You might recognize the name Will Shortz if you are a puzzle enthusiast. Mr. Shortz is the New York Times Crossword Puzzle editor and he knows a thing or two about puzzles.
Life can sometimes seem like a puzzle. When I came across an essay by Shortz on how to solve the Times crossword, it seemed to me that many of his tips applied to more than puzzles. Here are some of them; let’s see what you think!
Shortz starts by suggesting that you “begin with the answers you’re surest of and build from there.” Most of us have some beliefs and behaviours that we are absolutely sure of. Whether it’s your values, your family priorities, how you treat yourself and others; there are some things you believe to be right and true. When making choices, start with your foundation; the things you are sure of.
In almost the next breath, Shortz advises, “Don’t be afraid to erase an answer that isn’t working.” We can fall so in love with our own answers—our own beliefs—that it can seem impossible to step back and ask, “Is this working? Just because a behaviour or perception seemed to fit at the time doesn’t make it right. If you hang on to a behaviour or perception, and nothing else in your life seems to work with it, maybe it’s worthwhile to look again with a questioning eye.
He also says that “mental flexibility is a great asset in solving crosswords. Let your mind wander.” Mental flexibility is a great asset in life too. We can get so caught up in what we need to do right now that we might think we don’t have the luxury of time to daydream. However, a little time and thought spent away from our immediate problems can help us get a whole different outlook with more creative solutions.
Asked about whether it’s cheating to use references, Shortz says, “It’s your puzzle. Solve it any way you want.” It is your life. You ultimately choose how you live it. Now, it doesn’t fit my values to imply that cheating is ok. However, I will suggest, It’s your life. You may as well live it your way. Rather than believing that someone else has control and is forcing you to live a certain way, look at the freedom to choose that you do have.
I’ll end with a philosophical comment about winning. According to Shortz, while the puzzle maker and the solver are on different sides, the aim of both is for the solver to win—to solve the puzzle. It might not seem so; the puzzles may seem evil and impossible and out to get you. But then, what a triumph when you solve!
Sometimes it can feel like the whole world and everyone in it is against you. Maybe you just weren’t meant to win.
Consider this possibility: Life can be tough. Sometimes it seems that obstacles and barriers appear in front of you just to provide entertainment for someone else.
Perhaps it’s not so! Perhaps the challenges are to provide you with growth, learning, opportunities to help, to see things differently, to become more perfectly the person you can be. Maybe, just maybe, the puzzle maker and the solver are on the same side.
Do you think any of Shortz’s puzzle tips might be useful in your life?