More Productive Distractions: Crosswords

Random Observation/Comment #405: The brain needs exercise too. Keep it healthy by challenging yourself and shielding it from stressful/dramatic situations. see lemons geek out I don’t think I’ve ever completed a full crossword until September 2013. My gf, who is a crossword guru, started doing them in college in order to help with insomnia.  She’d casually finish a Tuesday Newsday in 10 minutes and then go to bed.  When I tried to do this at first, it took me about 45 minutes with hints.  After 5 months and about 300+ crosswords completed, I’m proud to be able to keep up with her. Q: Don’t you have enough things to do? Why crosswords? A: I started playing crosswords to do something more productive than Sudoku, Anagrams, and Words with Friends on my phone. Don’t get me wrong, these were still fun, but I honestly got a little too good at them. There wasn’t the challenge or the thrill anymore because I think I figured them out. There are only so many 6-letter words out there for anagrams and Sudoku I can either complete in 5 minutes or I wind up taking 15 because I went with the wrong guess (which is more frustrating than gratifying).  Crosswords, while also sometimes frustrating, at least causes me to look-up words and expand my vocabulary. I am associating better than before and I think my memory has improved. Q: Lessons Learned? A: There are many, as always:

  • Get the easy wins. My personal technique is to do a first pass through to get the common words and similar hints done. This will give other larger words more context. Similarly in projects, getting started is always a good idea and sometimes you just need to get on a roll before tackling something more difficult.
  • Find a common theme. Understand the puzzle maker probably chose words that coincide with a common theme. Having this key and comparing similar types of words will help you choose between tough ones. In projects, making sure the common theme is understood across all team members is key to completing the puzzle.
  • Adjust your strategy as needed. Some people are good enough to start from the top left and just know each word without guessing. Those people are superstars, but I am sadly not there yet. I sometimes get stuck on finding that first word to start it off, so I often jump to another sector. Psychologically, the crossword makers usually make the top left quadrant the hardest. In your project, it’s sometimes okay to side-shelf a certain part of it until you finish a larger chunk. You’ll more likely figure out the harder problems if you work your way up to them.
  • Play with others. Crosswords are tough, but everyone can contribute. With our experiences combined, we should be able to complete it! All hard work takes teamwork and perseverance.
  • Use resources. Yes, this may be cheating, but if you’re learning something (e.g. expanding your vocabulary or finding double meanings), you’ve at least done something productive. Instead of guessing letters, look-up those Nobel prize winners or get definitions for those words that no one has ever heard of. With work, you’ll never know everything. Use your community and there’s no shame in looking something up if you’re learning in the process.

Q: What do you play? A: On Android OS, I use a free app that downloads new crosswords daily called “Shortyz”. I make it a routine to complete at least 2 puzzles every day and this free app is probably the most used one on my phone at the moment. Q: How do I get better at crosswords? A: Practice. There are a list of about 400 3-4 letter words that are often used (e.g. eden, etna, err, esso, era, et al, etc, etc) . I’ve become accustomed to these words just by sheer volume of crosswords I’ve done. These are the easy wins that determines your givens for the longer words. From there, depending on the puzzle, I search through letter combinations and underlying themes.  Themes can include: repeated words, two/three word phrases, topics placed on different sides of the puzzle, etc. The real challenge is changing your mindset to understand the clue formations. You’ll start to pay more attention to tenses and pluralizing. Q: Now what? A: To be honest, there’s not much I want more from doing crosswords. It’s not like I’ll be challenging Will Shortz anytime soon. I think I just wanted to raise awareness of it to my friends and family. It’s like any other challenge – it’s good to see my own progress and it’s an instant gratifying moment of conquering a task.  I’m slowly working my way on completing Wednesday crosswords without hints, but until then, I’m just happy my brain isn’t rotting from Candy Crush. ~See Lemons Crossword