Solving Puzzles and Problems ~ Math, Word, and Otherwise

Words of Wisdom from Aunt Claire


“Your puzzles are hard, Bob!” is a reaction we often hear. Guilty, as charged, but if it’s easy, it isn’t a puzzle, is it?

 

Below are some general strategies you might apply to all kinds of puzzles and problems. They’ve all been tried and tested by yours truly in a variety of contexts.



Work with a partner and talk! You may have heard UB’s story of how we killed a couple of hours while waiting in a bus station in Reading, PA, by putting our heads together and figuring out the complexities of cryptic crosswords. We’d each tried them alone without much success, but talking about them together made things click.

 

Read the help pages Uncle Bob provides for many of his word puzzles.

 

Successful problem/puzzle solvers exhibit a healthy blend of persistence and flexibility. As the Don Schlitz song made famous by Kenny Rogers says, “You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold ‘em.” It’s important to stick with a difficult task and not give up quickly. Equally important is recognizing when a chosen strategy is not likely to produce a solution and switching to another plan of attack.

 

It can also be helpful to put the puzzle aside temporarily and return to it later with a fresh perspective. You’ll be surprised how often a second look leads to new insights.

 

When all else fails, take a peek at an answer and then apply what you notice to other examples.

 

It pays to get to know the mind of the puzzle constructor, their areas of interest and style of humor.

 

Mistakes are opportunities! Pay attention to what doesn’t work as well as what does.

 

“I’ve never made a mistake. I’ve only learned from experience.”

~Thomas A. Edison

 

Pay attention to strategies that do work and apply them to other situations.

 

 

We’d love to hear about your favorite strategies. Feel free to send them in the comment form found at the bottom of each web page.

Claire Mead
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