Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke


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.

It’s kind of a boring game, but when you’re already bored stupid, it relieves the tedium.

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.

This is one of the great anaesthetic computer games of the Western World, along with Mah Jongg. Either of them will ease your pain almost as quickly as a bourbon and water.

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.

Still…it passes the time. And numbs the overheated brain.

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.

Next, assemble the remaining pieces in groups according to their shapes. I call them “innies” and “outies”; and there’s a variety called a “club,” whose shape includes a clunky oval shillelagh.

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!

Heh! How strange is that image, anyway?

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: ©
New Yorker jigsaw puzzle: © Condé Nast

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Author: funny

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  1. Ah, Funny! This leaves me all kinds of nostalgic for the computer and online games I used to love. Had scads of them bookmarked on the old computer, but so far I haven’t found any that are accessible for visually impaired players.

    I’d have to go look at the old bookmarks for recommendations – let me see if I remember any…

    Used to love Bookworm and a bunch of other Popcap games. Bought several over the years, and they were well worth the price of admission. I also liked Big Fish games, but you have to set up an account with them and install a player, and I don’t know if they work for Mac.

    Jigzone was awesome for jigsaw puzzles. They had a daily puzzle and a huge archive, and you could change the number and type of pieces. Free, no registration – worth checking out if they’re still around.

    I may have the name wrong, but I used to love a card game called “Cold Tomato Patience” or “Cold Tomato Patience Deluxe”. (Like I said, it’s been years. Cards were laid out in four rows and aces – I think – were removed. The object was to arrange the remaining cards, by suit, in order from highest to lowest. Dang near impossible to win, but it didn’t drag on forever and it kept the brain occupied. Also free with no registration.

    What I used to love about computer games was that they kept the busy, buzzy front of my brain occupied while the deeper parts of my brain were nibbling away at some more complex problem. I cannot tell you how much I miss that distraction! I’d dearly love to find a memory/matching/concentration game, where you turn over tiles two-by-two and remove them from the board if they match. But it would have to tell me what tile I’m on (1A, 3E, etc.) and what the figures are (Star. Ball. Rainbow. etc.) Seems like such a simple thing, yet I haven’t managed to find one.

    Hope you’re able to find some new games – maybe your other readers will have more (and more recent) suggestions.

    • There’s gotta be a market for games for the visually impaired. Hm. I wonder if it’s possible to get ahold of someone at Arkadium or at PopCap and suggest it. It couldn’t possibly be that hard to do!

      I’ll see if I can find a human at those places.

      Heh heh! I love your theory about the value of mindless computer games. “Yes, Professor Boxankle, I’m playing this game so I can figure out my calculus homework!”

      • Okay, did some poking around:

        Cold Tomatoes Patience Deluxe details

        JigZone details

        In the cruelest of ironies, Not only is the JigZone site well laid out and accessible, but the thumbnail pictures that link to the puzzles are clearly labeled so that I can read them. Alas, I still cannot play them!

        I did a search for memory/matching/concentration games. Actually found one that was laid out in an accessible grid and told me which cell and card I was flipping. But it wouldn’t tell me what was on the cards! Arrgh! So close!

        I know there are companies out there programming games for blind and visually impaired users. I just haven’t been able to find anything that works for me. At this rate, I may as well learn to program games myself!

    • If found a contact at Arkadium! Suggested that they should develop a few games that would work for the visually impaired and that they read your comments for clues.

      Let’s see if they do anything about it. Who knows?

  2. I love Spider Solitaire and play it pretty much every day. It came with my current PC, which I bought 8 1/2 years ago. Besides that, I’m not much into computer games. Jigsaw puzzles have always driven me up the wall and over it!
    My favorite way of distracting/energizing myself is watching videos on YouTube – music vids, clips from shows, short documentaries by Dan Bell, etc. I also search and fill out surveys at Swagbucks.

  3. I used to play bookworm all the time – loved that game!

    Nowadays I use my phone for braindead/timewasting games – I’ve been playing one called “twenty” – mindless game swiping coloured boxes into each other to match them.