Recreational thinking

Something that I’ve found enormously helpful lately is having a sort of release valve and a way to for ramping up thinking and then diffusing the tension from work-time thinking. That kind of recreational thinking gives me a chance to puzzle over something that has low stakes, and high pay off in terms of satisfaction. My go-to is crossword puzzles.

I’ve been working my way through the Best of the Week series from the New York Times. I’m halfway through Wednesday. The books are collections of 50 puzzles from that day of the week, so they get increasingly difficult. The Monday collection was almost ridiculously easy, but still super satisfying to finish each puzzle. There was a rhythm and a similar level of expected cultural knowledge that made them varied enough to make me feel smart! Each successive collection, the rhythm changes again and the expectations around what you should be able to figure out rises. Of course, you can answer them all by Googling the clues, but it’s more fun to look up something and get lost reading about the topic for 5 or 10 minutes, and piece the answer together organically.

I’ve found that I will start to struggle with the clues and will wrestle with them for longer and longer late at night. Then I grab my crossword book when I first wake up (instead of reaching for my phone, on my better days), and I can zip through clues I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the night before. After I finish a work shift (I have basically two main shifts, revolving around childcare), I can work off the surplus buzz (and therefore not stress about work when I can’t log in and do something about it) by working on some crossword clues. It’s the perfect funnel for my overthinking. Likewise, I can help my brain get into prime mode by slipping into crossword mode for a few minutes before I go back to work. Fun and rewarding!

I’ve also been dabbling in cryptic crosswords, but they are a much bigger mental shift, and I haven’t gotten the rhythm down for how to identify the type of puzzle, and how to then decode them. It’s an interesting challenge, but I need more focused practice, and a lot of focused time isn’t something I have right now. Maybe when I’ve successfully gotten all the way through the Sunday collection I’ll be ready!

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