The week leading up to a 9/11 anniversary in New York City is very distinct: all flavor of law enforcement is highly visible, from troopers in full riot gear and high-powered firearms greeting the morning rush hour crush at 96th street to groups of 3 officers dotting various other commuter platforms and the midtown beats.
It sends my mind wandering, how to absorb this fifteenth year since the mass murders down the block. I have written about many, many aspects of my 9/11 experiences since I started this blog in 2006.
This year my mind wandered to the New York Times crossword puzzle. They have done a great job putting up an archive of past puzzles, all the way back now to 1993.
I have been a crossword solver my entire life, starting with watching my parents do the Sunday crossword in the Magazine Section, and then in college I discovered daily puzzles in the physical paper. That evolved to the beauty and agile finger-dance of doing it online.
So this week I was drawn to doing the Tuesday, September 11, 2001 puzzle, which I'm sure I did not get to do on that day. Of course it would have been set weeks before.
I continued with the daily for the week, then started doing the Sunday puzzles, starting with September 16, 2001. I vividly remember the flag that the New York Times printed on its back page on that Sunday, I had it on my door for years. I do not remember any note on the puzzle.
The 2006 documentary Wordplay explored the reasons people do the NYTimes crossword every day, talking with high-profile solvers including Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, and Bill Clinton. We all share many of the same reasons: family history, many solvers are continuing a parent's habit; a tiny space of order amid chaos; the 'aha" moments when clues set delicious twists in how we "hear" a word.
It's a cerebral communion with what can feel like all of civilization in microcosm. Margaret Farrar, the founding puzzle editor of the New York Times who mentored Will Weng and Eugene Maleska, started the "no disease, no wars" convention, and believed the puzzle should be "a commercial-free zone that leaves readers in a joyful mood." Bless her.
This year I found some grounding in redoing the 2001 puzzles, in walking in those very same footsteps I did 15 years ago. The puzzle was there, amid the chaos. Civilization was in tact, in the face of a people trying to kill it off.
Prufrock measured out his life with coffee-spoons: in this century, day by day, puzzle by puzzle, the city and I moved on.
I was curious about today's Sunday puzzle, falling on the 15th anniversary. There is no overt mention, as is appropriate. But the theme resolves around the goodness of rest and sleeping in our own beds. You can even see the bed in the center of puzzle. Along with the idea--that we have all felt-- that there are monsters under the bed . . .
A 9/11 puzzle after all.