Simple, Obvious, Direct and Clear – Easy enough, right?

The clue was “started the pot.” Five letters. In retrospect of course “anted” makes all the sense in the world. But I cook and the image that popped into my mind  was of putting a pot on the stove and starting it. I could not figure out what the clue could possibly mean. Heated, heat, heating, warming, oiled (well maybe it’s five letters but it really did not make sense), and then everything else started to get into the actual cooking part of the process and wouldn’t have anything to do with the clue. After years of doing crosswords I knew enough to move on. I’ve learned that if you let go of the ones that are troubling you and work a different section, or just walk away and do something else entirely often when you come back the obvious answer, the answer that has been alluding you seems to magically come. Ah life, this lesson is much bigger than crosswords in so many ways. Let us count them.

1. Fixating on a problem will not solve the problem. Perhaps this is obvious to you already. It is something that I have to continually work on. There is a sort of comfort in worrying something. It feels productive, like you are making progress on the situation or going to be able to understand it in a new way, to solve the problem if you just stare at it long enough and pick apart every detail. Remember being a teenager and trying to interpret the facial tic of the object of your affection? I said this, then he/she did that, then they made a snarfly sound, does that mean X or Y or Z? How many hours of life are wasted in a pursuit that yields no new information and gets us no closer to a solution. Unless you are a surgeon and working on preventing someone from bleeding out, staying with a problem that you are struggling with is very often not the best path forward.

2. Our initial reaction to a situation may not be based on the facts before us but on our perception of the facts. How quickly does our mind jump to interpreting a situation or creating in story in order to explain the things we are seeing around us? Trick question – the answer is pretty much always unless you train yourself to stop in the reaction which is not really possible because your brain is already well ahead of where your conscious perception is. You may be able to talk yourself out of the story and reexamine the facts as they are, but this is no easy feat and requires serious attention to the process of engaging with the world.

3. Perceptions are often skewed by our own experience. I cook so when I see the word “pot” I think of a tool used in the kitchen. I suppose if you are a gambler when you see the word “pot” it means something else, and likewise if you are a big fan of marijuana. Perhaps this is obvious as well, but it might make sense to pause before we react with an answer to something and check to see if we are understanding the question correctly or if there is another possible interpretation. This lesson is closely related to Number 2.

4. The simplest answer is often the correct answer. When you do a lot of puzzles, as I do, you learn that frequently there is a trick in the clue. Often the trick is just looking for the simplest and most obvious answer – it’s an easy trick since we tend to create a lot of unnecessary complications; much of life is much simpler and more obvious than we want to make it and this has nothing to do with puzzles, they are just a conduit for the reminder.

These are the lessons I learned today while doing a crossword puzzle. Pretty good for what seems like a simple entertainment that I hope will make me smarter, improve my vocabulary,  or at least improve my usefulness in chatting about nonsense trivia. I did also learn that you use Southern Comfort to make an Alabama Slammer. I don’t know how useful that information is really, but the other lessons are pretty good, and who knows when the other stuff might come in handy.

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