Home > guest post, musing > A primer on time wasting

A primer on time wasting

November 22, 2012

Hello, Aaron here.

Cathy asked me to write a post about wasting time. But I never got around to it.

Just kidding. I’m actually doing it.

Things move fast here in New York City, but where the hell is everyone going anyway?

When I was writing my dissertation, I lived on the west coast and Cathy lived on the east coast. I used to get up around 7 every morning. She was very pregnant (for the first time), and I was very stressed out. We talked on the phone every morning, and we got in the habit of doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Mind you, this was before it was online – she actually had a newspaper, with ink and everything, and she read me the clues over the phone and we did the puzzle together. It helped get me going in the morning, and it warmed me up for dissertation writing.

After a long time of not doing crossword puzzles, I’ve taken it up again in recent years. Sometimes Cathy and I do it together, online, using the app where two people can solve it at the same time. [NYT, if you’re listening, the new version is much worse than the old!  Gotta fix up the interfacing.] Sometimes I do it myself. Sometimes, like today, it’s Thanksgiving, and it’s a real treat to do the puzzle with Cathy in person. But one way or another, I do it just about every day.

At one point, early in the current phase of my habit, I got stuck and I wanted to cheat. I looked for the answers online, since I couldn’t just wait until the next day. I came across this blog, which I call rexword for short.

I got addicted. As happens so frequently with the internets, I discovered an entire community of people who are both really into something mildly obscure (read:  nerdy) and also actually insightful, funny, and interesting (read:  nerdy).

I’ve learned a lot about puzzling from rexword. I like to tell my students they have to learn how to get “behind” what I write on the chalkboard, to see it before it’s being written or as it’s being written as if they were doing it themselves, the way a musician hears music or the way anyone does anything at an expert level. Rex’s blog took me behind the crossword puzzle for the first time. I’m nowhere near as good at it as he is, or as many of his readers seem to be, but seeing it from the other side is a lot of fun. I appreciate puzzles in a completely different way now: I no longer just try to complete it (which is still a challenge a lot of the time, e.g. most Saturdays), but I look it over and imagine how it might have been different or better or whatever. Then, especially if I think there’s something especially notable about it, I go to the blog expecting some amusing discussion.

Usually I find it. In fact, usually I find amusing discussion and insights about way more things than I would ever notice myself about the puzzle. I also find hilarious things like this:

We just did last Sunday’s puzzle, and at the end we noticed that the completed puzzle contained all of the following:  g-spot, tits, ass, cock. Once upon a time I might not have thought much of this (or noticed) but now my reaction was, “I bet there’s something funny about this on the blog.” I was sure this would be amply noted and wittily de- and re-constructed. In fact, it barely got a mention, although predictably, several commenters picked up the slack.

Anyway, I’ve got this particular addiction under control – I no longer read the blog every day, but as I said, when there’s something notable or funny I usually check it out and sometimes comment myself, if no one else seems to have noticed whatever I found.

What is the point of all this?  In case you forgot, Cathy asked me to write about wasting time.  I think she made this request because of the relish with which I tread the fine line between being super nerdy about something and just wasting time (don’t get me started about the BCS….).

Today, I am especially thankful to be alive and in such a luxurious condition that I can waste time doing crossword puzzles, and then reading blogs about doing crossword puzzles, and then writing blogs about reading blogs about doing crossword puzzles.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Categories: guest post, musing
  1. November 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Since Wool Snortz became editor, the NYT crossword puzzles have degenerated into a trivial set of product placements, TV show clues and Hollywood drivel.

    Bring back the puzzles of Will Weng and Gene Maleska in which the emphasis was on words and meanings, rather than knowing the latest trivia. I don’t understand how any serious wordsmith can take these puzzles seriously. Try the WSJ puzzle on Friday
    for a better workout.

  2. Becky Jaffe
    November 29, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Thanks for wasting my time! I propose “Wasting Time” be recognized as the pinnacle of a revised Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.

  1. November 23, 2012 at 8:00 am
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