Downward Spiral


Our Daily Correspondent

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the Monday-through-Wednesday crossword world, ELO is the most listened-to band in history, Ava the most popular girls’ name, and time divides into eras and eons. Think of it as the blue-plate special, but with Ali instead of meat loaf.

There are algorithms and programs that can predict the frequency of these usages. Of course there are. But for those of us who begin our day with the easy jog of a crossword, that’s of no interest. We don’t need to know; we know. It’s not that writing in the answer for “Architect Saarinen” or “Actress Thurman” makes us feel smart, it makes us feel safe. As Stephen Sondheim said, “The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution.”

I’m not talking about competitive crossworders, or even really good ones—although it’s heartwarming to think of people around the world puzzling as one of a Saturday. Rather, I’m talking about those of us for whom the daily affirmation of remembering a few names, of spelling basic words, of knowing how to read is simple pleasure enough.

And then there are those brief moments of sly delight, treats in the form of favorite words or references—lurid or scamp or “Singer Sumac”—moments that make you feel connected. People all over the world are thinking about Yma Sumac in that moment, puzzling over her five-octave range and strange career.

Maybe, like you, people are looking up “Ataypura,” or even Sumac’s bizarre 1971 rock album, Miracles. I’m not saying that, in those moments, you understand how madmen see messages directed to themselves in newspapers and radio broadcasts. But you come closer, in those moments, than usual. It’s not scary, it’s glorious.

And that’s just Tuesday.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.