June 2nd, 2011


Getting to "Done"

I'm finally getting around to Patrick Berry's delightful Adventures in Puzzling, and I'm finding an interesting fact about myself.

Normally, when I sit down to solve a puzzle, I'm not satisfied until I've completely solved it. That's not to say that I never give up; but as long as there's still an unsolved "light" in the puzzle, I don't feel done.

But Patrick's new book is made up of a bunch of mini-extravaganzas. That is, each group of puzzles has a metapuzzle, and so each puzzle yields an answer word or phrase for the meta. Now, maybe it's my MIT Mystery Hunt experience, but once I have enough of a puzzle solved to extract the answer word, I lose interest in the puzzle.

I think it's because when a puzzle stands alone, the criterion for "success" is "every clue solved." But in a meta, there's an explicitly different criterion for "success", and that's "the answer to this puzzle is in hand."

Which is a shame. I love Patrick's "Some Assembly Required" puzzles, but in the first group in the book, I had already solved the group's meta before even starting the SAR in the group. So it felt more like an obligation ("Well, I paid for this puzzle...") and then once I got its answer word I still had to talk myself into continuing. ("Well, I enjoy SARs, it would be a shame to leave this one incomplete.")

Somehow that neurotransmitter rush happens earlier with puzzles that yield an explicit "answer" instead of a "solution", and the end of the solving process turns into a letdown instead of a thrill. Pity.