31: The Best Kind of Puzzle

31: The Best Kind of Puzzle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

The Best Kind of Puzzle

To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.


I usually did the daily crossword during my commute. But one day, on a longer-than-usual train ride, I realized I had forgotten to grab the free daily newspaper. Ugh… no crossword.

A half hour into the trip, the gentleman sitting on my left departed, leaving a copy of the Daily News on his seat. A hand-me-down newspaper is perfectly fine for me. I put on my glasses, pulled out my pen and opened the paper. Since the Daily News isn’t my usual paper, I had no clue where the crossword was located and so I was browsing when pages and pages of small fine print caught my eye. It was a listing of multiple names and addresses.

Curious, I went back a couple of pages and read the explanation. It was a list of dormant bank accounts. If a person puts money into an account and does nothing for years and years, the bank designates that account dormant. The bank notifies the state, and eventually the state runs advertisements listing all the people for whom it is holding these funds. To give you an idea of the scope of this issue, New York State, where I reside, is holding $13 billion worth of unclaimed funds. You can even search the listing online in most states. If you see your name on the list, contact your state comptroller or treasurer and fill out a form. Before you know it, a check is in the mail to you.

I decided there was a reason why I forgot to bring my normal crossword puzzle that day. I made a decision to do something more meaningful than a crossword puzzle. Here was a real-life puzzle I could do. I would “puzzle out” where some of these people were and alert either them or their families about the monies.

First I skimmed for familiar names. Ding-ding, I won the first round easily. My deceased uncle was on the list. Easy to see why the bank could not reach him. However, said uncle had a son, easily reachable, and so a phone call later, my cousin knew to claim the monies.

The first set of calls were the easy ones. Most of the folks I found were those still at the same address as in the listing. Some knew they had dormant accounts but had no clue how to get the money. Some were elderly or had limited language skills and needed simple instructions on what to do.

Next I attacked the challenging ones. I scored a few hits, using LinkedIn and Facebook. I also found the obituaries of some of the folks on the list, then tracked down their heirs by using sleuthing skills. I found a young woman who had opened an account in her old college town… and then had moved cross-country to become a professional. I contacted a young man who had moved out of Manhattan when he got married, had kids, and moved to the suburbs. I met some darling seniors by phone. It was fun.

All in all, I did not spend huge amounts of time on this. I just spent a few days on it, using the time I would have devoted to crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Instead of doing crossword or number puzzles, I puzzled out the lives of random people.

It felt good, especially when one woman who I alerted about two accounts called me later that night, just to ask why I did what I did and to thank me again and again for having the chutzpah to call her. It truly was the best kind of puzzle for me, one that combined intellectual challenge and that nice warm feeling you get when you do a good deed for someone else.

~Goldy Rosenberg

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