Proving yet again that it’s the petty annoyances that inspire three-page web articles, Ron Rosenbaum takes on fans of crossword and sudoku puzzles in Slate today. He unloads both barrels, reloads, unloads again, then splashes some rubbing alcohol on the wounds for good measure. But of course it’s hyperbolic, and therefore funny. Ha.
You’d have to pay me to get me to spend 15 minutes on a sudoku puzzle, and the only crosswords that hold my attention for long are cryptic crosswords. Even those are a once-in-a-blue-moon distraction. But I’m still taken aback at the depth of Rosenbaum’s satirically masked vitriol:
I know that I’m a partisan divider, but to me it seems that puzzle people are fleeing from real puzzlesâ€”fleeing the complexity, the fear of the unknown, fleeing from the messiness of life that cannot be contained in a box, fleeing to an illusion of mastery and control. They’re control freaks seeking control of something worthless: “I can fill in a bunch of boxes with letters!”
Zing. Happily, he exempts trivia fans from his scorn, because of the social aspect:
(By the way, I don’t include games like Scrabble or charades on my list of trivial pursuits. Nor Trivial Pursuit. Some of these are loved by people not for the intellectual self-abuse they offer but for the social interactionâ€”you know, the fun with other humans!â€”that can be generated by the competition. These games, and others like them, are not as isolating and reductive as word and number puzzles done in solitary.)
Whew. On the other hand, he does pinpoint one of my least favorite aspects of puzzle culture: the proclamations of intellectual superiority. You do have to be smart to play trivia — or do a crossword, or probably even sudoku (lord knows it’s beyond my patience). But it’s not a sign of genius.
In fact, if anything, it’s a sign that you pay attention to what you read (and watch, and do), and have a decent memory, by happenstance or training. And if you want people to talk to you at parties rather than flee your fact-spewing presence, you’ve got to keep your sense of humility.