The British have biscuits and scones with their tea. I have a crossword puzzle. Each day I work, at least, one puzzle, preferably over a cup of hot tea—or sometimes iced.
I used to pick up any stubby, old pencil I could find, until it occurred to me that some might be better than others. I googled and found there were several pencils recommended for puzzle people.
Putting a Fine Point on Your Puzzle
When working a crossword puzzle, you want to write with something dark, that shows up nicely on newsprint or magazine paper without smudging.
After some research, I ordered the Palomino Blackwing Pearl, with white, extendable eraser, and smooth graphite core. Right away I fell for the charming name and description.
Others brands recommended by pencil aficionados included the Blackwing 602; Palomino HB; Craft Design Technology HB, and Swiss-made Caran d’Ache HB Yellow School Pencil.
During my research, I learned the name of the band, that encircles the space just below the eraser. At least, it does on most pencils. It’s called a ferrule, meaning “small bracelet.” (Tuck that tidbit away. You might need it for a crossword puzzle sometime.)
The Puzzle and the Pen
Fountain Pen Nostalgia
In my reverie about writing implements, my mind drifted back to the fountain pens of yore. I remember in the 4th grade how grown up I felt when we started learning cursive and writing with an ink pen. It was a messy procedure, that required sucking up bottled ink into the bladder of a pen using a side lever. It left ink stains all over your fingers and often your clothes and paper.
My Mother’s Parker Pen
My mother was the proud owner of a gold and black-colored Parker 51 fountain pen. She kept it in the original box, using it for such important things as filling out her income tax or writing thank you notes. She put it in her purse when she went to church or anywhere that called for wearing a hat.
I was not allowed to use the Parker pen, but I had a healthy respect for such a fine writing implement. I think it saddened her later in life to see tax forms done on a typewriter and personal notes scribbled with a ballpoint pen.
Eventually, she put her beloved Parker pen to rest on its soft, velveteen mound in the original box. It remained in the back corner of the chest of drawers like a relic, too costly and meaningful to part with.
Today’s Parker pens are still expensive. But now they offer an ink cartridge, preventing stained shirt pockets, that give you the look of the befuddled Chief Inspector Dreyfus.
The Spelling Bee & the NYT Mini
With these two New York Times puzzles, you can forget both pen and pencil. These are designed for word geeks like me. I get them on my phone each day using the NYT app.
The Spelling Bee (shown left) has outer letters in a wheel with a seventh letter at the center. Very simple rules. Common words of 4 letters or more. Center letter must be incorporated. Letters may be reused. This can be a brain-bender, so I limit myself to how many words I try to create in a half hour.
For those who don’t have time for tea or an ordinary size puzzle, there’s always the NYT Mini. This is a quickie. Occasionally, I can get one done in a minute and a half, but most often it takes several minutes.
Even so, when it comes to filling out a crossword puzzle, I still like the feel of pencil to paper. I want the page to show a few erasures, too, for the sake of humility. A gentle stain from my tea cup adds a homey touch.