This being Sunday, my first thought is the NY TIMES crossword puzzle. A good deal of my waking life -- more than one might wish to admit -- is spent solving puzzles. Crossword puzzles, Doublecrostics, Sudoku puzzles, Ken Ken puzzles, Puns and Anagrams puzzles, London TIMES type puzzles -- all are grist for my mill. The first thing I do upon taking my seat on an airplane is to check the seat pocket for the airline's magazine, in hopes of finding several puzzles in the back pages.
Puzzles of this sort exercise on me what aesthetic theorists in mid-twentieth century philosophy used to call an objective demand. Faced with an empty puzzle, I feel a compulsion to attack it. Working on a puzzle is for me a peaceful activity, and when I finally finish the puzzle, no matter how easy it has been, I experience a satisfying sense of completion and fulfilment. The world is now ordered rightly.
The NY TIMES puzzles were my first addiction. Will Short arranges things so that they start very easy on Monday, and grow progressively harder as the week passes. The Thursday puzzle always has something quirky about it that one must guess to solve the puzzle. The Friday and Saturday puzzles are genuinely hard. Sometimes, I cannot at the start solve a single clue, but almost without exception, I manage to finish them all. The Sunday puzzle is actually rather easy, but it is enormous, and hence takes a long time to finish [half an hour or more, I find.] Naturally, I do them in ink, and, as even the most naive reader can surely tell, I am immensely vain about my ability to solve them.
Sudoku puzzles, a relatively recent import from Japan, are quite different. Although they are written using numbers, they are logic puzzles, not mathematical puzzles. One could without any essential alteration replace the numbers 1 through 9 with letters or symbols of some sort. At first they were very challenging, but I have now devised ways of solving them that make it merely a matter of time. Still and all, as I enter the last number in the last box, I feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. Ken Ken puzzles, an even newer import, are genuine arithmetic puzzles, and require a totally different set of reasoning tools.
DoubleCrostics are complex word puzzles, the one drawback of which is that one must fill in the letters from the clues in the body of the text. I am terrible at doing that, and routinely put letters in the wrong places, which screws things up in a big way. At one point, frustrated by my incompetence at filling in the letters, I decided to try solving them in my head, without filling in the letters, but just solving the clues. I can do it, but it requires enormous concentration, and is not really worth the effort just to avoid the secretarial work of entering the letters in the text.
I think there must be a connection between this addiction to puzzles and the way I do philosophy, by telling myself stories about ideas until the stories are perfectly clear in my mind, but I do not quite see what that is.
Well, tomorrow, we start all over with the easy Monday puzzle. Hardly worth the effort, it only takes me about five or six minutes. But so long as it is there, it has to be solved!