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ATG Quirkies: How Word Puzzles Tickle the Brain and Satisfy the Soul

by | May 2, 2022 | 0 comments

How Word Puzzles Tickle the Brain and Satisfy the Soul – A.J. Jacobs on the Joy of Playing With Words appears on Literary Hub.

Many things keep me awake at night. I worry about my kids’ future. I worry about rising sea levels and declining democracies. But if I’m being honest, those worries aren’t the main cause of my insomnia. No, what robs me of the most sleep is an innocent-looking little grid of seven letters that pops up on my iPhone every day. I speak of the delightful and infuriating New York Times Spelling Bee.

To be precise, it doesn’t pop up every day. That’s the problem. For some reason, the genial sadists at the New York Times puzzle section have scheduled the find-a-word game to appear every night at 3 a.m. Which means that when my body wakes me up around 4 a.m. for a bathroom break, against my better judgment, against many promises I’ve made to myself, I grab my iPhone and click on the Spelling Bee, unable to fall back to sleep until I find the hidden word that uses all seven letters.

Ah, thank God. It’s “Pickled.” Or “Janitor.” Or “Petunia.”

Only then can I close my eyes with a mixture of relief and self-loathing.

So puzzles rule my daily schedule. The crossword at 10:01 pm, the Spelling Bee in the wee hours. I’m not alone. I’ve met many other puzzlers who confess through gritted teeth that they are middle-of- the-night Spelling Bee players. One Connecticut woman wakes up, solves the Spelling Bee, and tweets about it, all before 4 am.

The Spelling Bee fanatics have a name—the Hivemind. And in addition to complaining about waking up early, their other favorite pastime is griping about which words are omitted from the list of approved words. You type in a word full of optimism, press Enter, and the computer snaps back “Not in word list.” How can you not include ‘laird’!!! The Scottish landowner! More on the joy of complaining shortly...”

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