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Cross Words

Real men do it in ink.

"The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution." - Stephen Sondheim

One of the distinct pleasures of being a retired geezer is taking a break mid-morning for a second cup of coffee and the New York Times crossword puzzle. Crosswords are for information magpies who have lived long enough to accumulate an immense vocabulary that is almost useless except for crossword puzzles. 

The dog on the Thin Man. The initials of a long-defunct Middle Eastern organization. One of the Baldwin brothers.

Asta. UAR. And, in this case, Alec.

There is a certain satisfaction in breaking the code or recalling the name of the president of Peru without going online. The Monday puzzle allows most of us to feel quite smug. Tuesday’s is a bit tougher, but it’s basically filling in the blanks. By Wednesday, it’s a different story. And Friday's puzzle can humble even certified Mensa members. But, it can't hurt to try. In ink, of course. Even if Ambrose Bierce says that's the hallmark of an egotist.

One theory is that puzzles, like anything that stimulates brain waves, are a hedge against dementia. Keep the old synapses firing and it’s money in the memory bank. Even if (tut tut) you can’t come up with a three-letter word for the boy king of Egypt. 

One might argue that time spent mulling over the crossword might be better spent outdoors, taking a brisk walk (which apparently encourages the brain to grow) or riding a bike. And it's true that riding a bike helps us maintain our sense of balance as we age, making for fewer falls in the shower, fewer broken bones and fewer hospital stays.   

But mens sana in corpore sano, said the Roman satirist Juvenal. So I ride my bike and paddle the canoe and walk the dog to keep my body healthy. And to help keep the mens sana, I like to do the crossword with my elevenses -- a second cup of coffee and a piece of toast slathered with good tart marmalade. It’s one of the small perks that come with geezerhood. Now, what’s a six-letter word for old guy? 

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