What strategies do you use to relieve your brain when the synapses go numb during especially tedious, ditzy work?
“Tedious” and “ditzy” pretty much describe my work from beginning to end. There’s a point at which I find myself unable to keep concentrating without taking a break. Make that many points.
Online computer games do it for me. Though they also can be tedious and ditzy, they are at least different tedium and ditz. Do you use online computer games for this purpose? Or any other easily accessible (read “free, don’t have to sign in”) activities on the Web?
Early on, I discovered Bookworm, a repetitive little word game that requires minimal cogitation. Things are always moving on it, which improves considerably on lines of type on a book page.
There’s always Mah Jongg, of course…it’s impossible to go wrong with Mah Jongg, in the Eye-Glazing Distraction Department.
I happen to like this layout, which is “traditional” in the American/digital sense and easy to read.
The Washington Post has a lot of these things on its website. Unfortunately, their designers, like all computer designers, can’t leave well enough alone. Eventually some programmer comes along, changes them around and wrecks them.
Spider Solitaire is an example. It was a wonderful game, but a few months ago WaPo took down the really neat version and posted a totally dorked-up variant. Luckily, there’s a site called “Great Day Games,” whose proprietors mourn(!) that their games can no longer be updated. You can find the old WaPo version of Spider Solitaire there, lhudly sing huzzah.
The Post’s daily crossword is pretty good — better than most, but not as good as it used to be. It used to be far and away superior to any other crossword I’ve seen on the Web: it was challenging but (eventually) solvable. Alas, however, they caught their crossword editor allegedly plagiarizing clues from other puzzle-makers. How exactly you can be said to “plagiarize” a crossword puzzle clue escapes me — you can’t copyright a list, after all, and a crossword IS exactly that: a list of clues. However, a great flap ensued. They fired the guy. Whoever took his place does OK, but it’s nowhere near as good as the old criminal WaPo daily crossword.
Ah, but the Queen of Online Computer Games — nay, the Emperor of Online Computer Games — is The New Yorker‘s endlessly amusing, gently time-killing jigsaw puzzle based on old covers. For the brain-banged screen gazer, it’s a gift from God.
Just look at that thing! (Click on the image to see its full glory.) Doesn’t it bring to mind a real crossword puzzle, scattered all over the tabletop? It actually works almost like one, except it doesn’t take three days to put it together. With a little strategy, you can complete one of these in about 25 minutes. Or less: I put the one above together in 23 minutes.
The trick is to think in terms of shapes first, not colors, not images. Sort the pieces roughly by shape; begin assembling the outside of the puzzle (as above), and then you can click on a button marked “show edges.” This will hide all the pieces that are not edges, making it simple to construct the outside lines.
These are pure innies and outies:
Note that on the left-hand side, an “innie” has an indentation and an “outie” has a knob. And note the occasional spines, and also that some have hook-like appendages, pointing (one could say) up or down. So the top shape is an innie with (starting at the top, counterclockwise) a knob/upward-facing hook/downward-facing hook/knob/spine/knob/spine. This is useful information.
There are innie and outie clubs:
Note that some of the pieces — a lot of them, actually — have little decoration. The topmost innie is all blue, and the bottom outie club is almost all army green with only a tiny fleck of some other color. But once you realize that all you really need to know is the shape, you can proceed with élan.
Group the pieces together by their shapes, as in the top jigsaw image. There, the plain innies are along the top, followed by the innie clubs, then the outie clubs, then the plain outies.
Notice, too, that the assembled exterior gives you a jagged edge all the way around the interior. Your challenge now is to find pieces that fit into those jigs and jags. Each piece will fit in only one place, so you can’t make a mistake.
For example, here…
…you can clearly see that whatever fits in there is an outie with a left-facing knob, a downward-pointing spine, and a downward-facing knob. Only so many pieces fit that description…especially if you have a general idea of the color in that part of the image.
Here you need an innie with two left-facing clubs. Piece of cake!
And finally, note that a few pieces have characters on them. Most issues of The New Yorker published the masthead with the name in the center, the price on the left, and the date on the right, at the top. And many had the artist’s signature at the cover’s lower left or right. Pieces with parts of letters are easy to fit together.
And what a nice little flush of triumph you feel when you succeed in putting the thing together!
After you’ve finished, you can peek inside that issue, briefly. If you’d care to subscribe online, you can pay to read every issue the magazine has ever printed.
I love this puzzle so much and am so vividly reminded of how much (back in the William Shawn day) I used to love The New Yorker that I think, despite the fact that Condé Nast now owns it, I may subscribe to the hard-copy edition. It still has a lot of great writing, as long as you don’t read what passes for their humor, which can be annoyingly metro-elitist.
Got any other suggestions?
Bookworm: © PopCap
MahJongg: © Free games.Ws
The real Spider Solitaire: © Arkadium, Inc.
Washington Post crossword: © WashingtonPost.com
New Yorker jigsaw puzzle: © Condé Nast