13 down: 4 letters for that special feeling in my heart

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It started, as many great love stories do, with a photograph and a proposition: “Come to Ventura & do this with me.”

I knew from that moment, when I saw you for the first time in that tiny iMessage thumbnail, that you were something special; I could see it in your poise, your grace, your grid of 53 squares by 53 squares.

But while it may sound insensitive, I figured initially you would be nothing more than a brief dalliance — just a bit of fun before school started back up. When I swiped open the notification, however, and took a good long look, that initial notion disappeared in a flash.

I didn’t know much about you at first — other than that you were from Ventura County and that 684 across (“City that shares Seattle’s airport”) was “TACOMA” — but I did know that I wanted to delve deeper and find out all your secrets.

I never thought it would happen, though — distance was a factor, and a major one at that. I was spending Thanksgiving at home in the heart of Silicon Valley, and you were living it up in Southern California. I longed for you, told all my friends about you, but I accepted the fact that we would never meet in real life; you might just be the one that got away.

But then, fate intervened, and everything changed. I came into work the Sunday after break and there you were — a friend driving up from Ventura had seen you, picked you up and thought to introduce us. You looked tired, weary and a little battered from the ride up inside of a backpack, but perfect nonetheless.  And looking at you, with your black squares freckling across your vast grid, I felt something I’d never felt before.

Love at first sight is a cliche, and a tacky one at that, but the cliches exist for a reason, and sometimes, you meet someone who makes them all come true. And as soon as I saw your name — “The Big Crossword Puzzle,” courtesy of the Nov. 23 issue of the Ventura County Star — I could tell that I was in deep.

Sure, I’d flirted with crosswords before, but it had never gone very far — no one had felt quite right. People magazine was too much of an extrovert, too invested in other people’s lives to care about my own interests. USA Today was fun, but a little too easy; I wanted someone who would push me beyond my comfort zone. And in-flight magazine crossword puzzles always offered a whirlwind of excitement during an otherwise dull journey — with a healthy dash of armchair globe-trotting thrown in for good measure — but deep down in my heart, I always knew that they were a little too flighty and that it could never be more than just a fling.

The closest I got to finding the one before you was the New York Times. The Times was intellectual, witty, a little pretentious but in the best way possible. We got pretty serious; I even considered buying a subscription. But then I got busy, and it didn’t stick around, and I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.

I don’t say this to scare you off, but rather to hammer home my point: Of all the crosswords I’ve met in my life, you are uniquely special.

You are everything I love about crosswords — the wordplay, the trivia, the ability to brag about how many random facts I know to every unfortunate soul who happens to cross my path — but on a scale magnified beyond belief.

You calm me down — 305 down (“ ‘Stop yelling!’: 2 wds.”) — and you build me up — 707 down (“Love to the max”).

You humor my interest in geography, from 193 across (“Barcelona’s land, to a native”) to 636 down (“Province next to Que”), and you let me pretend as if I know anything about astronomy — 753 across (“___ Belt (constellation portion)”)

And most of all, you push me to learn. I don’t know what on earth you mean by clues such as 342 across (“Good reputation in the ‘hood”) or 503 down (“Jazz legend who sported a soul patch: 2 wds”), but I’m excited to find out.

With you, every decision — pencil or pen, methodical or random — takes a great deal of contemplation; I want to do it right. So, I’ve been trying to take it slow, leaving you untouched until I find the perfect time to sit down and devote to you the attention you deserve.

But really, there’s nothing I’d like more than to just throw you onto the kitchen table and do you.

Ketki Samel is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ketkisamel.