recently and they’re extremely fun – I was inspired by the Chris Remo series but I started playing them before I watched any of the videos – but I think for me the comparison to any sort of game would have to be puzzle games like The Talos Principle, The Witness and Baba is You.

They’re similar in that they provide you with enough information to arrive at an answer and tougher, esoteric problems make me feel like the ultimate brain genius whenever I figure them out. There was a particular puzzle on Dictionary.com (August 11th, “Alternative Education”) where I was able to discern the themed answers from their less-than-obvious hints without solving any of the words around them and it felt incredible when plugged in the answers and they were correct. It’s the same feeling I get when I stare at a puzzle in a given game for who knows how long and then the solution suddenly clicks into place.

Conversely, when I’m stuck for whatever reason I just feel like the biggest dummy on the planet.
I’m still not familiar with all the specific rules surrounding hints the puzzle makers assume I know but I’m slowly picking up on them!

Apart from the daily dictionary dot com puzzles, I’ve been doing the puzzles from USA Today which are much simpler and take less time for me to solve. I’ve also been doing the puzzles from the LA Times (although they seem to be hosted on other newspaper’s websites) but those have been way more frustrating (and much longer!) on average. The puzzle theme from the 15th was pretty fun though!

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I started out doing the Globe & Mail cryptics with my Dad years back. We still work on them together if we go on vacation together, though for obvs reasons it has been a while.

Cryptics have a bit of a learning curve but you do enough and it does get more second nature. They’re also kind of a different mindset (more often than a regular crossword, once you have an answer you won’t really need a cross to confirm it because of the peculiarities of word play involved).

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