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Over 60…And Getting Younger: January 14, 2011

Enigmatic

As Lorraine and I stood shivering at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning on the Hicksville LIRR platform, we readied ourselves for our daunting task.

We were on our way to the 10th Annual New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend. The Times building at 242 West 41st Street was our final destination. We traveled to see Will Shortz, the world’s famed “puzzle master.”

He has been the crossword editor of The New York Times since 1993. He is also director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The documentary Wordplay was an in-depth look at Mr. Shortz and his loyal fan base.

Along the way, my family has become crossword “addicts,” and we wait eagerly for the Sunday Crossword Puzzle in the magazine section.

There is an intense rivalry among my kids for the one who can complete the lengthy exercise. I have slipped to the wayside and my children have far surpassed me. They are clueless as to famous movie stars and such insignificant trivia from 50 years ago; I, on the other hand, have absolutely no clue about modern rock bands and rap stars of this generation.

As Gregg, Adam, Jennifer (my puzzle-loving daughter-in-law) and myself filed into the beautiful room overlooking a garden in the Times building, we wondered what Mr. Shortz had in store for us. The comfortable crimson room was overfilled with “beady-eyed” puzzle fans from the Metropolitan area. They were a nerdy lot!

Will Shortz entered the room to a long and loud ovation. He started the morning off telling the audience the history of crossword puzzles. Then, he answered questions from the audience. A 13-year-old reprimanded him jokingly for including so many older references in the puzzles.

We then played an audience participation game and he pitted one side of the audience against the other. I was amazed at the intelligence of the crowd, and also at my own children. They were all brilliant. I was chastened to find that I was not the only genius.

While the game was going on, many people in the audience were trying to solve the Sunday puzzle of that day. You spoke softly as not to give any clues away.

The morning show was over at 11:30 a.m. and the hundreds of crossword fans departed after giving Mr. Shortz a rousing roar of applause.