Eight connies sit on the basement couches waiting for rehearsal to start. They lean in, huddle close and are unusually quiet but for one who reads, “26 across, ‘Genie’s response,’ nine letters.” The group cranes to look. One person suggests, “Your wish is my command.” Another quickly replies, “Too long.”
A pregnant pause, then a burst of insight, “As you wish!” Yes! They are satisfied for a moment as a clarinetist fills in nine boxes of The New York Times’ Thursday crossword puzzle. Each letter goes precisely where it should. Until their attention shifts to the next empty line.
As you know, The New York Times—crossword puzzle and all—will no longer be widely available free to students. There will still be a copy available for perusal in the library and for purchase at the info desk. It remains to be seen how many people will regularly buy the $2.50 paper, but I imagine scenes like the above, if not ceasing to exist altogether, will at least become very rare.
No longer ubiquitous, present in every dorm and left on café tables for the next person, the NYT is now tucked away behind library walls and a cash register.
I, for one, will miss seeing a completed puzzle triumphantly left near the Con couches with “Eroica,” circled enthusiastically (“54 down, ‘Beethoven’s third,’ six letters,”).
The paper was not just a vehicle for staying in touch with the world outside the Lawrence bubble, but also for connecting with the people within it.
It wasn’t rare in past years for conversations to begin with, “Did you see the article in The New York Times about…?” It provided the springboard to discussions about everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the legacy of Maya Angelou and the online future of college. The shared experience of simply reading the same paper, the same article, oiled the wheels of these conversations.
This seemed so in line with the values our liberal arts college professes: engaging with the world, learning to think and learning to be wrong and graceful about it.
Picture another scene (it’s relevant, I promise): it’s 8:40 a.m. on a Wednesday and you’re going down to Andrew Commons for breakfast. You’ve made a waffle and drenched it in syrup. In fact, you’re a little worried because you can see the syrup running viscously in the direction of the cantaloupe on your plate. Ugh, gross. So you hurry towards the tables, grab at some silverware hoping—but not entirely sure—you got a fork and then stop short.
There’s no one you know here, no one to sit with. You panic for a moment, mostly because your syrup continues inching along towards the fruit, but also because you don’t know where to sit. Then, sweet relief. You remember that as you walked in you tucked a copy of The New York Times under your elbow.
There will be no bored staring out the window, trying to avoid eye contact or absentminded thumbing through Facebook for you this morning. Though you may be alone, you will be united with the people there who are also reading the paper. It’s like a club—one whose members share an inability to find their mouths with their spoons when they’re reading.
Damn, while you were thinking all of these things your syrup has totally ruined your fruit. No matter, there are more important things to worry about, like the fate of pine trees overwhelmed by parasitic beetles.
I know I was not alone in enjoying breakfast in the commons for just this reason, for the separate-but-together reading of the Times with the other people who are weird enough to actually eat breakfast.
Yes, we may have been playacting a bit. Maturity feels an awful lot like a newspaper and a cup of coffee. Even so, the result was certainly not contemptible: a little more awareness with each article, and maybe even a little bit more care about the world beyond the bubble.