Logic Problems, or How to Revel in Repetition

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do in school was logic problems. In case you weren’t blessed with these frustrating and satisfying puzzles in your youth (or since), here’s an example:

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In the words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie, not TV show-blasphemy, I know), “It may not sound too exciting to a scone-head like you, but I think it’s swell.”

These are puzzles that depend on deductions from the written clues to successfully complete the grid so that it looks like this:

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A more contemporary version of this logic problem is Sudoku, but whereas the grid above relies on written statements, Sudoku simply translates those into completed squares on the Sudoku grid:

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Some of these logic problems and Sudoku puzzles are very challenging, and solutions don’t always come after a preliminary evaluation of the statements, clues, or fixed starting numbers. On some of the most challenging puzzles I’ve encountered, I won’t complete a single square until after several minutes of review.

Even after that initial period of review, completing the puzzle is slow and meticulous. You read through the list of statements. You scan each number and try to eliminate or establish it inside each square or group or lines.

It’s frustrating.

It’s time-consuming.

It literally makes my brain hurt.

But damn if it isn’t one of my most favorite things.

In examining the logic problems, I realize that they’re not unlike philosophy owing to the constant evaluation and refinement of assumed truths or deduced conclusions.

Philosophy has always been equally terrifying and enthralling for me. Big questions that beget more questions that don’t beget a whole lot of answers, but they sure do hurt your brain and give you more questions to hurt your brain. These puzzles use the same process as philosophy, but have far less significant results.

One of my favorite lines from The Perfect Score (2004) is as Roy and Desmond are going through SAT questions, they have this exchange:

Roy : You know, a lot of people would think these questions are difficult… not me.

Desmond: No?

Roy : No. These questions all have answers.

That’s why I take comfort in these problems. They all have solutions. Big philosophical questions may never sufficiently be answered, but the logic involved in these puzzles helps with how to approach those bigger questions.

Poring over logic problems may not seem very rewarding. It’s not the end result that I enjoy, although there are few things in this world that bring me as much satisfaction as completing anything, whether it’s a video game, a list of chores, a puzzle, or a piece of writing. The end result is a byproduct of the process. The process is reliable. Working things out logically is like a science experiment. The rules are constant, the tests are repeatable, and the data is consistent.

In the example logic problem at the top of this post, because Adam is listed with two people with the surnames Ambrose and Masters, it is logical to conclude that neither of those are his surname. You read and re-read the statements to deduce the identity, dwelling, and major of all the students, each time refining your conclusions based not only on the language in the statements, but also the deductions made from your previous passes.

It’s like math. It’s kind of hard if you don’t know the process, but if you do, there’s a serenity that comes with the reliability of repetition.

Trusting the process is one of my goals for 2019. I’ve always been terrible at the work part of creative work. There have been times when I’ve sat down and written and been productive, but it’s so sporadic that it has never amounted to a routine or a process.

Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up

– Stephen King, On Writing

I’ve never been dependable. I fly by the seat of my pants. I run from responsibility. I am the most hesitant leader you will ever meet. I’ve struggled with this time and again in my marriage, my friendships, my work history, and my artistic pursuits, and they’ve all suffered for it.

My inaction and unreliability come from weird places; perfectionism and circumspection.

I know that sounds like bragging, but I haven’t thought of perfectionism or circumspection as beneficial in years. Circumspection paralyzes movement because you see the validity of every side of an argument. Perfectionism further paralyzes movement, because it activates a fear of failure, mediocrity, and disappointment. Better to not create than to create something bad. Better to make no decision than to make a bad one.

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Lies. All lies. Done is better than perfect. Run aground is better than left adrift. Failure is not the opposite of success. It is PART OF IT.

Trust. The. Process.

The process will ensure that work gets done. Not everything is going to be perfect. Not everything will be good. A lot of it will be shit. My Mario game was shit once, too. But I kept at it. I learned from mistakes. I tried over and over and over. I started over from scratch. I asked for help. I saw how other people did it. I failed a lot.

Writing is rewriting.

Rewriting is repetition.

Repetition is the process.

The process is a game.

Let’s play.

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