I first learned of Diana NYAD by solving crosswords. For as long as I can remember, she’s been crossword’s only NYAD, clued as “long-distance swimmer” or “swimming great” or “swimming star.”
Not only is Diana Nyad a swimming star — she is a crossword star, simply because of the wordplay surrounding her name. It’s downright eerie-sistible. Check this out:
(a) NAIAD (a homophone of NYAD) — another crossword regular — is a Greek water nymph.
(b) On Facebook, Frances Heaney noted that NAIAD anagrams into DIANA. (Cue the dissonant organ chords …); I’d never noticed that!
(c) Amy Reynaldo, also on Facebook, cited the NAIAD/NYAD connection as case of nominative determinism.
When Nyad achieved her Xtreme dream earlier this month, she’d been training for years. 15-hour practice swims and a mental playlist of 65 songs helped prepare for the historic Cuba-to-Florida swim.
There was pushback, to say the least. Swimming against the Gulf Stream at 60 strokes per minute — NYAD dealt with dehydration, hypothermia, shoulder pain, fogged goggles and venomous box jellyfish. She completed the course, without a shark cage, in 53 hours.
Now, I think that — based on the wordplay alone, NYAD deserves to be in the crossword forever. But it’s her inspirational message and focus that speaks to me. “We should never, ever give up” she says. That’s great advice for everyone, especially those of us who want to improve our crossword-solving skills.
If we applied the same training to solving, consider these strategies: if you’re stumped by a clue, work through the puzzle by concentrating and re-reading the clues; or put the puzzle aside and come back to it with a refreshed outlook. Make your brain work. Don’t rely on Google unless you’ve exhausted your cortex. Fog up your goggles, paddle through the brain cramps — 15-hour swims, remember? We can train our brains to solve better.
In this 2011 Ted Talk, Diana Nyad talked about focus, commitment and achievement. At the end of the talk, she vowed to achieve her dream. She’s the consummate puzzle solver. She never, ever gave up.