Metacognitive Analysis- How I Approach Puzzles

I have been spending more time on a recently semi-neglected occupation of mine- puzzles. I enjoy all sorts of puzzles- jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, logic, and plenty of variants. I got an awesome daily calendar this year of MENSA puzzles, bought myself a subscription to GAMES magazine after discovering an issue at an airport, and have been making more time for some jigsaw puzzles in an effort to minimize computer time. Because these are quiet pursuits and I am an introspective person by nature, I have been spending some time thinking about my thinking as it relates to these different puzzles. (As a disclaimer, this is not me trying to sound smart, this is simple analysis of activities I enjoy)

Jigsaw puzzles- I think most everyone approaches these in the same way, namely, edge pieces first. I do this begrudgingly only because it makes sense, not because it is my preferred way. This came to an end when I started a puzzle entitled "The Edge" where all pieces have an edge. (I also have a Borders puzzle which I expect to be similar) Anyway, with the edges removed, I searched for pieces of the larger buttons, which is again fairly logical. But what I found myself doing was saying "ok, I am only looking for yellow background with black writing" and then, I would notice "oh! here is the blue with white writing that goes over here... and here is the pink that goes over here..." significantly more matches on unrelated pieces than those I was looking for. Another part of this puzzle played to my strengths- having lots of written words to connect. I have a good memory for different lettering styles and messages, and didn't have a hard time knowing when I saw a piece that fit in with something else. Allowing myself to make these free associations instead of truly focusing progressed the puzzle very quickly.

---What does this say about me? Attention or processing difference? I know that I have sensory deficits in some areas but never considered myself as having visual processing a strength (I can get quite visually overloaded). Perhaps my skills are more attuned to observations of the written word, and could that be related to good reading comprehension skills?

Crosswords- My style for crossword puzzles is similarly erratic. I prefer to casually gaze through all the clues to see if anything sticks out. In particular, clues with a _____ always catch my eye and are often first filled in. There are a large number of uncommon words and names commonly used in crosswords (e.g., Oola, Orel, Erle) and mastering those over years of puzzling provides a certain advantage. After I do my initial scan, I proceed to 1 intense round of reading all the across and then all the down clues. Anything I am not sure of gets penciled in beside the clue, not in the spaces. After this first round, I tell myself that I will go through again in an organized pattern (much like searching for certain puzzle pieces in jigsaws) but then find myself drawn to areas where I have many words congregated to see if I can make more sense of nearby clues, see if I have any penciled in words that would be appropriate. Once I get one of the main clues (these are usually puns or related to a central theme) the others fall in place quickly.

---Except for the determination of the main clues, much of the rest of the puzzle is remembering what you already know and using context clues. The key is learning from each puzzle to better performance in the next. I am trying to move into cryptic crosswords, but they are REALLY hard! I prefer written crosswords, but can do computer based if the puzzles are easier.

Sudoku- I don't do typical sudoku puzzles anymore because they are not generally challenging to me. The ones that are have moved beyond logic and require you to guess a number and see whether it fits or not, which I do not enjoy. So I work multiple variants- overlapping puzzles, odd/even sudoku, 10/12 square sudoku, diagonal sudoku, sum sudoku. However, often these extra rules make the puzzle easier to solve, since there are more conditions a number must meet to be included. I often browse through by each number to see if there are any spots I can fill quickly, see if there are numbers that can only go in 2-3 boxes per square. (This almost never goes in order from 1-9) Then I proceed to what makes sense- trying to find the boxes that have the most numbers around them and can be filled by exclusion. This gives way to the logic tricks that are learned when doing multiple sudokus (just like the word tricks learned from crosswords), so setting those up can occupy much of the board. Then, when the whole board is narrowed to <4 possibilities per square, I step back and look for what's missing. The eureka moment will come, it just has to be found.

---Sudoku is a rather pure logic puzzle, it's just about channeling the right reasoning skills and seeing how it all connects. I received a Sudoku board as a gift, where you can place wooden tiles instead of writing in the board. I've been trying to examine the effect of the tactile input, but I do like writing, as I have my special symbols to add to the numbers to try to better organize my thoughts. This is similar to the crossword puzzles. Does a learning style preference 'count' as a cognitive strategy?

Paint by Number- Also called Hanjie or Nonograms, a puzzle that I was introduced to at a young age and have been hooked to ever since. These I absolutely cannot do on a computer, I must have pencil and paper. Strategy here starts with finding the largest numbers and getting any spaces colored in that is possible. Filling in spots along the edges is also key to a great start. Then I start to look for patterns. Numbers in different rows of similar length that can help you infer placement of others. I love watching these come together.

---I recently tried a variant of these called Paint by Pairs, which I really don't like as well. For one, it's not a pure x/y axis experience. The other disappointing part is that in most of these puzzles the picture is in the empty spots, not those that are colored in, and I don't like that use of negative space.

Overall, I do enjoy the filling of empty spaces, be they in jigsaws, crosswords or any other grid. I've talked before about my love of patterns, and do enjoy logic in general. I used to be disappointed in my left-brained side, wanting to be more creative and skilled in right-brained pursuits. But now I've decided that one doesn't exclude the other, and strengths should be used. My word memory skills that work so well in crosswords also make me a good test grader for my dad's classes- I remember the letter patterns for the answer sheet, and also have a good memory for when I see 2 that are too similar for coincidence. My verbal skills also gave me a good advantage for journalism class, correcting grammar without a lot of formal training in that department. Haven't really found an OT-related outlet for the logic skills (they do NOT translate into effective performance at meetings) and the closest I have gotten to that is developing different documentation templates.

No comments: