They'd like a word with you
Ahead of Crossword Puzzle Day, four Mumbai wordsmiths talk about why they can't get their hands off the game and its relevance in a digital world
On December 21, 1913, the first known published crossword was created for the newspaper the New York World's Sunday edition. A journalist from Liverpool Arthur Wynne created it, and he's also popularly credited with being the inventor of the puzzle. Since then, the game has been at the centre of international competitions and television shows. And in a digital age where alternatives are plenty, here are four Mumbaikars who cannot do without their eyes on the box.
A fine balance
Civil servant Ritesh Mishra, 49, has had a keen interest in crosswords and quizzing since childhood. And with a stressful job, this helps him stay organised. "I don't solve it at one go. I also feel that a good puzzle should have a balance; it shouldn't be so hard that people give up immediately or so easy that it isn't a challenge," he states. Another point he highlights is to forget the ego. "Don't be embarrassed about checking for answers online for time is short, and there is so much to learn."
Kalpana Rambhia, a 55-year old homemaker from Tardeo solved her first crossword in Gujarati six years ago. "I started solving while I used to help my husband at our grocery shop. It was an afternoon activity to kill time. I read newspapers every day but I never thought of solving crosswords. But once I started, there was no looking back," she says. Rambhia states that the game helps her look for solutions to everyday problems. "The fun part is, I now include my kids while solving. We bond over it."
The snack with tea
For gallerist Pravina Mecklai, crossword puzzles are intrinsic to her routine. Ever since she laid eyes on one in a daily in 1972, she found it a great way to relax. "I like to sit and read news in the evening and sip a cup of tea. Back then, I'd only check the evening paper for the crossword puzzle," she shares. While she doesn't prefer sudokus which are too hard — "they make me feel like a fool" — she believes people need to set time out daily for the activity. "It's better to solve these in the papers rather than a digital platform because there are so many distractions that come with the latter. You learn that your vocabulary is not as expansive as you think it is."
An active mind
"A dictionary is not for reference. It is for reading." That's the advice Dombivali resident Ulhas Eknath Tare, 64, once received. Since then, he made it a habit to read one page of the dictionary every night before sleeping. After starting off with small crosswords in 1974, he graduated to the jumbo versions. "My mind is always alert. And there's a joy that comes with getting the answers. It also improves your vocabulary," he says. Since he's the only one in the family to keep at the exercise, he doesn't have much hope in the future generation. "I feel like we'll be the last people to work on crosswords. The younger ones want everything readymade. They do not have the patience. This activity not only teaches you patience, it also improves your willpower."
According to Aditi Vaze, a clinical psychologist and teacher, solving crosswords is a cognitive activity that stimulates the brain. Having kept herself busy with mid-day crosswords during train rides while in college, she outlines the following benefits of the game:
. How many of us actually remember phone numbers now? Everything is accessible to us but doing this strengthens the neuronal connections of the brain. One of the ways to reduce senile dementia is to keep the brain active.
. The learning from such activity is unlike rote learning. You form associations with words and pick up references.
. It is a nice way to meet like-minded people. There is a fair bit of competition since it's not a passive activity.
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