Pieces of praise. Type of poem. Flattering lines. Homage in verse. Ode!
It’s a Tuesday night; I have multiple assignments due in the next few hours, and an alarming amount of tabs opened up on my laptop. Instead of buckling down at my desk to grind out my readings and problem sets, I scurry down the three flights of stairs and swing open my apartment’s back door to find a group of my friends eagerly waiting outside.
Within moments, we’re all huddled in the living room, scattered on the floor and in the random assortment of chairs we’ve dragged into the space for the special occasion. Sprawled out across a beanbag, I fumble with the multiple ragged cords hanging off our TV until I find the HDMI and triumphantly plug it into my laptop. Blown up on the big screen, the six words are reflected across our fervent eyes.
“The Crossword: Ready to Start Solving?”
This is an ode to the New York Times crossword: my most-used app, but more importantly, my favorite escape.
I have always been a word kid. The day I turned five years old, I asked my parents for two things: to get my ears pierced and to get my very own library card. With freshly poked lobes, I dragged my dad to the front desk at our local library and proudly told the librarian that I was finally five years old—which was wonderful for a multitude of reasons, but most importantly, meant that I was officially old enough to be trusted with my own library card.
My dad used to take me to Barnes & Noble every weekend. I’d beg him to drive the 15 minutes into the neighboring town so I could scour the fiction shelves. I would scout out the comfiest cushioned chair that looked over the store parking lot as I settled in with my two or three books of the day. After a while, my dad would always leave me in my secluded corner to go run errands; most of the time, I never realized he had left until he returned to tell me we had to go home.
The top right drawer of my desk in my childhood bedroom only opens if it is yanked. Inside, four neatly stacked piles scrape against the roof of the drawer. I have never been able to throw away any card that I have ever received. Whether a birthday card, thank-you card, or even a simple Post-it, I have held onto every piece of paper for over a decade.
People in my life searching their minds for the right words and bringing them to life for me. Putting their pens to paper and tracing each line with the purest of intentions. Signing their name with a heart or a little doodle to keep me smiling. Nothing makes my heart swell more than knowing that their words are meant for me.
When my friend Rachel left for a semester abroad, I was distraught at the thought of passing days on campus without her. I didn’t know how to navigate Brown without her, and it wasn’t something I was particularly interested in learning to do. Before moving back to my dorm, I packed the envelope that she had written my name across years beforehand, with one of the most meaningful cards I had ever received tucked away safely inside. For the rest of the year, that envelope sat patiently atop my desk, always available for me to crack open and re-read whenever I needed to raise my spirits. 3,775 miles between us, but it always felt like she was sitting beside me whenever I reread her handwriting.
This is an ode to words; the strings that fill up our days, but more importantly, the vessel for how we choose to express ourselves.
The New York Times crossword loves the word ‘ode.’ It also loves the word ‘apse.’ And ‘ere.’ Ire. Eel. Ape. Tyke. Aria. Eli.
Will Shortz may keep these recurring words in rotation (and thank god he does!), but he has never once described them in the same way. A large primate? Ape. To mimic another individual in an absurd manner? Ape. Before a significant event? Ante. The initial stake in a game of poker? Ante. I’ve yet to understand any of the rules of poker, but I can confidently say I’m well-versed in the game’s terminology thanks to Shortz.
Spoken, heard, written, or read—words equip us with unimaginable power. Intentional tones. Specific sentence structure. Using semicolons instead of periods. Choosing to say exceptional instead of good. Riveting instead of just fun. Deciding to be more dramatic with a tinge of flair instead of concise and straight to the point. Opting for an exclamation point in place of a period. Picking out a word or phrase to sign a letter. Carefully crafting the perfect text to that one person. Knowing that the next words out of your mouth, onto your slip of paper, or displayed on your screen can and will evoke an emotion of some sort from someone else. What more powerful of a connection could you share?
The NYT crossword puzzle is an irreplaceable connection in my life. It connects my love for words with my love for the people around me. Without fail, I will always complete the crossword with another brain alongside mine. I’ll wake up and whip out a Monday crossword at the breakfast table with my roommates. I can pull out a Wednesday crossword in the ERC, surrounded by friends and lattes. Occasionally I’ll make waffles to accompany a Sunday crossword, with so many pairs of eyes glued to the TV screen. And of course, I’ll invite a bunch of people over on a Tuesday night to solve and celebrate the 100th crossword of our very precious and treasured streak.
This is an ode to the black and white squares, so intricately arranged each morning.
This is an ode to hundreds of NYT subscribers who take the time to leave comments on each puzzle that keep me smiling for the rest of the day.
This is an ode to my friends who have indulged my obsession with their avid participation.
This is an ode to Rachel, who has always understood my love for words, and went the extra mile to gift me a NYT Games subscription years ago because she could no longer stand watching me sulk over the locked puzzles on the Games app.
This is an ode to the New York Times crossword, for preserving the significance of words for people worldwide.