By Kimberly Mayer
This is how it happens. Day after day, a boy steps out back to pound nails. After a while he decides he’s pretty good at it. The boy grows up to be a carpenter. A young girl hears again and again, “Go to your room, young lady!” and there she hones certain skills. For me it was making mazes. All I needed was a pad of graph paper, pencils with good erasures, and the sanctuary of my room. There, I was free to lose myself–and find myself–in the mazes of my own making.
In some inexplicable way they meant everything to me.
Like Anna Shechtman who started constructing puzzles at fourteen in “Escaping into the Crossword Puzzle” (The New Yorker 12.20.21), “I retreated into the grid.” Here we found our solace. “A grid has a matter-of-fact magic, as mundane as it is marvelous,” she explains. “From sidewalks to spreadsheets to after-hours skyscrapers projecting geometric light against a night sky, the grid creates both order and expanse.” Anna moved letters onto the page, while for me the squares became paths of entrapment and escape.
In time Anna became assistant to Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times. For me, maze making led to the drawing of floor plans and interior design—for aren’t they both about how we move through space? That was the sequence for me, and mazes were my portal.
I have also lived on a fair share of islands:
- St. Thomas, USVI,
- Mercer Island, WA
- San Juan Island, WA.
- And this winter, Coronado Island, CA.
At some point, it seems, islands and waterways became the grid.
Will Shortz believes people have a natural desire to fill empty spaces. I see the empty spaces as paths. Both order and expanse, entrapment and escape. And how we move through space.
The way land breaks up and becomes inlets and seas and islands, one after the other,
like jigsaw pieces when the box is first emptied and all the pieces turned over.
For what are islands but broken land?