My paternal grandmother was obsessed with crossword puzzles—to the extent that a book of crosswords was always a good gift for her in a pinch. I remember one time giving her a book of 365 crosswords, one for each day of the year. I opened it up before I gave it to her and did my best work on the puzzle for August 5, hoping it would remind her to think of me that day, my birthday (as if grandmothers need reminding of their grandchildren’s birthdays).
The point is, she was always doing crossword puzzles. When she wasn’t reading or doing housework, she could be found with a crossword. I’ve heard people say it keeps your mind sharp and active and helps prevent Alzheimer’s (how they could possibly know that, I don’t know). And my grandma’s mind was certainly sharp and active, right up until she died. The year after she died (2010), I took up running. It was partly related to my fear of mortality, which I confronted when she died. In 2011, I aspired to read more intelligent books. This was not directly inspired by my grandma, but she did read a lot, and she read super-smart-people books, which I always admired.
This year, in 2012, I made it my resolution to “do more crosswords.” I realize that’s a vague resolution and one that’s extremely easy to keep. Even if I only manage one crossword the entire year, I’m pretty sure it would be more than I did in 2011. Or 2010, for that matter. Luckily, I’ve already done a whole bunch of crosswords this year, so I win! Gee, I feel so fulfilled and accomplished.
Anyway, since I don’t get a newspaper, I needed to find a way to obtain crosswords. I soon learned that a coworker of mine gets the Kansas City Star every morning and, when he’s finished, hands off the sports section to another coworker. This second coworker then began handing off the crossword section (which I guess is located inside the sports section?) to me. It wasn’t long before I realized that I am really good at crosswords. In fact, completing crossword puzzles may just be what I was made to do. And then LF brought me a New York Times crossword. And I soon realized that I am terrible, horrible, no good, very bad at crosswords.
In an attempt to reconcile these polar-opposite experiences, I finally concluded that maybe I’m an average-skill-level crossworder, and perhaps the Kansas City Star crossword is too easy while something like the New York Times (especially past Tuesday) is legitimately difficult.
So LF suggested that I get a book of crossword puzzles that starts easy (so I could feel confident) and gets harder (so I could be challenged) the farther along you get. I brushed off that idea, wisely assuming something like that did not exist—naturally, since I couldn’t find one at that very moment in the Dollar Tree store we happened to be occupying.
Then I kinda forgot about it and just kept doing the KC Star crosswords. And I kept alternating between frustration that those puzzles weren’t more of a challenge and feeling like a crossword master. On Monday night this week, after I successfully completed three KC Star crosswords in a row without even a hint of trouble, I threw all three and the remaining two that I hadn’t started into the recycling bin and told LF I had been considering getting a New York Times subscription. He nodded and said, “Hmm,” and then we talked no more about it that night.
The next day, fresh from my disappointment, I went to nytimes.com and looked up subscription fees. Without really thinking longer than five minutes about it, I got out my debit card and signed up for an old-fashioned home delivery of the New York Times Monday through Friday. My order was confirmed, and I was scheduled to get my first paper Friday, March 23.
After the order was complete, I decided to poke around and see just exactly what I had actually ordered and how much it was going to cost me and how often. The only numbers I had seen prior to providing my credit card information were “$3.85/week” and “first 12 weeks at 50% off,” and this information had been persuasive enough.
Digging around the site for more information turned up nothing about the subscription I had just purchased, but I did find an option for a Premium Digital Crossword package, which cost $40 for the year and gave me access to each NYT crossword daily, plus access to all their archived crosswords. And, I could get the program on my personal computer, smartphone, and iPad. (Never mind that I don’t own a smartphone or iPad. Clearly this was a better deal.) I’ve been rash, I thought. Maybe I should cancel.
My alter ego argued, No, don’t cancel. That’s rude. You got them all excited about getting some money and a new subscriber in an economy and society with a rapidly declining print-newspaper consumer base. You cannot order something and then change your mind only a few minutes later. At least give it a trial run.
Dominant ego almost caved to this argument but rallied at the last second. That’s ridiculous! If I don’t want to buy something, I have absolutely no obligation to buy it! It’s my choice how and where to spend my money, and the financial situation of the New York Times is not going to soar or crumble because of my subscription choice.
So, dominant ego won, and I looked through the FAQs for instructions on how to cancel a subscription. Of course, these instructions were not easy to find, nor were they entirely simple to execute. I was annoyed (but not surprised) when the only thing provided was a telephone number. So I fished my new account number out of my twenty-minutes-old confirmation email and called to cancel.
After pushing four buttons to follow the automated instructions, a live voice came on the line, and this is how my conversation went:
“Umm, yes, hello, I would like to cancel my, uh, subscription.”
“Okay, give me your phone number.”
“Area code first!”
“Okay. Umm, Four-zero-five… Six-two-seven…” (You get the idea; no, I will not give you my phone number in a blog post. Nice try, creepers.)
“Okay, and give me your first and last name and your street address, including zip code.”
I gave all this information.
She said, “It looks like you just subscribed only a few minutes ago. You haven’t even received your first paper yet. Why do you want to cancel?”
“Uh, yeah, well… I really just wanted the crossword, and I found out after subscribing that I can just subscribe to the Premium Digital Crossword package instead, so I’d rather do that.”
“But the Premium Digital Crossword package is included at no extra charge in the subscription you have just signed up for.”
“The Premium Digital Crossword package is actually an annual fee, but you’ll pay monthly for the home delivery service, with access to the Premium Digital Crossword.”
“Okay, but I don’t really see how an annual payment is worse.”
“You’re getting less.”
“But I want less. I only signed up so I could get the crossword.”
“But you’re getting so much more.”
“But I won’t use so much more. I just want the crossword.”
“Well, you’re getting the crossword. And the Premium Digital Crossword package. For free.”
“Yes, I understand that. Okay, let me ask you this. I am not really sure exactly how much I am going to be charged for this, or when I will be charged for it. The website said something about 12 weeks, but I don’t understand if that means I’m paying right now for 12 weeks all at once, or if I pay monthly, and will I have to renew my subscription after 12 weeks?”
“Okay, let me look up your account… Oh. Well.”
“It won’t show me the payment details because the account is so new.”
“Yes. Since you just signed up, it won’t let me look at all the details yet.”
“Hmm. Well, can we just cancel it then?”
“I don’t think you want to do that. Do you understand what a better deal this is?”
“Ma’am, you are getting the Premium Digital Crossword package for free. And home delivery.”
“I understand that, but doesn’t that mean I’ll just be doing the same puzzle twice? If I do it in the morning at work, using the premium package, and then go home and pick up my paper, won’t that be the same crossword I just did that morning?”
“But you also have access to the entire archive. Why don’t you just try it out and see? You haven’t even gotten your first paper yet.”
“Well, fine. I guess I will just try it and see if I like it.”
“And if you want to cancel or make changes to your account at any time, it’s very easy to do so.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Have a nice day, and thank you for subscribing to the New York Times!”
I went back to work and mostly forgot about the situation for the time being. Then I went to lunch and got into a conversation about it with a coworker. He listened to my story and affirmed my frustrations and even reminded me that “the customer is always right.” He ended the conversation by wishing me luck next time I tried to cancel and said he hoped I didn’t get the same lady.
I went back to my desk feeling like I could handle a three-month trial of home delivery and making a mental plan to call again after the three months were up and cancel without backing down. I even logged on to my new account and completed a couple of the crosswords that were part of the Premium Digital Crossword package. But all this did was remind me that digital crosswords are just not the same.
Then, later that afternoon, I talked to a friend on Gchat about the whole thing, and she listened politely then asked one simple question: “Why don’t you just buy a book of New York Times crosswords?”
Incredulous, I asked, “Those exist?”
She then linked me to an Amazon page with uncounted listings of NYT crossword books. The one I instantly chose advertised 200 puzzles that progress from easy to difficult. Sold! Also, it was about $5 cheaper and would give me 140 more crosswords than my three-month 50%-off subscription to the NYT home delivery. Double sold! Before I could change my mind, I bought the book, confident this would strengthen my resolve to cancel my delivery subscription even in the face of the most tenacious and determined salesperson.
I called, went through the automated process again, and was connected to Bonnie, who asked how she could help me today.
“Um, yes, hello, I would like to cancel my subscription.”
“Okay, I can certainly help you do that today. Would you please give me your phone number?”
I gave it.
“Would you please verify your name and address?”
“Hmm. I see that you have already tried once today to cancel your account?”
“Err, yes, that’s true.”
“And yet you decided not to. But you’ve changed your mind again. Could I ask why?”
“Well, the truth is that I didn’t actually change my mind. I just got tired of arguing with the other lady because she wouldn’t listen to me, so it was easier to give up and not cancel.”
“I see. Well, I do apologize, and I can assure you that you will not have that experience with me. I’ve already started your cancellation process, but can I ask why you would like to cancel today?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story, but basically I just wanted to get the crosswords, and then someone told me that I can buy a book of New York Times crosswords, so I’d rather just do that because then I wouldn’t have the whole bulky paper, and I wouldn’t feel like I was getting behind if I couldn’t do one every day. And I can stay in the easy section for a while until I feel ready to graduate to something more difficult, rather than be forced to move the very next day to a more difficult puzzle. And I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping all the old newspapers around to check the answers because, well, you know, they’d just be right there in the back of the book.”
“You’re still going to let me cancel, right?”
“Certainly. But let me just make sure—did my colleague this morning make you aware of the Digital Premium Crossword package?”
“Yes, she did. Please, let’s not go through that again.”
“Certainly. I do apologize. Please understand I’m just asking questions I’m required to ask. We have a script, you know.”
“I understand. But all my answers are no, and I just want to get to the part where you tell me my subscription is canceled.”
“Certainly. Okay, let me just push a few buttons here, and you’ll be on your way.”
“Great, thank you.”
“Okay, Audra, you’re all set. Your subscription is now canceled, and you will not be receiving your first delivery, which was scheduled for Friday, March 23.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“Nope, just the cancellation.”
“Okay then. Thank you for calling, and thank you for subscribing to the New York Times. Have a nice day now.”
Thank goodness I was able, with only two phone calls, to get it canceled. I really felt like shouting, “I wanna quit the newspaper!” I am relieved it didn’t get that far. (If you recognized that Friends reference, we can probably be friends for life.) Now I’m just waiting for the book to come. Coincidentally, it’s scheduled to arrive the same day my first paper was scheduled to deliver. But now, instead of just one puzzle on Friday, I’ll have 200!
Grandma, I hope to make you proud with my crossword prowess. And if I ever manage to get my hands on a puzzle-a-day book, I’ll make sure the first puzzle I complete is February 1.