Polly Campbell: What’s puzzling me is how I’m crushing on these games

I get together with my siblings on Zoom every Monday. There are a few topics we always cover: how everyone’s hair looks, what birds we’ve sighted recently, and how we’re doing on Wordle. I know many of you have a similar crush: I’ve seen you on Facebook. 

I keep meaning to get back to Wordle so I can compete within my competitive family. But the fact is, though I tried it a few times, and did well, I think this game is just going to be a fun fling. 

Polly Campbell
Polly Campbell

I mean, the chemistry was instant. It felt so natural, like we really understand each other. I can see falling into a long passionate affair. But I just don’t have time for it, because I’m too busy trying to make this thing work with Sudoku. 

It’s not easy having such a tense relationship with a game. We weren’t really well-matched to begin with. He’s all numbers, I’m all about words. He is kind of strict and controlling. I do one thing wrong and it’s all over. I just can’t seem to please him, but he’s just not open to talking about it. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, but I can’t seem to quit him. 

It’s not like with my last relationship, the crossword puzzle. We had such good times together. We grew to know each other so well over the years and spent many lovely hours together. But frankly, things had been getting a little stale and it was just too easy – especially in the early part of the week. We were really just together on the weekends. 

To tell the truth, I was getting bored with all my word-oriented pals. Like the Cryptoquip. We go way back. I wrote a story years ago about places to eat breakfast with a breakfast food-oriented cryptoquip I made up for each one. (“What should you get if you can’t decide what to have for breakfast? A waffle.” Good stuff.) The Jumble is more of an acquaintance, but it’s always good to catch up over coffee. If I’m just tired of everyone else and their usual familiar stuff, I might do the easy crossword in The Enquirer. I don’t really respect it, though, so it feels tawdry and unworthy of me. And every once in a while, if I’m lucky, there’s the New York Times Magazine double acrostic, who’s like the best friend who left town but drops in for a visit every once in a while, and it’s like we haven’t even been apart. 

So one day, I looked at the Sudoku, to which I’d never given a thought, because it had on baggy khakis and a pocket protector and a lot of numbers and looked really boring, and I thought “Why not? I’ll give it a try.” It was a really bad first date. Imagine sitting across a table from someone and turning on all your best qualities: all the interesting facts in your brain, all the ways you have with words, your great knowledge of synonyms and puns and ability to intuitively connect two different things, all the books and movies and songs you know. And the person across the table just looks at you with a shrug and insists that the 2 can only go in this one place, even though it seems to you there should already be a 3 there. 

But a few days later, I came back. I kept coming back. I didn’t solve the puzzle for a month and by then I was doing it every day. I could do the easy ones, but it was the medium New York Times I was trying to crack. And not online. That felt like having dinner together over Zoom. 

And then one day, I filled it all in. Correctly. I still have the completed grid on the bulletin board above my desk, like a drying corsage from prom. It was enough to keep me going through the next week of failure. (As I said, dysfunctional.) Finally, I realized I needed some professional help. So I got Carl involved. Carl is the brand name of my pencil sharpener, one of the best-made tools for doing a little everyday task that I‘ve ever owned. He really helped. With a perfectly sharpened pencil and a good eraser, and the puzzle printed out extra-big, I could tackle it seriously. It takes a methodical, plodding approach, with careful checking and re-checking, things I don’t usually do for fun. No shortcuts, no guesses, no telling myself it’s going great and getting careless. 

It feels good that I could do something my brain is so completely unfitted for, and I think I understand things a little better, but our relationship is still rocky. This morning I tore the paper up into tiny little pieces and my real-life husband had to ask me what I was yelling about. I hope it’s worth it. I hope there’s a small part of my brain that has lit up like never before, and I’ve put off dementia by a few months. 

But someday soon I’m thinking of leaving in the middle of the night, and then settling down happily with Wordle, sharing our happiness on social media and making my siblings envious with our great relationship.

Polly Campbell covered restaurants and food for the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1996 until 2020. She lives in Pleasant Ridge with her husband, and since retiring does a lot of reading, cooking and gardening, if that’s what you call pulling weeds. She writes monthly on a variety of topics, and she welcomes your feedback and column suggestions at editor@moversmakers.org.

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