2-Across: Another Way Of Saying Self-Fufullment
by Imran Musaji
I enjoy crossword puzzles. They are elegant puzzles with a simple but demanding rule—everything has to fit. Sometimes you put in a word you are sure is correct, but then ten minutes (or if you’re me, an hour) is lost because you are stuck. Suddenly, you realize that the correct answer to THIS one means you must have been wrong about THIS one…
You revisit yourself time and time again doing crosswords, each time a little more knowledgeable, more experienced, humbler. The answers are often ridiculously useless, the pay-off is not particularly pretty (if you’re me, it is hardly legible), and it might even lower your standing among your peers. But you can see that you were improving, you can look at it and see growth. You can feel the pride of disabusing yourself of THAT four letter noun and replacing it with another, which enlightened you as to the existence of a possibility THERE.
This formula of revisitation and growth is an archetypical story type through most human cultures. It is built into our mythos, it speaks to us! No wonder that kids and teenagers and adults all find themselves drawn to video games that let them grow, and develop, and grind (game-speak for doing a repetitive task over and over) to grow a little glowing bar that says “this is how good you are!”
This is the metaphor.
Crosswords make us happy. Self reflective, falsifiable, critical thought makes us happy! Crosswords are a metaphor for the epistemology that makes us happy, creative, constructive, productive, and better in whatever we are doing.
I am not a daily wordster, but if I see a newspaper I will flip through to see if I can get a quick fix of self-improvement. Sometimes, someone leaves one at the table of the coffee-house near my home, and I can sip and fill and, EUREKA! 3-down! In the depths of my mind, a small tune notifies me I have gained another crossword level-up, I have stepped up a tier of worthiness. But sometimes, you have to step back. You took a wrong turn somewhere, and have no choice but to backtrack—oh the shame! But the excitement is there, because even in backtracking you are moving forward toward a solution. Then you spill your coffee on the thing and have to go to work.
Now, we know this type of thinking is the cornerstone of science, and is built into the methods. However, I think it was once also the cornerstone of religion. All of the religious texts are revealed as puzzles. They are full of parables and stories and contradictions and contraindications and counterbalances and absolutes and relativities, and they are told in small chunks that are sometimes out of order but criss-cross and overlap with others. Some of them are easier than others, so you fill those in. “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, check. But then you read other stories and you realize maybe you got it wrong because if “Thou Shalt Not Kill” goes down, then “Thou Shalt Kill” can’t possibly go here… hmmmm.
Every one of the Holy Scriptures was revealed as stories which are self contained but part of the whole. Sometimes things happen that don’t make sense, so you must critically work through the problem until you realize that it was purposely misleading you, and the real meaning is here. They are brain-games designed to level-up your soul. They are consciousness cross-word puzzles!
Yesterday I went to my coffee-house and flipped open the newspaper. I stared at it in horror. Someone else had already filled in the cross-word. My first reaction was to flip shut the paper. It was already done, no point in even trying now. But what if they made a mistake? I quickly flipped it back open and started skimming the clues, checking their answers—but it was no fun at all. Everything fit, no missing spaces. I didn’t know some of the words, but I was sure they had it right. I flipped back to the front page to see if there was any interesting news.
Wait, it was an old newspaper! I hopped up, and ran over to the newspaper stand. Ha! There it was, my newspaper. I ran back to my table, gulped down some coffee, screamed in pain as the scorching hot Brazilian-roasted magma charred my insides, and flipped to the crossword. Pristine blank squares!
And below, the answers to the previous crossword puzzle.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to check the work of the previous wordster. Lets see, 1-down should be “arsenic”, they wrote—“aserbic”. Wait, what? They both have similar spellings so it fits 1-across, but 3-across? How did they reconcile a “b” with an “n”? What! Instead of “bebop” music they put “negro”! But that means for seven down… AHhhhhh!
Quickly it became evident that the crossword had been solved not by an approach of critical thought, error checking, an revision, but by a disturbingly ingenious approach whereby spaces were gradually filled through manipulation of the clues, and occasionally brute force approaches like alternative spellings or odd conjugations. Everything fit, often the answers made a strange sort of sense—but it was all wrong! And each wrong answer necessitated another wrong answer, and then another, because the player seemed loath to erase anything—unlike my smudged and scratched and scribbled cross-words, this monstrosity was cleanly written, beautifully unsullied by any marks of imperfection.
This is the second metaphor, and it needs very little explanation.
Currently our government, our politics, our society, our families, our education, our institutions, our economy, our religion—we are letting them be prefilled for us. The result is something clean, something that seems to fit, something that has an underlying logic, and something which is, to me at least, disturbing, horrifying, and terrible.
However the fact that the answers we are being given are wrong is only a symptom of the real tragedy. We have lost the chance to improve ourselves. We have lost the ability and the desire that empty squares and unsolved clues provide. We see someone else’s solution and are robbed of our passion, our interest, our drive. We don’t try to understand the politicians motives, because the boxes have already been filled in by a million pundits, reporters, lobbyists, reports, etc. We don’t try to understand the religious parables because a million religious authorities, fanatics, devotees, texts, sermons, and lectures have completed every clue.
With all the answers, coffee-time kinda sucks.