The lockdown due to COVID-19 allowed me to revive a longstanding joy that had fallen by the wayside: crossword puzzles. I have a massive book of 365 puzzles from The New York Times, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working my way through it.
Here’s the thing: I’m, at best, fair to middling at crossword puzzles. I have my good days and also days where I can’t figure out the most straightforward of clues. But on those good days, when everything just somehow clicks, something magical happens. It’s like a terrible round of golf being salvaged by a perfect shot on the last hole; it just keeps you wanting to come back for more.
At least that’s how most of us navigate the world, be it golf or puzzles. But there are those out there for whom these things are easy and to watch them exercise their skill is nothing short of the sublime. In golf, there’s the obvious classification of professionals, and any casual golf fan who ever has stood behind the ropes at a PGA event can attest to the truth that they do not play the same game as we mortals. Puzzles of all sorts have these elite-level practitioners as well but are likely unsung heroes except to those true believers. Like watching a pro golfer’s skills on display can make believers of even the most unenthused viewer, so too can watching a puzzle master; in fact, it can be downright riveting to watch.
Ruth Graham of Slate brought this truth to my attention by introducing me to Cracking The Cryptic channel on YouTube. The article’s title – “‘I Really Can’t Overstate How Riveting This Video of a Guy Solving a Sudoku Is” – did its job; it roped me in, got me to click, and I hope that, coupled with my sincere recommendation, will get you to do the same.
Graham begins her article with these words:
It’s tempting to claim that this 25-minute video of a man methodically solving a sudoku puzzle is a phenomenon particular to the pandemic era. We’re stuck at home, finding small pleasures in strange corners of the internet, or something like that. The truth, however, is that this 25-minute video of a man methodically solving a sudoku puzzle would have been dynamite viewing no matter what else was going on in the world. It is admittedly a small pleasure. But it is also objectively riveting entertainment.
Cracking the Cryptic is a channel of sudoku and other popular puzzle games being solved by one of a pair of British puzzle master, Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe. In this video, it’s Anthony at the helm. Here’s the challenge: a typical sudoku grid has 81 squares and, according to Graham, an easy puzzle typically has around 38 squares filled in or given to the puzzler at the beginning; a hard puzzle has only about 25 filled in. This puzzle that Anthony will tackle has two (2). That’s it. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to the rules of sudoku, this puzzle also has additional rules imposed on it? (I won’t get into it them, but Anthony explains the rules beautifully in the first minutes of the video.)
Here’s the main thing I want you to take away from this: Graham was absolutely right in her Slate article. It’s compulsively watchable. His thought process works itself out in front of your very eyes, and his narration, in his endlessly enjoyable British accent, makes it all the better. The video is 25 minutes, but if you tweak the YouTube settings and watch it at 1.5x speed, you’ll still be able to comprehend everything perfectly. It’s a simple reminder that watching someone who’s really, really good at something do that thing is captivating, inspiring, awe-inspiring, jealous-making, and, most of all, flat-out fun.
If you want to read more of Graham’s article, here you go:
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