Puzzles and Works of Art

I dislike puzzles.

That seems a bit surly, doesn’t it?  Bright people are supposed to enjoy puzzles.  Everybody assumes that if you’re bright enough to be in Mensa, there is nothing you love more than to solve puzzles.  Even Mensa assumes so.  Well, I don’t.  I detest those cute little tests and quizzes.  I hate those silly little “solve me” puzzles with a passion.  I suppose I should explain.

When I was much younger, puzzles were a joy.  I loved them.  It was like play.  In fact, I found that the way I solved puzzles best was simply to play with them.  I liked crosswords, games of chess, mathematical conundrums, brain teasers, word searches and later, Sudoku.  You name it, I found them a challenge.  My teenage reading was books with titles like “More Two Minute Mysteries”, “Boiling Water in a Paper Cup” and “Brain Teasers”.  Puzzles were fun.

Then I discovered their dark side.

The problem with puzzles is that, having done them, the satisfaction is fleeting and the achievement is marked by practically nothing.  You don’t get anything for your trouble.  They’re like computer games.  You expend a lot of emotion, energy and intellect to get a picture of a high score on a screen, which is gone the moment you switch it off, or which, if it persists, impresses nobody and advances the plight of humanity not one iota.  They’re a distraction, you see.  Puzzles (and computer games) are designed to keep you busy, but passive and ineffectual, making no lasting impact on the way the world is run, through your efforts.  They’re trivial and by association, they trivialise you and your abilities.

I also discovered the gunslinger effect.  The problem gunslingers face is that, as their reputation grows, every second person comes up to them and challenges them to a dual for supremacy.  They spend all their lives in gun fights.  That can get very tiresome.  Eventually, some stupido, desperado, bastardo or other is going to catch you off guard and shoot you in the butt.  When it comes to puzzles, people of lesser intellect pose puzzles as a means of tripping you up.  Their game is to see if they can find a puzzle you can’t crack, affording them the opportunity of belittling and humiliating you and your intelligence, rather than celebrating your willingness and facility for even tackling the puzzle.  It’s a form of envy crossed with bullying.  That is just plain nasty.  I don’t like nastiness.

Puzzles became something to avoid, as a way of preventing anybody from laughing in my face, when the occasional puzzle flummoxed and defeated me.  You get tired of proving yourself.  Why should you have to prove how smart you are to people that really only want to see you fall on your face anyway?  That’s the route to becoming a performing monkey that is forced to dance on command.  Your intelligence is what it is.  Why does it have to be weighed and measured by everybody that cares to throw a puzzle in front of your face?

So, the parlour games paled, for me.

However, there is another sort of puzzle that I simply relish and love.  When you write a lyric, compose some music, construct a song, produce a record, mix a track, create a poem, write some software code to animate an algorithm, programme a new synthesiser sound, do any sort of design work, elaborate on an invention, design an electronic circuit, figure out how to paint your painting, or any such similar work, you find that it consists of solving puzzles, in the main.  You also discover that playing is still an effective strategy for solving those puzzles.  However, these kinds of puzzles exhibit an important difference to the playthings I had grown to dislike.  The result of these puzzles is almost always something real and tangible that expresses your inner, intellectual life.  You get a result.  It’s a result that you can show and share.  If you solve one of these puzzles well, you might also change the world for the better, if you get lucky.

The act of creating a work of art (or of designing something) is solving a puzzle and the work is worth doing, because you get something useful and/or beautiful as a reward for your efforts.  I still solve puzzles, every day and I get a great deal of satisfaction and intellectual stimulation from doing so.  Of course, few of the works I create find an audience, but maybe that’s just for now.  Either the audiences don’t know about my works, or I need to get better at solving my artistic puzzles.  In any case, I get to play with ideas and concepts, striving to find a way to create something that fits the constraints and produces a solution to something that initially seems intractable.

So, I dislike puzzles of the trivial kind, but I adore puzzles of the substantial kind.  Perhaps I’m just a playful person, at heart.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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2 Responses to Puzzles and Works of Art

  1. Sabiscuit says:

    Thanks a lot for saying this. I have always disliked puzzles. I feel that life itself holds larger puzzles that we can attempt to solve with our work as artists. Now, when I say that, people say it’s just because I suck at sudoku. Which I do, but that’s a completely different story.

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