Thursday, August 31, 2006

The epic battle: sudoku vs. crosswords

(Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.; a few edits made here.)

When you see someone engrossed in a sudoku puzzle, I encourage you to look on them with pity. And when you witness someone solving a crossword, please smile, nod appreciatively, and flirt.

Sudoku puzzles serve their purpose, yes: they pass the time (I admit to doing them on occasion—haven't I said I am a procrastinator?). But don't kid yourself. You're not learning anything, and you're not making yourself any smarter by doing them. It's the same logical challenge every time. It's not as if you've learned something essential about the number 4 and can now unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Now, crossword puzzles are a different story. Every one is different, the good ones have some funny clues, you stretch your brain when you have to think flexibly to interpret tricky clues, and you learn an awful lot of trivia (which can expand your horizons a little—think of all the 70-year-old women who now know the names of a few rappers because they appeared in the New York Times crossword).

If you've grown fond of sudoku, is it because you "can't do crosswords"? Nonsense. You may think you can't do crosswords, but really, you can. Just start with the easy ones. There are plenty of books of NYT and other crosswords specifically labeled "easy" (or even "easy, breezy"), and the Monday NYT puzzle has become easier of late. Start with the easy ones (and go for the easiest clues first—generally fill-in-the-blank clues, or anything asking for a name you know), and check the solutions in the back of the book for any answers you don't know. Don't just fill them in—reread the clue and figure out how the answer goes with it. Over time, you'll learn the ropes and become more adept, and then you can move along to tougher puzzles.

If you thought crosswords were stodgy things for boring old folks, think again. Even the Onion (the Onion!) will start running a crossword in a few weeks. See? So not stodgy. This is not your grandmother's crossword puzzle any more. But sudoku? Stodgy by nature. You can tart it up with different twists, but it remains the same logical task for your brain, over and over. All the cool kids are moving to crosswords.

If you've ever wondered how crosswords are made, don't miss Patrick Creadon's entertaining crossword documentary, Wordplay; it's still playing in selected theaters, and the DVD is due out in early November. Be sure to save it in your Netflix queue, because it's a good movie, some of my crossword-geek friends star in it, and I cameo in it—watch for the curtsy by the woman in lime green. Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton are among the famous crossword fans featured in the movie, and they ain't stodgy. See the movie, catch crossword fever. (And don't hold your breath for a sudoku movie.)

There are some impassioned defenses of sudoku in the comments at Bitch Ph.D. I find them unpersuasive, of course. Not only do crosswords give me an ego boost because I'm good at them, they also landed me in a movie. Can't beat that.


Mignon said...

I don't do

But crossword puzzles rule. They were the perfect procrastination tool in college, then the perfect time-killer in many-a-job (I used to photocopy the Times crossword onto cleanroom-safe paper and take them into the fab when I worked in a high-tech place). Then I tried to make one myself and developed a deep and ever-lasting respect for the creators of crossword puzzles. It is amazingly hard and stretches your brain in different and wonderful ways that solving a puzzle doesn't.

(Naughty, naughty Netflix plug!)

Cricket said...

You, my friend, are a whore.

A whore in lime green.

Emma Goldman said...

I love crosswords . . . I was sitting in a bar the other night, waiting while my friend got his free food, and the Red thing newspaper was open to the (unbelievably easy) crossword, so I grabbed a pen and did it. When he got back, he was, how do you do that? I tried to explain, but I realized that so much of it is learned from actually doing them . . . time to go to bed, before which I do a crossword. (I'm about a year behind in the NYT mag puzzles.)

Orange said...

Mignon, did you know that many of the top crossword solvers and constructors tend to be mathy people? Mathematicians, statisticians, computer engineers, etc.—people who are good with patterns. They often kick the wordy people's butts.

Cricket, I know you are, but what am I?

Emma, good for you! My husband works the Red Eye puzzle during his round-trip commute...and brings it home to finish up. (He's just learnin' the crossword ropes.)

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister! My hubby and I used to do crosswords together until he realized I was better at them than he was (and we even had the cool "how to do cryptic crosswords" tutorial), and now he does sudoku, and that's all you can find at the store anymore! (Well, at Target, anyway!) I always feel like my brain has done some yoga stretches after a good crossword. Nice to know I'm a cool nerd after all ;)

Anonymous said...

This is the one of the best posts ever. I want to hand it out to everyone I know. I want to use the whole second paragraph as my email signature. Thank you thank you thank you.

I don't know if it was some vagary of my browser, or what, but I didn't see any new posts from mid-August till yesterday, and I'm very glad they're back.

(Sorry if this is a dupli-post, I thought I commented yesterday but it doesn't seem to have taken.)

Dharma said...

I love crossword puzzles, but I am below amateur, especially compared to you dear Orange. TGF has become addicted to Sudoku but it hold little interest to me. Now tetris on the other hand....

Anonymous said...

u guyz suck.....i mean u really do....u guyz are arguing over some small shyt....i personally think orange just cant do sudoku's thas y he/she is hating....btw...sudoku rules...

Anonymous said...

Yeah I can't solve sudoku so IT must be stupid... Maybe sudoku is not stupid, maybe U R.

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