Date: June 25, 2006
Byline: Kathryn Shattuck
Vows: Jessica Switzer and Gregory Pliska
ASK Jessica Switzer and Gregory Pliska to find a synonym for love, and chances are they could come up with a dictionary's worth.
For as long as either can remember they have had a passion for words. And through words they discovered a passion for each other.
Though they had both attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn., for years, they did not meet until March 2005, when Mr. Pliska's gaze fell upon Ms. Switzer, who was seated nearby in the room full of fast thinkers and human dictionaries.
During a break he struck up a conversation with her. Soon he had convinced her to stay for dinner and after-competition activities, which included a cutthroat game of Boggle.
"There was an immediate attraction: a combination of how smart and how funny she is," said Mr. Pliska, a composer and conductor whose arrangements have been recorded by Carly Simon and Michael Stipe. "There was something about her willingness to dive in and her incredible sense of humor."
Ms. Switzer, 32 and a founder of the New York Opportunity Network, a nonprofit organization that helps public school students, said: "I knew in the first 10 minutes of conversation that something was different. The conversation was easy and funny, and something about the way we interacted just felt right, right from the start."
The next day Mr. Pliska drove her home to Manhattan and discovered that she was as good with the spoken word as with the words she so quickly plugged into tiny boxes. During the drive she received a phone call from a student she was counseling who had just heard that he had been admitted to Williams College, Mr. Pliska's alma mater, as it happened.
"I was so impressed with the way she dealt with him," he said. "She was incredibly congratulatory and so encouraging."
It was then that he knew. "You meet somebody you're drawn to, and you're feeling around for obstacles," said Mr. Pliska, who was divorced. "I just was not hitting any of those."
Where another man might have begun wooing her with love letters, he fell back on what he knew best: he lovingly constructed crossword puzzles for Ms. Switzer and sent them to her.
But over time, Mr. Pliska, 44, discovered that his love couldn't be fitted into a puzzle's grid, and he began composing music for her.
On her 31st birthday, Ms. Switzer arrived at a restaurant and heard a professionally rendered version of a song to her, "For the First Time," piped through the speakers. "I was overwhelmed," she recalled.
They did have differences, of course: Ms. Switzer does her crossword puzzles in pencil, while Mr. Pliska uses ink.
"He's much faster than I," she said. "We're not competitive because our skill levels aren't even close, but he's helpful and great about it."
At the tournament in March, he had finished 22nd among the 423 contestants, while she was 314th.
One day, 10 months after that meeting, Ms. Switzer found a series of crosswords awaiting her when she got home. The solution to the final one spelled out in its four corners the words "will," "you," "marry" and "me." And in its center, a space for the answer.
They were married on June 3 at Loft 11 in Manhattan. Before the ceremony the 120 guests leafed through a book that contained their completed (and graded) crossword-puzzle response cards.
The bridegroom's father, Edward W. Pliska of Belmont, Calif., a retired municipal court judge, helped lead the ceremony, at which Cantor Dan Rous officiated. Near its end, Mr. Rous set off a wave of grinning and groaning as he sent the newly married couple off with the wish "that never a cross word will pass between you."