I want to talk about one of the things that I consider to be the most Quintessentially Kenyon. Back in high school, kids didn’t care about learning anything that wouldn’t be on the test, even asking our U.S. History teacher “Will this be on the test?” if he departed from the curriculum and went on an interesting tangent about Howard Zinn and his “People’s History of the United States.” Things are different here at Kenyon — in fact, I’ve seen Zinn’s book for sale in the Kenyon bookstore! — and one of the best examples of our intellectual curiosity is our penchant for the New York Times crossword.
Available for free in the dining hall five days per week, the Times connects the Hill to the world outside, and when I sit down most days to my breakfast with a copy of the paper, I see many other students doing the same. In the past week, I’ve heard students discussing a story in the Science section, reading the latest snarky Pete Wells review in the Food section, and, of course, debating the Opinion section. But the crossword is another thing altogether.
Earlier this year, before I’d started attempting them, Kenyon made it into the crossword (41 Down: “College where Rutherford B. Hayes was valedictorian”). This felt like the Times calling me out. And so that morning, I became one of the many Kenyon students for whom picking up the paper is the accepting of a challenge: can you complete today’s crossword?
The Times crossword, if you don’t already know, is easiest on Monday and gets progressively harder through the rest of the week. On Monday I sit down boldly, sure that today is the day I triumph; by Friday, it’s pretty much a hopeless exercise, but I do it anyway for the thrill each filled-in square provides.
So far, I haven’t been able to do it — not even on a Monday, but I’ve been close. A few weeks ago, I came two squares away. Two squares! Yet although I prefer to take it on alone, like Aang fighting the Fire Lord (I watched a lot of “Avatar” last week to prep for a “Legend of Korra” binge), one of the best things about the crossword for many of my fellow Lords and Ladies is the social aspect. Oftentimes, I’ll walk into Peirce Hall and see a handful of students all working together on one crossword, collaborating while still arguing spiritedly over answers to clues and the merits of pen versus pencil (personally, I use pen). Whether you try to tackle it alone or with friends, however, it’s inevitable that you’ll learn something new and discover knowledge you didn’t know you had.
When I’m on break, I honestly miss being able to simply reach out and pick up the Times on my way to breakfast. I miss the rush, the stakes for my ego. It’s spring break right now, and so our battle is on hold. But trust me, crossword, and mark it on your calendar: on March 20, I’m coming for you.