Solving a Puzzle

I am known to work on the occasional crossword puzzle. Maybe every week or two I try my hand. I’m not like some friends who can whip through one in thirty minutes. In fact, it usually takes me a few days to finish. But I’ve seen a remarkable pattern in how I manage to solve them.

Usually I’ll pick off the easy ones and maybe complete a third or quarter in a half hour. Then I slow way down, maybe only filling in a half dozen more words in the next thirty minutes. In fact, no matter how long I work, that’s about all the further I can go.

But if I wait till the next morning, I can whip through another quarter, until I get stuck again. If I keep working on it, I hit nothing but dead-ends. But if I wait till before bed, then in a flurry I can fill in a dozen more. And so it goes till I finish.

My point is not to offer strategies for working crossword puzzles–though if that helps, well and good. Rather, it illustrates a basic problem-solving strategy that I’ve noted before here and here. When working on a knotty problem, give your brain space and time to rest.

Maybe you can’t figure out the right title for a book. Maybe there’s a workload quandary in your team. Maybe your schedule is out of whack. If it is not a crisis requiring an immediate answer, take a break and do something entirely different. Listen to music. Ride a bike. Paint a picture–or the trim in your bedroom. Get your brain doing something entirely different than it normally does at work.

You might even try working a crossword puzzle.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “Solving a Puzzle”

  1. I totally agree, only my illustration of the same principle would be with 500- to 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. I pass the table where one is all set up, like a buffet, nibble at the easy-to-pick off edges, then the in-between stuff with sharp, contrasting colors or lines running through the picture, leaving to last the all-blue, all-mushed-together skyline, which can take days to finish. But with the breaks you mentioned, I too get past my stuck points.

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