If you're a crossword solver, it's happened to you. It's weird and scary and fantastic and the reason why we keep crawling back to the grid.
Sometimes the answers to crosswords are revealed to us hours before we sit down to solve them.
It happened yesterday.
That morning I heard the first Christmas song of 2010 come over the radio. Willie Nelson's Frosty The Snowman would be the first of many in this overplayed genre. But as holiday songs go, Frosty is one of the nicer ones. I don't hate it the way I hate Madonna's creepy Santa Baby. Besides, Frosty seems like a real catch: he's a jolly, happy soul. Kids adore him. And he knows how to dance. What's not to love?
Energized by a surge of holiday spirit, I started the holiday to-do lists. What to make for the Christmas Tapas Party? Pomegranate Martinis. Thomas Keller's Savory Leek Bread Pudding, a smoked salmon plate, a tray of confections. I pulled out the The Joy of Cooking to look up Irma Rombauer's Almond Crescent recipe. But there would be no more menu planning: the Crossword Fates had secured the area and were closing in on me.
Because there it was, tucked between pp. 712-713 -- a New York Times crossword puzzle neatly snipped from a 2004 newspaper. (I must have saved it for a rainy day.) Jackpot! [ding, ding ding!] It was unsolved. And that it was constructed by perhaps my favorite constructor, Sherry O. Blackard, made me stop cold. Sherry's puzzles are literate, diabolical, fun and utterly addictive.
I hadn't seen Sherry's byline in recent years; and so, an unsolved Blackard puzzle, on paper, is a rare commodity. I knew better than to glance at it -- one peek, and I'll be hooked into solving it until the end. There was no time for solving. I had to be at Wall Street in a few hours. I had to learn the Mahler. Do laundry. Make 11 phone calls.
But maybe I'll just take a peek at one of Sherry's clues, chosen at random:
The clue for 34-Down is "White guys?" The answer is seven letters . . . huh?
C'mon, snap out of it! There was no time for crosswords. I had to shower, change two lower viola strings, return library books, and dissuade my niece and nephew from dragging me to the Times Square M&M Store.
Sherry, what's going on! I've no time for puzzles. I'm late already. Can't I just . . .
Sherry, this is an outrage! Okay, okay, I'll take the puzzle along for the subway trip downtown.
Later, on the No. 1 train, somewhere between 14th and Chambers Street, the answer to White guys? floated onto the grid as gently as the first snowflake of the season.
It started with the Willie Nelson song earlier that day . . . that caused me to plan a Christmas menu . . . that led me to Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking . . . that uncovered a 6-year-old puzzle containing clues like White guys?
Sherry's "White guys" are SNOWMEN. Aaaaah, I love when this happens -- Willie Nelson's Frosty The Snowman set the stage for solving Sherry's puzzle. It's magic.
Has it happened to you? I bet it has.