In my every day normal routine in Las Vegas there are two events to which I look forward each day. The first is dinner at Chipotle. I still eat there virtually every day when it's an option, and still delight in it every time. The second is when I get the notification at the top of my phone that tomorrow's crossword is available.
For over a year I have done the NY Times crossword puzzle just about every single day. I may have missed one or two, but I went back and completed all of them. In fact, I've done somewhere around 2800 puzzles as I write this.
When I first started I could barely get through a Wednesday. Often I'd have to check the puzzle or reveal letters. Now I'm currently on a 250+ day streak and I believe that I'm at the level where it would be pretty surprising if I couldn't fight my way through a puzzle. They're still sometimes very hard (1 hour+ for saturdays on rare occasion but I can usually figure it out.
I very rarely recommend "fun" things on this blog, but I'm wholeheartedly recommending crossword puzzles.
Crossword puzzles are the perfect balance between fun and progress. They're really engaging and fun in the same way that figuring out how to build something is fun. Not delightful, but satisfying. At the same time, you're building a skill.
To be fair, I'm not sure exactly what that skill is. I feel like I think differently about words now than I used to. Crosswords force you to think about the different ways we use words, and all the things each one can mean. There's also a lot of strategy. You don't just run through and answer every question you can. That works for Mondays, but by the time you get to Saturday you need a lot more than that.
Of all leisure activities I do, crosswords seem most worthwhile, except for maybe good conversations with friends.
To start, download the NY Times app for your phone. You can also do it online. There's usually a promotion for a free month or week.
Start with the Monday crosswords. Do the most recent one, and work backwards in time, doing all other Mondays. Mondays are easiest, Saturdays are hardest, Sundays are medium level difficulty but are huge. Thursdays are always "themed" puzzles so figuring out the theme can be a challenge.
Begin a puzzle by just browsing through and finding an answer that you know. On a Saturday I may not know one absolutely until halfway or more of the way through the clues. Many of the clues cannot possibly be solved without any letters revealed.
Once you find an answer, start working on the clues that intersect with that answer. Having even one letter revealed is a major advantage because it can rule out a lot of possible answers.
In general, try to solve the words that already have the most letters revealed. This limits your search space and also helps you check the words you've already put in.
When you get stuck... keep at it. On a hard puzzle I'll sometimes be totally stuck for 10 minutes. Then go do something else for a while. When you come back you'll have a different state of mind and some answers might be obvious.
If you get stuck, use "check puzzle" or "reveal square". Try not to, but don't feel bad about it. There are a lot of unwritten crossword rules that you only learn by seeing puzzles solved, so you'll need to use them at first.
Once you can reliably solve Mondays with few or no cheats, move on to Tuesdays. Repeat for Wednesday.
Things get much more difficult going from Wednesday to Thursday. So even if you're breezing through Wednesdays, you'll probably have to cheat a lot when you start Thursdays.
I think of Monday-Wednesday as one group, Thursday-Saturday as another, and Sundays as their own. It's always a big adjustment getting used to another group.
Once you can consistently do Saturdays with just a few hints, cut yourself off cold turkey and refuse to ever use hints. I relied on hints for too long, until I finally realized that the puzzles are so hard that sometimes you just have to sit with it, and that by using hints I would never build that skill. Now I never use them.
I skipped Sundays until I become really proficient at Saturdays, because then I wanted to start building a streak. Sundays seem to be about Thursday-Friday difficulty to me.
I generally hate paying for monthly subscriptions that aren't necessary, but I love paying for the NY Times Crossword subscription. For me it's the best possible entertainment value, and I can't help but feel that it's doing good things for my brain at the same time.
Photo is my friend Megumi whisking matcha at Higashi-ya in Tokyo. I couldn't find any photo remotely crossword related.
There are still spots available for Superhuman 2 (I will email those who signed up very soon with more details). Click here for more details.
Once you're comfortable with NYT crosswords, give cryptic (British-style) crosswords a try. Each clue is a puzzle in itself, and they are often quite funny. The sense of satisfaction upon completing, say, a Telegraph or Times puzzle is quite rewarding.
My dad always did the NYT crosswords. And he did them fast. He died in 88, before the internet, and I know he would have LOVED computers and the web. He was really smart and seemed to 'know' EVERYTHING. (Not just my opinion.) I just don't know if he knew everything BECAUSE he did crossword puzzles OR, he did crossword puzzles because he knew everything. :o)
Real Escape is a Japanese phenomenon, which is generally enough to get me in the door. Through my Japanese teacher I met one of the creators a few months back, and he described a real life puzzle game that sounded like a ton of fun. I was invited to go to their Doctor Mad event a couple weeks ago.
Going in, I had no idea to expect. I knew that there would be some sort of brain teaser and logic puzzle element to it, but that was all I knew. I want to give away as little as possible, so that you'll get the most out of it if you go, but it's essentially a real life computer game. There are no fancy graphics-- you're basically in a minimally decorated room with some stuff stuck to the walls, but the skills needed and the procedures of the game reminded me of and old-school adventure game like Monkey Island.
Suffice to say, I had a ton of fun. I've always wished that there were more non-drinking based social nighttime activities, and Real Escape definitely fits the bill. It's very entertaining, if you go solo you'll be put into a group that you'll get to know a little bit, and it's good for your brain.
It's also hard. Very hard. I sort of think that I'm a genius of logic puzzles and the like, but my team failed (unless you count me cracking the lock that the answer was in before the game started). In fact, only one of the ten or so teams actually completed the puzzle. And while I'd like to blame my team for our failure, the most interesting part of the experience was being faced with my own deficiencies.
I'm working on a weekly livestreaming schedule and became curious as to what the absolute best days and times may be for specific games. I'm asking for your help in commenting, suggesting, tips and any information that you think could help me.
I'm either going to get my Playstation 2 hooked up to my PC to or find a PS2 controller to play some old-school JRPGs and RPGs as well. Tentatively, these are some games I'm thinking about playing weekly for the time being.
Blackguards: Old-school, Turn-Based combat.
Minecraft: It's Minecraft!
Soul Nomad and the World Eaters: Retro, Turn-Based, Squad-Based combat.