“21 Down” Summary
Any high school teacher, writes Sedaris, can respond to the question “What do we need to learn this for?” by asserting that the knowledge will prove useful in their students’ middle age, when they begin doing crossword puzzles to keep loneliness at bay. Without knowing “Latin, geography, the gods of ancient Greece and Rome,” it would be impossible to complete a crossword puzzle—with the exception of the ones in People.
Crossword puzzles, Sedaris has been told, ostensibly help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, but this has nothing to do with why Sedaris himself takes them up as a hobby. Instead, he’s inspired by a visit he pays to a former boyfriend. This former boyfriend is “almost painfully” attractive, which had always led Sedaris to think of him as unintelligent, since it would be “unfair” for a person to be smart in addition to being incredibly good-looking. Sedaris eventually realized his former boyfriend was far more intelligent than he had thought, he says wryly, when the man ended their relationship.
Sedaris and his former boyfriend have remained casual friends, and one day Sedaris stops by the man’s office. He finds his former boyfriend sitting at his desk, finishing the Friday New York Times crossword. Sedaris is “devastated” to learn that these notoriously difficult puzzles are just something his ex-boyfriend uses to keep his hands busy while he’s on the phone.
The New York Times crossword puzzles increase in difficulty with every day of the week, with Monday’s being the easiest and Saturday’s being the most difficult. After his visit to his ex-boyfriend, Sedaris completes his first Monday puzzle, taking pride in the fact that it took him only several days to do so.
Two years later, Sedaris has advanced to Thursday crosswords (which take only him only seven hours to complete) but finds that he can still be stymied by questions about unfamiliar subjects. Since moving to France, his hobby has become even harder, as it is both expensive and inconvenient to call his family and friends overseas at odd times of day asking about obscure items of trivia. Eventually, Sedaris buys an atlas and numerous reference books, which provide him with a wealth of miscellaneous facts.
One day, while...
(The entire section is 571 words.)