Doing Puzzles

Puzzles are fun not because they are hard but because they are surprising. Above all they are challenging explorations in how to think, from the simplest little counting problems to the deep and often unanswerable puzzles of game theory. We learn to see a problem from a greater distance, or from a new angle. We learn to think about the assumptions we are making as we apropiach each decision--some explcit, some we never questioned before. The hard puzzles teach us to work logically through a set of facts,

Why do puzzles? Because they give us confidence, in the same way that crossing a river on a log or climbing to the top of a mountain teaches us that we can do these things.  They also set our expectations. Many of these puzzles do not crack open at the first blow. This is not television. It takes several tries, a new strategy, a different way of looking at the world. But once we figure out the first one, we are a little more confident that we can get the next one.

You don’t have to be a mathematician, but you do have to be courageous. You have to believe that any puzzle can be solved, and that persistence, clarity of mind and an openness to new ideas are the keys to the solution in most cases. So no matter how old you are, go forth.

After you’ve been doing them for a while you learn the secret puzzles hold: even the toughest challenges can be solved through perseverance. And for most of us, that is almost as good as high intelligence.

Noggintwisters; The Great Puzzles Large and Small, Christopher Burns

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