The Zen of Crossword Puzzles

The Zen of Crossword Puzzles

Photo by Sandra Salamony

Refuge can be found in myriad ways. Myles Mellor creates one of the more curious and remarkably lasting places of refuge: the crossword puzzle.

On December 21st, 1913, Arthur Wynne probably had no idea what he was launching when he wrote the first crossword in the New York World magazine. A few years later, crosswords had become a craze. Popularized by the New York Times, people devoured crossword puzzles and kept demanding more. Since 1913 and all the way up to today, countless other “puzzles” have been developed, but few have endured longer than a couple of years, and it would probably be true to say that more time has been spent on crossword puzzles than any other similar pastime.

Why? A crossword takes you out of the noise of life.

It poses a series of problems that can be solved through focus, memory, and intelligent thought. Unless you are competing in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, there is no rush and no pressure. Solving one clue brings pleasure. Solving the whole grid is a delight. Sitting in a comfortable armchair with a cup of coffee and the puzzle is a very peaceful way to shut out the noise from TV, digital ads, and “click-bait” articles. Perhaps getting help from one’s spouse or housemate and creating mild discussion about the clues is a wonderful form of relaxation for the mind. It can, in a way, bring Zen-like calm.

One of the fascinating aspects of solving a crossword puzzle is that you can work on it for an hour or so and get totally stuck, but then put it down for a while—to garden or clean the kitchen or go to bed—and magically find that when you come back, your unconscious mind did a Google search. You posted the questions (with the clues) and now it finally gives you the answer. It’s a fascinating commentary on the power of the human mind and how it can and does solve problems in the background while you are doing other things—or taking a nap.

But what about the crossword puzzle writer? I’ve been creating puzzles full-time now for over 20 years. My greatest joy is receiving notes from solvers about their experiences. Here’s a recent one:

“I came across your crossword puzzle book at my local thrift store. I just wanted to tell you that I am really enjoying it. It’s different than many of my other ones. I am a 41-year-old woman who’s struggled with aphasia (the loss of the ability to understand speech) since my adolescence. I just wanted to tell you that I like your work.”

And another one:

“I don’t have a business or any kind of publication. I just like doing crosswords. Yours are absolutely my favorite ones. They’re funny and doable but still challenging.

I ask my husband sometimes what word he thinks you could possibly be looking for, and when we figure out how you were thinking, it’s such fun. So, where can I buy more of your puzzle books?”

It took me several years to develop the art of tailoring my crosswords to my different audiences. I have my audience in mind when I write. If the people receiving the puzzle are used to easy crosswords, that’s what they need to have. I won’t include difficult words, and I also leave out most trivia.

But veteran solvers want tough crosswords with themes, puns, anagrams, double meanings, and all the other tricks that a crossword writer can conjure up. They expect them and they love solving them!

For me, creating crossword puzzles is a joy. When I’m doing that, I’m happy. By connecting with my audiences, I bring them joy and peace. The worries of my life fade away when I am working on my craft. Loving what you do in life and bringing calmness and quietude to many other people is fulfilling.

So, as the world turns, as wars continue, as the babble of conflicting views fill our airwaves and news, millions of people still find a simple Zen in the crossword puzzle.


Not yet part of the Spirituality+Health community? Celebrate 25 years of S+H by subscribing here.

Zen Crosswords2 Sandra Salamony

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.