The answer – Crossword – as in Crossword Puzzles. Two family members clued me in to the benefits of crossword puzzles at a very early age. One, my Uncle Johnny Walsh, who is still one of the most knowledgeable and worldly men I know. My uncle Johnny told me that crossword puzzles would help my vocabulary and would help me succeed in business. I was 10 or 11 when he gave me this advice. I would tell him that I hadn’t picked a career path, other than playing first base for the Boston Red Sox, but he insisted. “When (not if, when) you go into business, you will need a strong vocabulary.” I have been in business for almost 15 years and his advice was spot on.
The other, my great-grandmother Elizabeth Roby, who was as close to an encyclopedia as any human being I have ever known. My great gram was bed ridden when my family and I would visit her in Berlin, CT. She was a great lover of nature, especially birds. I would sit on the corner of her bed and watch her mow through the NY Times Sunday crossword like a brand new blade on a John Deere tractor. My great gram knew geography of the world, religion, mythology, nature, the human body, and had mastered the definitions of countless words in the English language. She used a pencil and rarely, if ever, used an eraser.
Crossword puzzles come in a wide variety of complexities. The simple ones are great for building vocabulary or maintaining vocabulary. The more complex ones offer a unique challenge for those who have traveled the world or have advanced degrees or enjoy literature of all sorts. They are a standard item in any major or local newspaper. My favorite ones are the Boston Globe, USA Today, and, or course, the NY Times. You can find them in any convenience store, book store, or at the airport all-in-one shoppes. Or, you can play them online through various websites. There are tons of apps for your mobile devices and tablets that have crossword puzzles for beginners to advanced.
For me, the crossword puzzle is an adventure in learning. The clues set my brain in motion to a road I have once traveled. “What is the capital of Utah?” I haven’t been to Salt Lake City but I have driven through Utah and know that SLC is indeed the capital. “She had a Tootsie roll.” Ah, the clever wording of the crossword puzzle clue. Growing up in the 1980’s, I recall the movie and a prominent female role was played by “Teri Garr” or in crossword speak “terigarr.” “Roll” replaces the actual word “role” to make the solver think and read between the lines. “Links letters.” Having a grandfather who was at home on the golf course, I knew the letters “PGA” from an early age. How about “Boston Garden legend?” This one could be any number of players in my brain’s inventory of Boston Garden legends. But with only 3 boxes to write letters in, the choice is clear – “Orr.”
Crossword puzzles have given me that strong and diverse vocabulary my Uncle Johnny predicted and advised me on at a very early age. Crosswords have taught me about nature, geography, movie titles, sports trivia, culture, politics, and much more. My great-gram was a wonderful student of life, even in her 90’s, and she taught me that being a student of life opens up so many doors. It allows you to be in conversations with a diverse population, which in turn helps you in life, business, and relationships. I am so grateful for their advice and wisdom, especially at a young age.
So try a crossword puzzle today. If you don’t finish it, that’s okay. You just might learn that a “1960’s dance” was the “watusi” or that “New Mexico’s state tie” is the “bolo” or that “eire-born” means that you are “Irish.” Give your brain a workout today with a crossword puzzle.