Solving Tough Puzzles: Crosswords and Climate Change

A person trying to solve a difficult crossword puzzle
How is fighting climate change like solving a tough puzzle?
Source: TuftsNow, “Thinking Outside the Grid”

The Hardest Crossword of the Week

Each Saturday, I approach the New York Times crossword puzzle with anxiety. I love puzzles, and I especially like treating my brain to a puzzle after a stressful week at work. But the Times Saturday crossword has a reputation as a bear. Maybe I won’t be able to finish it. Maybe I’ll have to “cheat” by researching clues. What if I can’t do it?

Typically, my first few minutes with the puzzle don’t lessen my fear. I scan through the clues: don’t know that one; have no idea what that one even means; if I’d remembered my history from school, I might know that one. Why am I even trying this?

Then: a glimmer of hope. I know 33 Down from taking piano lessons, so I will start with that. 45 Across probably ends in Y, and I can guess that answer. I think I know the last half of 25 Down, and that means that 43 Across makes sense. After taking a break, I fix an answer that doesn’t seem right, and two others show up in my head. One corner of the puzzle is done, and that leads to the first answer nearby. Step by step, I work my way through… Finally, voila! The “congratulations” star appears and the cheerful music plays (which I need, after all of that work), and I have finished the Saturday puzzle. I’m not successful every week, but I finish it enough weeks that I know that I can do it.

How Do You Face Tough Problems?

We started a recent work meeting by handing out metal shape puzzles to the group. The puzzles seemed unsolvable. How did we react when faced with that type of problem? I reflected on the initial anxiety and reluctance I have each Saturday. I also thought about the tools I use – willingness to try, patience and perseverance, resourcefulness, creating space to work on the problem subconsciously. It was reassuring to know that I could trust myself to tackle a tough challenge- even though I might be anxious about it initially.

Climate Change: The Hardest Puzzle You Could Imagine

Fighting climate change is like solving the hardest Saturday crossword you could imagine, in multiple dimensions, with a timer ticking loudly in the background. It seems impossible. How do we even start? Temperatures in Europe were over 100 degrees last week. Many Europeans don’t have air conditioning but are now installing it, potentially creating even more carbon emissions. You can’t blame them… but how can we do anything to help?

Start with something you can do easily, like taking a reusable mug when you get coffee. Use your cooking skills to try a vegetable or grain you haven’t eaten before. Stretch a little – literally – by walking or taking the bus to someplace you usually drive. Work step by step, but keep at it. Please -for your sake and for the planet.

To learn about the best ways to fight climate change, see one of my prior posts here.

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