Well, maybe not "deeply." But I do enjoy crosswords and other solitary word games, and Rosenbaum's recent article for Slate, "Crossword, Sudoku Plague Threatens America!", almost succeeds in making me feel ashamed.
Rosenbaum claims to bear no ill will toward Scrabble (another of my cherished pastimes), because it's a social game. It's the solipsism, the escapism, the anal-retentiveness (I'm paraphrasing) of newspaper puzzles that pushes his buttons:
I know that I'm a partisan divider, but to me it seems that puzzle people are fleeing from real puzzles—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!"
Those little crossword-puzzle boxes serve as the fragile containment structures for their darker fears, cells they lock themselves into in order to hide from the world. Hide from the fact that there are so many things they will never find answers for. There are so many things that will never be solved. But 21 Down—got that covered!
What's more, Rosenbaum fumes, puzzle solvers are diddling when they could be actually reading:
[S]omehow crossword types think that their addiction to this sad form of mental self-abuse somehow makes them "literary." Sorry: Doing puzzles reflects not an elevated literary sensibility but a degraded letter-ary sensibility, one that demonstrates an inability to find pleasure in reading. Otherwise, why choose the wan, sterile satisfactions of crosswords over the far more robust full-blooded pleasures of books?
Could it be he's just a teensy bit jealous? I mean, I can do the Sunday New York Times puzzle in about 40 minutes--an activity that requires me to think metaphorically, dredge up half-forgotten knowledge about Humphrey Bogart movies, and make connections between homophones--and still have time to read the Week in Review, the Ethicist, and all the wedding announcements. A morning well spent, I say.
However, Rosenbaum gets no argument from me on the second part of his thesis:
Sudoku has been turning ordinary humans into pod people for less than a decade. It's grown so fast its depredations have flown beneath the radar of economic indices—its matrix has escaped our metrics—but I think a serious case can be made that the decline in the American economy can be blamed on the sapping of the mental energy and productivity of the American workforce that sudoku addiction alone has wrought. It's a terrible thing to behold: on commuter trains, in Starbucks, in offices, the Slaves of Sudoku hunched over their puzzle books, addicted to the mind-numbing hillbilly heroin of the white-collar class.
I probably would have chosen something slightly gentler than "mind-numbing hillbilly heroin of the white-collar class," but like Rosenbaum I find sudoku an utter bafflement. Putting numbers in boxes--what's the appeal? Where are the laughs?
Putting letters in boxes, though--that's a whole different story. Well, my story, anyway. And I'm sticking to it.