"We're faced with puzzles every day in life," says Will Shortz. He should know—he's the only person to hold a degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He's also been The New York Times's Crossword Editor for almost 20 years.
"With a crossword or Sudoku or any other kind of human-made puzzle, you know you have the perfect solution when you fill in the last letter or the last square or get the perfect answer. That's what is so satisfying about it," he says.
But the vast majority of puzzles you will face will not be human-made; they won't have a perfect solution. For instance, what is the fastest way to run five errands downtown? This is the sort of puzzle we face daily, but we can never know if we have a perfect answer. "Maybe you’re wrong, but you just muddle through the best you can," says Shortz.
One thing you can control, though, is how prepared you are to face these daily puzzles. All puzzles require mental flexibility, he tells us. Below he describes a situation in which the mental flexibility he's cultivated through decades of puzzle-solving got him out of a jam.
Think you would have come up with the same solution? Either way, it couldn't hurt to exercise your mental flexibility with the following puzzle from the master himself. Good luck!
Give up? To find out the answer click here.