Gene Weingarten: How could we waste time on puzzles?

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My friend and editor, Tom the Butcher, recently asked me if I made puzzles; although in reality he said it this way: “Do you disdain puzzles?” Tom knows me well. I confirmed his suspicions, at which point he defiantly sent me a picture of a puzzle he had just completed while sheltering in place. It was a pastoral scene: a photo of a gazebo. It made me sad for my friend. Then he linked me to a news story reporting that the pandemic has sparked a national jigsaw race. It made me sad for my country. (Well, saduh.)

I never understood how anyone could waste time on this senseless, yet infuriating pursuit. It’s like someone churning out a beautiful Greek urn, pulling out a hammer, smashing it to bits, putting it in a bag, then giving you a tube of glue and inviting you to have fun putting it back together for the rest of the day. daytime.

I know – a lot of people love puzzles, and not all of them are lazy. Bill and Melinda Gates would be big devotees, and I admit they probably have at least a little on the ball.

Yet I see puzzles as a symptom of the reality TV phenomenon – a dumbing down of our means of entertainment. Puzzles require all the intellectual energy of someone sorting socks in a laundromat. I mean, sure, it’s kind of rewarding when you pair two socks properly, but I wouldn’t want to do it for four hours.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m a terrible elitist, and you’d be right. I do acrostics and logic puzzles and crosswords in pen, and if any of these crosswords are too easy, I’ll cover all the “Across” clues. I do the New York Times Spelling Bee game, where you have to form as many words as possible from the seven letters they provide, and every time I construct an obscure word that the editors of the Times don’t recognize, I excoriate them obnoxiously on Twitter. (Recent example: “lour,” which, as any kindergartner should know, is a verb uttered by Richard III in his opening soliloquy.)

I despise simplistic puzzles. Sometimes I laugh to myself when I see an adult on the subway squinting into one of those third-grade “word search” books, pencil in hand, tongue hanging out in concentration, ready to do its little thing. discovery ovals. But at least these puzzles have letters arranged into words. You must be able to Lily.

It is believed that jiggies were invented in 1766 by a British cartographer named John Spilsbury as a way of teaching people geography – the first ones were all maps – so jigsaws started with an intellectual purpose. Over time, they have become lookouts.

Defenders of puzzles sometimes defend them with fervor and eloquence. Tom says they offer “tactile” and “spatial” fun. He maintains that I have “image blindness”. For reasons I don’t understand but dutifully point out here without comment, he also insists that the puzzles are “three-dimensional”. Writing in Inc., Rebecca Hinds says, “Creating order out of initial chaos calms my mind.” But is that engage the mind? For me, we’re back to sorting socks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What I really don’t understand is when people proudly hang their finished puzzle on the wall, like art. Why not just hang the lid of the box?

Let’s be clear: we’re locked up, we’re scared, and we need anti-anxiety hobbies, and if that bothers you, I totally agree with them. I’m just afraid that means we’re literally scared. I mean, just connect the dots. (Hey, you might like these puzzles too!)

Email Gene Weingarten at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates on washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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