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I Am Embarrassingly Bad At The New York Times’ Connections Puzzle

As a young girl, I would spend hours sitting around the kitchen table watching my mom and Yia-Yia complete the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, sipping too-strong coffee while they argued over potential answers and begrudgingly grabbed the Wite-Out to fix a rare mistake. They didn’t let me participate in this morning routine until I was in my late teens, as they were worried I would slow them down, or force them to utilize the Wite-Out more regularly. But once I started doing the crossword, it became clear that I was rather good at it—and now, in my early thirties, I have a subscription to the New York Times game app so I can get my daily fix.

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Recently, my younger sister started sending me the results of her efforts to complete the mini crossword, and now we compare our times every day. I’m very good at this game, as I’ve been honing my craft for over half my life, and I often beat her (though we’re always within seconds of each other). But just over a week ago, she introduced me to the Times’ upstart new daily puzzle game called Connections, and any semblance of confidence in my intelligence was shattered. I am very, very bad at these Connections puzzles, and it makes me irrationally angry.

Spoiler warning: This story features some answers for the October 19 Connections puzzle.

Connections is a fairly new game that is maybe, probably a direct rip-off of the BBC game show Only Connect. It gives you 16 words and tasks you with creating groups of four based on the linguistic connections they share. The New York Times tutorial offers two category examples: Fish (Bass, Flounder, Salmon, Trout) and Fire __ (Ant, Drill, Island, Opal), and points out that the categories will never be super basic definitional things like “five-letter words” or “names.” Successfully identifying each quartet of words reveals the color assigned to it, with each color revealing their difficulty from straightforward (yellow) to tricky (purple).

Every day, my sister sends me a collection of colored squares denoting how many attempts it took her to complete the daily Connections puzzle—you only get four tries per puzzle—and every day I send her back a deluge of threats, curses, and insults. In the week or so since I’ve been playing, I’ve only successfully completed one or two of the daily Connections conundrums, and the messages back and forth between my sister and I would be alarming if you didn’t know the nature of our relationship: “I am going to kill you,” “I am going to put my foot through a window,” “Why did you do this to me.”

The problem lies in my inability to do most things in a measured manner—I am a notorious rusher, a bull in the china shop that is life, always doing things so quickly that I leave shoelaces untied, cabinet doors ajar, pill bottle caps unscrewed. I can do a lot more than the average person can do in a day, but I do it in a perpetual state of stumbling forward, knocking into things and stubbing my toe along the way. This kind of approach works for timed games like the mini crossword. It does not work for Connections.

Yesterday, I begged my sister to stop sending me her Connections results before I had a chance to play, as she so often sends me four perfect rows of colored squares that show off her ability to get all four groups in one try. “I am seeing your no misses and freaking out,” I texted her in between sets at the gym. “I almost dropped a dumbbell on my toe.”

“And you would tell the doctor that was my fault somehow,” she responded.

Today, October 19, I get confused by what is clearly a TV show category. I stare at “Fleabag,” “Fargo,” and “Firefly” and furiously jam “Friends” before quickly hitting “submit.” Wrong. One off. I try a different category, flummoxed. It looks like there’s a group that has to do with tame curse words: “Fiddlesticks,” “Frick,” “Fudge.” Well what the fudge is the fourth one? I try a group that looks to be about falsifying documents: “Fudge,” “Fake,” “Fabricate,” and “Forge.” Wrong. I get the “Mild Oaths” group after looking up the definition of “Fie.” Stupidly, angrily, I try to get a group based on a “Fast __” formula, and rapidly select “Fashion,” “Friends,” “Food,” and “Fix.” I black out and guess something random for my fourth and final try.

“I can’t do Connections again,” I text my sister from a crowded subway car. “I am going to allow myself to get hit by this train.” She once again reminds me that the Connections aren’t timed, that this isn’t a race, that I should “do nice” (a Mercante family adage created entirely for me, the impatient, brutish, older sister). “You know it. You can do it. Just don’t rush your guesses,” she says.

Tomorrow, I’ll try that approach out. Let’s see how I do.

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