How Puzzles Can Change Your Life

We're faced with puzzles every day in life. That's why it's so important to keep your mind flexible, says NY Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz, recounting a time he had to use his puzzle solving skill in an airport parking garage. 

"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

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less