Before COVID, I went to an indoor climbing gym five days a week. When we went into lockdown and I bid adieu to my favorite form of exercise, it quickly became evident that even more than the climbing, I was mourning the loss of that community. When this is all over, I strongly recommend looking into your local bouldering gym. Here’s why.
The scene will feel daunting at first. Heights–even with plush mats to fall on–are scary. And the climbers in front of you will seem prohibitively cool (they’re not; they’re dorks), lean and strong, lounging in an irregular row in front of and parallel to the 20-foot bouldering wall, creating a socially discouraging shoulder-to-shoulder barrier between you and the routes. But if you watch for a moment, you’ll notice how relaxed they all seem, their smiles, the comical streaks of chalk across their noses and cheeks. So sit down at the edge of the mat and chalk up. One of them will smile at you. And when they see your rental shoes, they’ll show you kindness. They’ll talk to you. Before long, you’ll start to understand three basic realities of bouldering that form the basis of why I sent you here in the first place:
1. All the sitting around near other people. Bouldering, by definition, is climbing short, difficult problems that comprise only a handful of moves, taking you no higher than the point from which you can safely fall onto the mats below. Difficult problems require several minutes of resting one’s fingers between attempts. And while you’re resting, you’re sitting on your haunches with a Potential Friend on either side of you, and a built-in conversation piece straight ahead.
2. The shared struggle and the common goal. While rope climbers climb “routes,” boulderers climb “problems,” so named because there often isn’t an obvious way to get to the final hold. The Potential Friends to your left and right are your de facto thought partners, and by watching each other’s attempts and sharing wisdom, together you might be able to come up with workable “beta,” or the sequence of hand and foot moves that will get you to the top. Such an exchange might sound like this:
You: Wow, I don’t even know how to grab the second hold!
PF1: I know! As soon as I reach, I pop right off the start. I need better beta!
PF2: Do you think it would help to move your foot to that chip out on the right?
You: I’m not sure I’m flexible enough to do that…
PF1: Me neither, but I’ll try a foot out to the right might make the reach doable…
You: Let’s see it!
3. The failure. Completing a route is “sending,” which you’ll overhear and correctly assume derives from the word “ascend.” But there tend to be far more falls than sends, with you and your New Friends often needing several attempts to work out good beta. But the community has adapted to this reality, and on your second attempt you hear your New Friends and several other Potential Friends calling out, “Come on!” and “You got this!,” and after you fall, “So close!,” and “You’re right there!”
Anyway. Go bouldering! One day. Some thoughts and spoilers on “Train Your Brain” after the jump.
Honestly, I don’t normally love this kind of puzzle. There’s almost *too* much going on. Let’s unpack.
TOTAL [ABS]TINENCE is the first theme answer, clued as [What teetotalers have the stomach for?] The clue is pulling double duty here, indicating not only the base phrase of TOTAL ABSTINENCE, but also dropping in a gratuitous pun to signal the contents of the circled letters.
The trick here is finding theme answers that hide words constituting a WHOLE BODY WORKOUT (or, for a lot of people, ABS, HEART, ARMs, LEGs), while only using phrases that can be *reasonably* clued with a pun that gets at the meaning of the hidden word.
I think FOUR PART HARMONY, clued as [Easy lift for a barbershop quartet?] is the, ahem, strongest pairing of the bunch. And apologies to both my partner (and trained ballerina) Jessie and my collaborator (and trained yogi) Lucy, who will both doubtlessly chide me for not including a good long streeeetch in my routine.
Oh, and there are a couple #rosswordpuzzles in the wild for you to enjoy this week: The Atlantic’s weekend puzzle (11/15), and the New York Times puzzle on Wednesday (11/18, co-authored by Amanda).
Happy solving, friends.
5 thoughts on ““Train Your Brain””
Just one itty bitty correction, a typo: ICBM, in 67 Across.
Thank you so much! And thanks, too, for the insights on bouldering…I’ve always been more intimidated by the other climbers than the heights. Guess I never gave ’em a chance! (Or myself, for that matter.)
I can totally relate. Though I’m pretty confident it’ll be as I say: if you can exceed the activation barrier of giving it a go, your fellow boulderers will surprise you with how supportive and welcoming they are…
Oh, now I’m far more confident in that, Ross. I mean, sheesh, after all, I’m a PF to people on the street, the bus, the subway…why can’t I let others be PFs to me in the gym? Thank you so much!