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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

4 Down - literally, "single numbers" (Jap.) - six letters....

I most reluctantly admit to having an addictive personality, and suspect I'm mildly OCD. So...I'm human, sue me.

Enneads within enneads, I love them. The heady perfection of the logic of numbers. The contemplative solitude of zen sleuthing. 

The affair started, like so many romances, on an airplane trip. Needing a break from things theological and musical, iPod low on power, done with book, now what? American Way magazine beckons, with its Mensa puzzles - enh, kinda lightweight. AW crossword too easy. Sudoku, eh? I’ve heard about these, yes. You need to fill each 9-square-box with the numbers 1 to 9, with 9 boxes in the square, each row vertically and horizontally also needs to have the numbers 1 to 9. How hard can THAT be?

At first (in my case, this is a couple of months, not days), one makes too many stupid mistakes by rushing thru the puzzle, missing numbers, hasty copying errors, no coherent strategy for success. One reads various online hints for successful solvage, with ideas galore that are really things you’re already doing only reduced to intersecting lines.

For me, the challenge reduces to this: however few numbers might appear in the grid as the starter set, there is only one solution. Every number is inevitable. Every step you take has to be methodical, and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. True, a false move can lead you to suddenly finding two 8’s in the same row, causing you to curse quietly under your breath, inverting your pencil to employ the rubber antimatter on the opposite end. True, enough 9’s and 4’s in the same 9-square section cause me to curse like a priest on a golf course, and storm out of the house for Staples, where I buy a 3-pack of industrial-sized über-erasers, which with hardly an effort can turn half-an-hour’s digital scrawling in the enigmatic matrix into a tabula rasa of new possibilities.

And in an immersion into an Einsteinian wonderland of timespace discontinuity, a trip into the sudoku zone makes time pass like a dream - the distance from opening the book to finishing a puzzle is the blink of a bloodshot eye, or two of them. Nothing makes an airline flight, or terrible homily, pass more quickly that this mystical mosaic of nines, my favorite collection of which was edited by none other than America’s prime enigmatologist, Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzles. (Shortz himself is a piece of work: I recommend to anyone who enjoys puzzling of this sort the movie Wordplay, a documentary about Shortz, the NYT puzzle, and the people who create and solve them. Footnote: Will Shortz wrote his own doctoral program at Indiana
Will Shortz, three months younger,
and three million times cleverer than I.
University in enigmatology, and as far as I know, he's still the only person in the world with such a degree. What a wonderful, freakin' weirdo!)

Nowadays, my cryptophilic ritual is threefold. I have a book of NYT crosswords near the breakfast nook. Since I'm eating breakfast by myself while Des and Terry are getting ready for school, I breakfast with the matutinal trinity: Kashi, coffee, and Will Shortz. I knock off about about half of a Sunday puzzle while I sit there. Then I put it away until the next morning. After dinner, I sit down with my iPad. The crazy Malaysians or Latvians or whoever they are that created the website put a new puzzle up at 6pm Central time all year round. They score them 1, 2, or 3 points, with 3 being the hardest puzzles. No storing the "possibles" in the squares on this site—you have to do it in your head. I have over 3,000 points. Keep your crystal meth. The nines already have me. 

Then, at 9pm, the next day's NYT crossword puzzle (the iPad app version managed by Magmic) goes live for the central time zone. It's a race against the clock now, and against the hundreds of other addicts who have been waiting for this moment too. There is no thrill quite like finishing a puzzle among the first ten, and let me tell you, it has happened for me very rarely. 

I’ve worked my way up to the insanely hard Sudokus in the iPad app, so the slow speed of solving doesn't deflate my fragile ego, since they require a level of logic inaccessible to no lights lesser than Leibniz or Kant. Speed is not the prize. It's the flash of insight, moment of ecstasy celebrating that the logic synapses are still firing upstairs.

Look in your local paper, sharpen up a number 2 (check for adequate eraser length) and get busy. I’ll see you next week at Cryptomaniacs Anonymous.