My friend Monica, who plays a lot of sports, once told me about the day that volleyball slowed down for her. She had been playing for months but the learning curve so steep that even after all that time, all she could do was scramble to process what was immediately happening. Then one day, just like that, she could suddenly see the game as a whole. She was able to anticipate where the ball would be in a second's time and, therefore, where she needed to be.
About a year ago, I experienced the same thing with cryptic crosswords.
"Sometimes a rather plain clue is actually very good when its position in the grid serves to open that area for more solutions – where clues might be trickier – or, of course, it may be the other way round," the commentor wrote.
He would know. The commentor was none other than Dean Mayer, also known as Anax, a puzzle setter for The Times, The Independent, The Telegraph, and the Sunday Times.
Winter has been off to a particularly icy start this year in Montreal, drawing all of us into a contest with the elements.
At times, it's treacherous. A few weeks ago, one of the main downtown streets was so slippery that a parade of vehicles, including two city buses, a police car and a snowplow, all slid towards an inexorable collision.
But if you aren't in a rush to get anywhere, the slipperiness can be terrific fun.
When the powder really started to fall, snowboarder Seb Toots shot another one of his fantastic urban snowboarding videos, this one showing him glide down Peel street, straight through the McGill campus and into downtown.
Two weeks ago, on December 17th, Fraser Simpson published a particularly satisfying crossword. When I considered it after we'd filled in all the answers, I realized that what made it such fun wasn't the quality or variety of clues so much as the feeling I had, when working on it, that I was being pulled along by the setter. One answer gave me a boost for a crossing word, which led me to another answer and so on and so forth.
This is one of the treats of solving a cryptic crossword: sometimes a puzzle is just fantastic and you only discover that fact when you're in it, solving.
The new year is a time for resolutions and for new goals. As I step into 2017, my cryptic crossword resolution is to focus more on this delicious momentum that good puzzles have and to try to figure out how to create it in my own puzzles.
How about you?
What are your 2017 cryptic crossword goals?