I Can't Stop Winning
I just can't
Most of my readers here, my humble citizens of Chazzy’s World, the loyal bloodriders of my Khalassar, are my friends. And if you are not my friend in real life, I consider you one for subscribing here. So you’ve got that going for you.
As my friends know: I can’t stop winning. I simply can’t stop. I’m on a hot streak. They want me out of the casino. The head honchos are in the basement watching me on closed-circuit cameras. They’re sending women, they’re sending drinks, soon they’ll send their goons -- anything to stop me rolling the dice. But I’m not falling for their tricks! I’m not going anywhere!
They called in the quants. They are feeding my strategy into huge computers that take up whole rooms and require aquariums of water to keep cool. All those transistors, all that silicon, what’s it teaching you? Diddly squat. What’s his strategy? There is none! Luck is a lady and I’ve seduced her. She’s rolling with a big shot and I’m showing her the good life! She’ll be thinking about tonight forever, Lady Luck, laying in her bed with the snoring insurance salesman who pays for her modest house in Podunk with 2.5 kids and the yard with a trampoline and the fat, drooling dog who lays underneath it in the shade. Yes, Lady Luck will lie there, staring at the ceiling for the rest of her life, replaying her night on the town with me, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Winning, oh, if only that night could have lasted forever!
But on Tuesday, it seemed like Fortuna had spun my wheel downward. My luck ran out. I solved the New York Times crossword puzzle, just as I have every day for the past 684 days. I solved it in 6:22 -- slow for Tuesday. And as the ragtime jingle played, I noticed something wrong. My streak was only six days long! Ruh roh…
Turns out, last Wednesday’s puzzle was marked as unfinished. I opened it. The timer was still running. How did I forget to finish the crossword puzzle? Rarely do I start at it and not finish it within the same sitting, especially on a Wednesday. I checked the puzzle against an answer key: completely correct. Duh. Huh?
I opened the mobile app to see the Wednesday puzzle marked with a gold star. Gold star means the crossword was finished 1. without checking 2. on the day the puzzle was released, meaning it counts for a streak. This suggested that the puzzle was finished properly, but was not being counted properly on the website for some reason.
Then, a few minutes later, the puzzle changed to a blue star (finished, but with checking or not on the same day so ineligible for a streak) on both computer and mobile app. Bear in mind, I had not changed anything, so the puzzle must have been correctly solved in the first place. So there you have it: a 680 day streak lost to a glitch.
Readers, I took it in stride. I did not groan. I did not moan. I did not get so sweaty I had to open the window. I did not text my parents to email the New York Times Games Customer Service Department from their account so it would match the email on the subscription. I did not draft an email for them to send. I did not take time-stamped screenshots or demand my parents add them as an addendum to the first email or join the email conversation myself because I was unsatisfied with the formatting of those screenshots within the message. I did not call multiple people to complain. I did not fight back tears. I did not refresh the crossword stats page upwards of 100 times in a day. I did not do a Cathy-style “ACK!”
One business day later, Alex from New York Times Customer Care (the new Alex from Target) emailed to say that the glitch had been corrected and my streak was restored. My gut says that Alex did not actually investigate my screenshots or go poking around my account, but simply pressed the “RESTORE STREAK” button that appears when someone emails more than five times and sounds like a threat to themselves. But it doesn’t matter - I have my streak back. Say it with me, folks: he can’t stop winning!
But it got me thinking, why does the streak matter so much to me? Or rather, since I had kept the streak alive in actuality, why did the Crossword app displaying the correct streak matter so much? I could have easily just added the old streak to the current one to find the actual number of consecutive days I’ve done the puzzle. Was it to impress others? Perhaps, but I know that people don’t really care about my crossword streak. When I stop women on the street or in the subway and show them my streak and ask them to remove their headphones so I can tell them about it, they barely even pay attention.
And yet, the moment I saw the streak was lost, I felt spiritually unmoored. A large part of that was losing it due to a technological error through no fault of my own, which made me feel cheated. Even though I had done the crossword on the day it was published without using the check feature for 684 consecutive days, without my proof, it felt worthless. If I stop a woman on the train, by the time I get her to take her headphones off, establish pheromonal compatibility, and use advanced body language techniques to convince her I am non-threatening, is she really going to sit there and listen to me explain that I actually did the Wednesday (12/29/21) crossword puzzle but it didn’t get counted? Bullshit! She wants to see the number!
Doing something every single day makes it magical. If you’ve ever flown El Al, you’ve seen the Heimishe Jews getting up in the middle of a red-eye flight to daven in the aeroplane over the sea, just as they have done every single day for their entire lives. It also makes you good at it. Stephen King writes 2000 words every single day without fail. Otherwise he forgets how to be scary and just writes nice stories. I’m sure many of you resolved to walk more or eat more vegetables or quit smoking in 2022. Conventional wisdom says to make it a daily habit -- walk every day, eat a vegetable every day, smoke every day but announce every time that you intend to stop. (My only resolutions were to own Spring/Summer 2022 with my capsule collection and relax more.)
But there’s a danger to that. Once you do something every day, it becomes a streak. And once you break a streak, it’s over. Instead of a habit that you maintain, you have a record to keep. The reason losing my streak bothered me so much was that it presented the chance to stop. I love the crossword puzzle, but the streak means I wedge it into my life. I’ve done it in the security line in airports. I’ve done it drunk. Once, I went to the bathroom during dinner and sat on the toilet doing the crossword puzzle because I had to do it before the day ended. Losing the streak meant that was no longer necessary. What now? Do it another 1.64 years to break my record? Get real.
But fortunately, my crisis was avoided. And I am using the trauma of my experience to help others. I am in contact with the team at New York Times Puzzles and Games with a plan to mint the crossword puzzles as ERC-20 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain, where they will be stored permanently on an immutable public ledger. Smart contracts will verify the authenticity of each puzzle and its completion. Streaks will be stored as live-updating .svg interactive non-fungible tokens. Farther down the roadmap, the entire crossword puzzle will be controlled by a decentralized autonomous organization made up of subscribers. CrosswordDAO members will receive governance tokens in proportion to the length of their streak, which they can use to vote on proposals and earn staking rewards. I can’t stop winning.