So what is the favorite pass time of two people at a scenic national park? Sightseeing? Hiking? Photography? None of the above. We actually spend more time on crossword puzzles than any of those other activities.

Mary was the first to become addicted. When I was hiking the PCT and she was my support, she took up the habit to pass the time. I ribbed her mercilessly for her seeming obsession. Then one day when we were in Las Cruces, NM last year I picked up a $4.99 discounted NY Times crossword book on the bargain table at Hastings. I tried a few and like a junkie experimenting with heroin, I was hooked.

To an observer, crossword fever is hard to understand. Why would anyone rack his brain for hours just to fill in a lot of blank spaces? For what gain? What is the prize? It doesn’t seem to add up. Sighs of exasperation and epithets of frustration are not uncommon sounds emanating from the afflicted.

Much can be learned about human motivation from examining crossword addiction. There is the challenge – can I figure this out? There is the reward – I did figure this out! But most of all it is the correct ratio of challenge and reward that is the genius of the crossword puzzle. The challenges and rewards come in small increments (one word at a time) so that the participant doesn’t despair and he doesn’t get sated.

Some may say “What is the point?” or “It’s just so much time wasting.” But I would answer, “What is the point of anything we do in the end?” In a world where basic survival is taken for granted, is not the “point” of our endeavors simple enjoyment? Since the average crossword puzzle consumes about two hours of my time and my book has 200 puzzles, I’m getting 400 hours of rapt mental stimulation for $4.99. That’s a cost of 1.25 CENTS/hr! Talk about a bargain!

p.s. NY Times puzzles are rated from one top hat to five top hats for level of difficulty. I’ve been working in the two-top-hat puzzles. When I move into the three, four and five-top-hat puzzles the time required for completion will increase. That will get my effective cost/hour down below a penny per hour! Impressed?