If you’ve ever tried to solve a crossword puzzle, you know that there are many ways to attack it.
Some folks dive right in and look for the clues directly tied to the longest words. Maybe they’ll get lucky and connect the title of the puzzle with those answers. Some seek out the “fill in the blank” clues first, as they have a finite number of possible responses. Others go for the 3-letter words first, as they are used repeatedly in puzzles.
You start working through the puzzle, and you inevitably hit some rough patches. You notice if the clue ends in -ED or -ING or -S, and then figure that the answer will most likely do the same. You take note of circumstances of too many vowels or consonants in a row in one of your answers. You keep your mind open to the possibility of puns and alternate definitions being used. In other words, you realize you have to find some other ways of getting the answers.
Pitching is like that too … its all about adjustments on the fly. Maybe that’s why Mike Mussina liked to solve crossword puzzles when he wasn’t solving the riddles of pitching. With a degree in economics from Stanford, one can understand that Mussina would always look for a new challenge … a new puzzle to solve. To him, reading the title of the puzzle is akin to going over the scouting report with his catcher. What are we gonna face today … what sort of things are gonna be tried against me? Figuring out how to get the opposing batters out the second time through the lineup is like unlocking a tricky corner of a crossword grid.
For the most part, they are solitary pursuits, pitching and crossword puzzles. Yes, you do have a catcher calling the pitches for you and fielders to back you up, but you have a plan of attack based upon the clues the batter has given you, and you have to execute the pitches. When that moment arrives when you’ve frozen the batter with a 3-2 changeup when you figured he was sitting “dead red”, its not unlike when you’ve finally come upon the theme of that enigmatic crossword puzzle, and filled in all the blanks.