IVP - Andy Unedited - Solving a Puzzle

June 17, 2010

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.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at June 17, 2010 7:11 AM Bookmark and Share


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.

Comment by: Dietrich Gruen at June 17, 2010 12:51 PM

Great example, Dietrich. I think I've experienced the same thing.


Comment by: Andy Le Peau at June 17, 2010 2:47 PM

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.