by DANNY RUBIN
When your flight gets delayed or the workday grinds to a halt, a crossword puzzle always comes through in the clutch. On a laptop, tablet or (gasp!) print newspaper, those trusty white and black boxes are the perfect solution when everthing slooooows dooooown.
Did you also know that a crossword can improve your job skills — and in 7 different ways?
The LA Times offers a free online crossword every day. Most of the examples below stem from the puzzle on May 13. The full puzzle appears at the bottom of this post.
1. Build your vocab
Crosswords are full of synonym clues. The puzzle gives you a word or phrase, and the answer will be another word or phrase with the same meaning. For instance, in the May 13th puzzle, the clue at 57 across is ‘Taunting remark.’ The answer is ‘GIBE‘ (pronounced ‘djibe’). Add that one to your thesaurus.
2. Follow instructions
Clue 36 across is ‘Modern: pref.‘ Crosswords tends to have a language of their own, and the most frustrating part is understanding the directions. In this case, the puzzle asks for another word for ‘modern‘ that’s a prefix. Because it’s written ‘pref.‘, the answer will be shortened or abbreviated. The word we need is ‘NEO,’ a short prefix that also means ‘modern.’ To arrive at ‘NEO,’ you have to follow instructions closely.
One more quick example from another puzzle: Clue is ‘Sis, bro or cuz.’ It’s an abbreviated synonym clue. Answer? ‘REL,’ which is short for relative.
3. Think differently
For point #3, I used an old LA Times Sunday crossword. The clue is ‘Board member?‘ Because the clue ends in an question mark, the answer will be a play-on-words.
On its face, you might think ‘Board member‘ means someone at a company, like a chairman. The clue is only four letters so you’ll need to stretch your mind to come to the right answer.
Give up? It’s ‘ROOK,’ a piece on a chess board. Tricky, I know. But that kind of mental dexterity will make you sharper on the job.
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4. Puzzle Within a Puzzle
Most crosswords have several long answers that all follow a common theme. In a sense, the four or five large clues become a puzzle of their own. That means you need to think about the big and small pictures simultaneously. In the puzzle down below, the long clues all follow the direction in 42 down, which says ‘Bible book where you can find the ends of the answers to starred clues.’ That book is ‘GENESIS‘.
The starred (longer) clues:
See what’s going on? A clue (‘ADAM‘) within a clue (‘CALLMEMADAM‘) within a larger puzzle. Solve all of that on your ride to work, and you’ll sit down at your desk firing on all cylinders.
5. A Wealth of Trivia
Can you answer these clues?
38 down: Novelist Kurt
37 across: Custardy desert
39 across: Fay of ‘King Kong’
40 across: square root of IX
Answers: VONNEGUT, FLAN, WRAY, and III
An author, a fancy desert, a famous actress and quick Roman numeral math. Bits of knowledge that broaden your mind (and give you tid-bits to lord over co-workers).
6. Take calculated risk
If you do a crossword on actual paper (with a pen) or on ‘Master’ level online with LA Times, you have to be careful with the letters you choose. One wrong ‘A‘ or ‘E‘ and you could throw off an entire section of the puzzle. Crosswords make you think ahead, visualize other letters and determine how everything fits before you make a move. Preparation is everything, whether it’s a Monday crossword or a huge project at work. The more you plan, the better things will go.
7. Joy of Completion
As the days of the week go by, the crosswords get harder. Much harder. By Saturday and Sunday, you’ll wonder how anyone can solve the entire puzzle. Yet when you push through a difficult section or solve a really complicated play-on-words, that’s a great feeling. When you actually complete the entire puzzle? Nirvana.
Some assignments are rough and others seem impossible. If you remain persistent, refuse to quit and squeeze every last ounce of energy from your brain, you will cross the finish line. And that’s a beautiful thing.
For more beginner online crosswords, visit Web Crosswords.
Do you enjoy crossword puzzles? What do you love about them?
© 2013, Danny Rubin
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