We’re Angela Li and Will Brown – two college friends who bonded over a shared love of crosswords. We want to document our quest to post, in a paraphrase of a New York Times Crossword caption about Bill Clinton’s crosswording abilities, “respectable tournament times.”
This space will be our forum to work our way up the ranks from “morbid tournament times” to “mildly disappointing tournament times,” and perhaps on to “fine, I guess, tournament times,” before finally breaking the threshold at which Will Shortz, smiling, can say, “Wow, Mr. Former President Bill Clinton, that young duo sure can adequately solve my puzzles. My, how I respect them.” Then, and only then, will we bask in the warm glow that only recognition from the world’s leading man-whose-name-that-appears-at-the-top-of-all-my-crosswords provides, and thus consider our mission complete.
So basically, if that last paragraph was too disorienting, we’ll be using this space – via videos and blog posts – to document our attempt to get better at crosswords. Don’t expect blazing fast finish times or a lexiconographer’s grasp on crosswordese. We’re pretty okay, but we’re no Rex Parker. What you can expect is 1.) fun commentary on this oft-ridiculous puzzle, 2.) weird, sometimes surreal anecdotes that this Crossword evokes, and maybe even 3.) frustrated and perhaps, if Will’s annoyed, profanity-laced, tirades about uncrackable clues.
But more than that, we want to build a community for people who love crosswords, but aren’t yet masterminds. We want to show how much fun crosswording can be for people that are still finding their legs. (Hint: find a friend, and do it with them!) And, yes, we want to be able to one day walk up to former President William Jefferson Clinton and say, “Hello, silver-haired sax man. We too can post respectable crossword tournament times.”
Okay, now for some introductions. Angela and Will met back in 2014 when we were first years at the University of Chicago. As luck had it, we were both placed in Hoover House, a wing of the Max Palevsky East Residence Hall. That was back when UChicago students still had “free” access to the New York Times, and so that – in combination with the house table, the house lounge, and schoolwork to be avoided at all costs – created a new dorm tradition: group crosswording.
At first, Angela and a few others would do crosswords during meals on an ad-hoc basis, but as more folks got interested, daily themes emerged, corresponding to the increasing difficulty level of the NYT weekly crosswords: Minute Mondays, 2 v 2 Tuesdays, Work Together Wednesdays, 3 or More Thursdays, and Eff it! Fridays. At its peak, 2 v 2 Tuesdays was an epic experience, with 8-12 of us (some of whom may cameo on this blog) pairing up on a weekly basis and racing to finish the NYT Tuesday puzzle. Or, more realistically, race to come in 2nd to David Jaffe’s team. Sadly, the tradition graduated in 2016 with the upperclassmen who anchored the festivities, and Hoover House crosswording was largely a relic of the past.
Well, that is until we crossed paths again studying abroad in Jerusalem during Spring 2017. There, we started crosswording regularly before and after class, rediscovering just how fun and absurd the puzzles were. It was also in Jerusalem that we completed the celebrity crossword puzzle that both inspired the name of this blog and set our aims upon becoming solvers who could complete puzzles “in times that would be respectable at a crossword tournament.”
Upon coming back to Chicago, we ate less falafel, but we kept doing crosswords together, making our hallowed pact to one day complete puzzles with speeds that’d make Will Shortz nod in approval. We solved while stealing free food from CS grad seminars. We solved while procrastinating on our respective history and economics theses. We solved while road-tripping to Milwaukee, between sets at Lollapalooza, and – Will’s personal favorite – while waiting in line for two hours to buy Carly Rae Jepsen tickets.
We both graduated in June 2018 and promptly moved away from Chicago. Angela, to Durham for the summer (though she’s going back to Chicago soon), and Will, to New York. Crosswording then became more than a fun diversion from the work we didn’t want to do: it’s the tie that binds our friendship together. Crosswording gets us to talk every week about what’s new in our lives while trading quips and stories about whatever ridiculousness is in that day’s puzzle.
And we’re aiming to keep things that way. If our goal 1a is to create a community for new crossworders and company, then goal 1b to well – remain good friends. And awww, c’mon that’s kinda cute.
So watch and read along! We wanna make this fun for everyone involved – and we hope to send some others along with us in the quest toward respectability. Leave us tips in the comments! Leave us your favorite anecdotes the puzzle brought to mind! Leave us, idk, NYC pizza recommendations – we wanna hear from you!
— Angela and Will