Cursing My Way Through the Daily Crossword Puzzle

For the past month or so I’ve become somewhat addicted to crossword puzzles. Prior to that, I never really bothered with them; I would look at a couple of the clues, have no idea what the answers were, and decide that I didn’t have the skill set to complete a crossword puzzle.

I’m not sure what triggered the change. I’ve always loved other types of puzzles, especially logic-type puzzles and sudoku puzzles.

Anyway, I started trying crossword puzzles, and I found that the ones I was doing (from the Philadelphia Inquirer) weren’t impossible, and that it was an enjoyable way to spend a few minutes. I also have learned to appreciate the humor and clever play on words that seems to be a common theme in crossword puzzles. And it’s a nice feeling of accomplishment when I can complete one without having to look up some of the clues.

I became so addicted to doing the puzzles that I even signed up for a home delivery subscription to the Inquirer. Before that I would pick up a free paper at school, but I couldn’t always count on getting one of the free copies, plus the papers are only available during the regular academic year.

I think at this point I’ve tried about 30-40 crossword puzzles, and I’ve completed maybe 2-3 of them without having to look up any of the clues.

But that may be about to change.

There was a story on today about how to retrieve words that are “on the tip of your tongue.” We’ve all experienced such a feeling, and know how frustrating it can be.

The article offered some interesting tips for improving your ability to recall such words:

  • Research by Deborah Burke and colleagues suggests that the more you use words, the less susceptible they’ll be to word-finding problems. Interestingly, even using a word’s sounds in the context of other words can help: For example, saying the words “abbey” and “circus” regularly makes it less likely that you forget the word “abacus” anytime soon.
  • Preliminary finding by Lisa Abrams, a researcher at the University of Florida (and the author of the Quartz article) suggests that saying a bad word—like a swear word—out loud makes you less likely to have a tip-of-the-tongue moment for another word immediately after, relative to saying a neutral word.
  • Abrams’s research has also found that gaining access to a word’s initial syllable is the key to retrieving it. When you encounter the tip-of-the-tongue’s first syllable, even within another word, it helps you to recall the elusive word. So, when you’re grappling for a word, instead of searching for words with the same first letter, which is what people commonly try, generate words with the first letter plus another sound. For example, if you can’t think of the word “rosary” but think the word you are thinking of starts with the letter r, generate words beginning with ra, re, ri, ro, and ru, in hopes of coming across the right syllable that will then trigger recall of “rosary.”

I am going to try some of these tips when I work on my next crossword puzzle, but I will need to do so somewhere where there are no other people around. It could get ugly as I start spewing forth a stream of curse words in hopes of trying to remember a word that is right on the tip of my tongue.

Looking back on today’s puzzle (I was so close; I got every clue except 1 down and 1 across, and I was only missing the first letter of each word), I was curious if there were some of the clues that cursing may have helped with. Part of the beauty of solving a crossword puzzle is that you may not know an answer (or at least it doesn’t come to you right away), but as you solve clues that are connected to the one you can’t solve, it gets easier to solve the clue that was stumping you.

For example, one of the clue’s was “dogs with stubby noses”. I could picture the dog they were referring to, but I couldn’t come up with the name. I only figured it ; out after I had the first two letters. But I wonder what would have happened if when I first saw the clue, I said out loud “dogs with stubby noses, F*CK!

Would I have been able to guess “dante” right away when I saw the clue “‘Inferno’ writer” and said it out loud like this “‘Inferno’ writer. SH*T!“. As it was, this was another clue that I solved with the help of adjoining clues. But as soon as I saw the answer, it dawned on me. I knew the answer, I just wasn’t able to retrieve it on a timely basis.

As I noted, I’ll try this with my next crossword puzzle, and I’ll let you know if it helped at all.

And if it helps there, I might have to start watching TV and movies by myself as well. “What’s that guy’s name, A**HOLE!”

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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