Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cryptic logic, questions arising

That great systematiser of cryptic crosswords, Ximenes, proposed that clues should have a logical structure. He then laid out in his book Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword what the possible structures could be. Most clues in most cryptic puzzles since Ximenes published his work (and many before for that matter) adhere to the so-called Ximenean precepts. The best have a wonderfully algebraic elegance and economy.

Of course I tend to follow the Ximenean precepts myself when composing my own puzzles. I like to think that I mainly succeed, though I do also enjoy a less stringent form in my own and in others' puzzle from time to time.

But given that essential logic in most clues, I have often wondered why solving puzzles so often requires applied illogic.

A December 2010 article in the New York Times explains that puzzles affect mood. The very idea of doing a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle shifts the brain into an open, playful state that is itself a pleasing and captivating escape. The effect may run the other way too. Humour and a buoyant mood engender a state that is better for problem solving.

In a recent study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.

Strangely I also find that a small amount of alcohol or a somewhat greater amount of tiredness often helps with solving. They both seem to loosen the cogs of logic, making the free association of ideas easier. I don't trust or use alcohol when composing, but tiredness is frequent for me and not necessarily a hindrance. (Composing is of course a form of problem solving as well.)

Apart from its utility in this respect, I enjoy tiredness as an insomnia preventative, cheaper and more readily obtained than drugs. Nevertheless tiredness is a burden and, I am told, unhealthy.

Questions arising
  • Should I get myself some Robin Williams videos?
  • Would the videos, in light of these facts and my occupation, be a tax-deductible expense?
  • Would such a claim itself put some lucky tax inspector in a humorous and buoyant mood as well?
  • Do many mathematicians use humour, tiredness or chemical aids to help solve problems?

No comments:

Post a Comment