I floss every morning while doing crossword puzzles.
It’s a juggling act, to be sure, and I never walk away without the newspaper getting soaked with spittle. But I’m trying to make 2020 my Year of Well Being—as opposed to 2019, which can be generously remembered as my Year of, Well, Being.
Permit me to explain my daily routine.
Theories abound about the causes of Alzheimer’s and other debilitating mental diseases and conditions such as dementia—and what we used to call “senility,” a word whose first four letters are the same as “senior.” Is this just a coincidence or do you suspect the country’s healthcare megalith likes to encapsulate as many maladies as possible under one über-umbrella?
Let me pause here to address this column’s young readers (both of them): In addition to “Uber” being the name of a pervasive ride-hailing service that sometimes deposits you at or close to your desired destination, “über”—lower case and complete with umlaut—is also the German word for over, above and across. (Bonus learning moment! An umlaut consists of those two dots above the “u” in über.)
To get back: One suspected contributor to, if not the primary cause of, Alzheimer’s disease may turn out to be poor dental hygiene.
The more prevalent theory for years has been that the condition may gradually emerge when you lose mental engagement over a period of time. You retire, you run through the items on your bucket list in the first six months, then spend your day watching reruns of “CSI,” “Law and Order” and “Breaking News” on CNN.
I’ve heard people say that if you tackle mind games the effort can possibly stave off the ravages of these horribly cruel diseases. And I’m sure you realize that in this reference, “mind games” means doing puzzles, not trying to make your spouses think they’re going insane (also called “gaslighting,” after the 1938 play and 1941 movie, “Gaslight”).
For some reason, I have less trouble believing in gingivitis as a gateway to dementia than I do in the miracle of doing crossword puzzles, even though I do at least two a day: the one in the New York Times and the one in The Wall Street Journal. I also have—in my bathroom, by my bed and next to my reading chair—book-length collections of Times puzzles. People who have only a passing acquaintance with these think the Sunday ones, which are in the newspaper’s magazine, are the most brutal. They’re not. To be sure, there are more clues than in the daily offerings but they usually follow a theme. Once you unlock that code—generally, a pun of some sort or a rhymed quotation—your pen (not pencil, for God’s sake!)) takes on a life of its own.
Saturdays, however, are a different story.
Those are the days I’m sorely tempted to crash Google by seeking information for almost every other clue (i.e., to cheat). But there are crossword guardians out there in cyberspace who, if you type in the precise clue, like to mess with your head for a while because they know you’re neither randomly nor remotely interested in who was Nominated seven times for a Best Actor Oscar but never won. They know you’re doing the Saturday Times puzzle and that you’re attempting to game the game, so to speak, even if you’ve cleverly juxtaposed your inquiry to something like, “Seven-time Academy Award also-ran?” They don’t think for a moment that, while driving to Home Depot to pick up finishing nails and hydrangeas, you abruptly had to pull over because you couldn’t recall who was Nominated seven times for a Best Actor Oscar but never won.
The answer is Peter O’Toole, by the way, who was nominated eight times. Finally, in 2002, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences handed him its honorary award for lifetime achievement.
O’Toole’s lifetime and career spanned another 11 years, so I guess the award revitalized him. Either that or, directly after the ceremony, he started flossing.