Working It Out
Posted on September 1, 2017
Albert Einstein was once asked how he would spend his time if he were given a problem upon which his life depended and he had only one hour to solve it. He responded by saying he would spend 30 minutes analyzing the problem, 20 minutes planning the solution, and 10 minutes executing the solution.
I operate in a completely different way. This is one of a myriad of ways in which I am nothing like Albert Einstein. Except for my hair, which can resemble his, when I wake up.
In other words, I jump to conclusions and operate at about a 75%-success rate. This gives me the confidence to think that, in most circumstances, I have a better than 50/50 chance of figuring out stuff.
Unless I can’t. Like last month, for example.
Most mornings, I wake up early and head out for a hike by daybreak. I have to drive to the trailhead, and there is only one route to take. So, I drive the same few blocks, listening to the same world-weary NPR newscasters trying to voice a smile as they deliver the daily bombshells of what I consider to be real and mostly depressing news. During the summer, as it is now, my suburban streets are even more quiet than usual as my neighbors head out to their summer homes or other envious destinations. In any case, I’m awake enough to be behind the wheel, sufficiently caffeinated to be headache free, and greased up with enough sunscreen to leave traces of the stuff on my steering wheel.
Then, I see him. He’s an old man, and by that I mean even older than me. He has a lovely straight back and his head is topped with a thicket of grey curls. He is not wearing a hat, but a fashionable hoodie. He looks to be a denizen of the neighborhood, comfortable in his surroundings, owning the moment, heading on his way and staying on the sidewalk. Jaunty. A morning guy.
Although his countenance was intriguing, he caught my eye for another reason. He was, at this hour of 6:50 a.m., eating (and relishing) an ice cream cone. It was not the ice cream cone that comes wedged into a box of six. Nor was it the single cone that one might find languishing among the yellowed ice chips housed in the liquor store’s freezer—the kind of cone where the paper is stuck to the contents either from moisture or staleness, or both. The morning guy is eating a bona fide cone. You know the kind: An ice cream cone with a scoop of the creamy, cold stuff that has been shaped by an ice cream scooper. An ice cream scooper that presumably was held by a real, live person doing the actual scooping. But, where did he get an ice cream cone at this early morning hour? I have lived here for almost 40 years. I know of nowhere he could have purchased this. Furthermore, it seemed as though most of his treat had yet to be devoured. So, I further deduced that it couldn’t have come from a distance away.
By now, I’m way over my Einstein goal of a 30-minute analysis of the problem. I’ve been obsessing over this for weeks now.
I see the man again, with his exquisite ice cream cone, on the next two consecutive days. But, despite my daily hikes, I have never seen him since.
I wonder if Einstein knew how to spell conundrum without having to look it up.
I love doing crossword puzzles because they offer such a satisfying way to find solutions. Completing them (or not) is my way of appreciating how the world works, and that offers me some comfort. The life-lessons I’ve come to rely on include:
- Don’t force it.
Here’s an example: In today’s puzzle, the clue for 21 Across was a four-letter word for “One of the friends on “Friends.” I had it as Joey. It wasn’t until 3 hours later when I revisited my still incomplete puzzle that I realized it was Ross.
As a result of my epiphany, I filled in 21 Across and every square that butted up against those 4 little squares then fell so gratifyingly into place. Smooth and satisfying. Not to mention that I found reassurance knowing that it only took me 3 hours to remember all the main characters on “Friends.”
Whatever happened to Chandler, I wonder?
- Come back often.
Except for the Monday New York Times crossword puzzles, which I can do in one sitting (again about 75% of the time, which is equal to my above-mentioned jumping-to-the-right-conclusion success rate), if I just get up and move around and come back to the puzzle, I see things entirely differently. Also, I remember that I need to actually get something else done. The dishes, for example. A shower is important too.
Do the puzzle in ink. Take a stand; fake it until you make it. These adages give me confidence. I can feel both puffed-up and proud of my 75% accuracy. Also, pencils are for perfectionists. If you need the reassurance of an eraser, you need to get out more. It is also true that a writing implement deemed a “lucky” pen can help one’s crossword-puzzle-solving acumen. This theorem is 100% accurate, by the way.
- Seek help.
Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse or your neighbor or the guy sitting next to you in the coffee shop for assistance. Just the other day, for example, I asked my husband, Marty, for help with 15 Across, “Charles or Ray after whom a chair is named.” Marty offered Barcalounger. I’m not sure if he can’t count or if he was giving me a hint for his upcoming birthday. Charles Barcalounger? See Rule #1 above.
- Find an App.
When all else fails, the Internet won’t let you down. My favorite go-to is rexwordpuzzle.blogspot.com because you not only find the answers to the puzzles that you’re pulling your hair out trying to complete, you learn so much more from Rex, who is a genius. I know this because he says he is. Additionally, you discover by reading the comments of others that you are not alone in your ignorance. Be strong, though. You also learn that a ton of people are a lot smarter than you.
- Enjoy being alone.
It’s the only way, really, to get through a crossword puzzle. It might be nice to get cozy in your husband’s Barcalounger and find yourself that lucky pen, remembering to have your device handy to access your App. You can convince yourself that you really are adept at figuring out things. Who’s going to know (or care) otherwise? I doubt Einstein was a sharer.
And, when you do figure things out, make sure you gloat on line, and go get yourself an ice cream cone…at any time of day.
Billy says: doing the puzzle on paper is more rewarding, when you are done, you are done. Online you get nasty reminders that you have an error, still….
Loved the blog, we read it in Seattle thinking of you. Nice and cool here. A PAX gaming convention began with gamers from all over, m and f and etc. Billy asked one for the Tiny Wings game room, got shrugs all around.
Oh well, I dont even know what that is. I do know what a Barcalounger is though, I could use one about now.
Loved the blog as usual…
What? You’re not in this oppressive heat wave down home? L U C K Y!!!!!! I’m in my Barcalounger (metaphor) and missing you. Loved the text too of the one Pilates exercise that was waaay out of my teaching-skill prowess. Snake! Hssssss! XO and thanks for giving the blog a read and thanks too for enjoying it 😉
Dying to know who the man was eating the ice cream cone! Maybe someone who reads your blog will recognize this kind of enjoyable behavior. I have more experience with ice cream cones at any time of day than I do with crossword puzzles, but I appreciate your beauty with words!
Thanks so much for your fun-to-read comment, Sara. Now, with the two of us looking for this lover-of-life-and-ice-cream guy out on College Avenue, maybe we will find him again! Whoever sees him first, gets a free ice cream cone!
I always do the NYT puzzle in ink!!
Love your eloquence, as always.
I KNEW you were an inker! Eames is correct! Now, go collect your free ice cream cone!
And, know this too: I love and always appreciate hearing from you! XO
Nomi, I too feel great satisfaction when I complete that challenging puzzle of words; but I’m fit to be tied, wanting to throw my unlucky pen into the neighbor’s pool, feeling like both Dumb and Dumber when I fail to complete theat darn square! I crumple up the puzzle and vow to never ruin my morning again.
Until I find another lucky pen!
Thanks for allowing us to join your world with this humorous snipet (4 across; a small part, piece or thing) of figuring out life.
Following your lead,
I KNEW you’d understand about the lucky pen! Thanks for reading and commenting and making me laugh. XO Nomi
You write a darn good snipet yourself!
Two of my favorites in this blog: crosswords (yes, done in ink, and yes, done over time to allow the intuitive self to connect), and ice cream ( seek it out wherever I go, and love the Scoop in Fairfax).
How delightful to hear from you, George! Thank you for reading the piece and for taking the time in between ice cream licks to send me your comments. Delish!
Oh, the places you take us!
Thanks so much for the advice and the inspiration. For example, how about a new shop? Albert Ice Cream: creative cones, smart and sweet! Ahhh….just having some fun with you!
Signing off with a four letter word: What the world needs more of.
_ _ _ _
You are so right! The world needs more of that 4-letter word! And, by that I mean L O V E to you, dear friend and commentator on this week’s blog. I sure appreciate you reading it and taking the time to comment. Thank you!
I love your sense of humor. thanks , steve
You’re funny too! Thanks for taking the time to read the post
Seems to me that ice cream guy has mastered the art of fine living.
You, my friend, are 100% correct!