Obsessed With the Puzzle

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.” –Erno Rubik

Games and puzzles have fascinated me to no end for as long as I can remember. Plenty of people can appreciate puzzles to a point, solving them gleefully until a puzzle comes along that stymies them until they get frustrated and quit. I, on the other hand, can never get enough. I love getting lost in a puzzle, even when there seems to be no solution in sight. If every puzzle has an answer, I’m going to find it, and I’m going to love every infuriating minute of it.

When I was a kid, when other boys built racetracks and monster truck rallies for their toy cars, I was building parking lots and creating puzzles to solve in them. While everyone else was making towers out of wooden blocks, I was using the blocks to form makeshift jigsaw puzzles. Even board games weren’t safe from me, as I would eventually become bored with them (no pun intended) and insist on making them more difficult and adding more strategy to them. But eventually, my closest friends would outgrow games and puzzles while I still retained my childlike urge to play, fueling my interest in computer games as well.

In a way I guess I’m truly obsessed with the concept of the puzzle, but the question is, why? Perhaps it can all be boiled down to what puzzles represent and teach us about life as opposed to the messages we hear from mass media and the people we interact with every day.

Let’s face it. We live in a world controlled by people that see us all as grown children. The entire world, as they see it, should be sanitized, pre-packaged, processed and perforated for our protection and convenience, and the message given is very clear.

1) Follow our rules to the letter. They are here for your protection.
2) Don’t try anything new unless you’re officially certified to do it.
3) High comfort and standards of living should be chiefly strove for.
4) Stay on the path we’ve cut for you because you’re too inexperienced and weak to blaze your own trail.

Puzzles, however, teach us something entirely different.

1) The rules exist to challenge you and to help you grow. Focus on what they don’t tell you that you can’t do rather than what they tell you that you can and can’t.
2) Do you really want to do something? Jump right in and start doing it. What did people do before certified schools and experts? Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to do something. Start reading and go hands-on with it yourself.
3) Finding your answer is going to be difficult. Your learning experience will be messy, uncomfortable and inconvenient, but in the end, it will be your answer and not someone else’s that you’ve found.
4) There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution. You’ll be surprised by what has been staring you in the face the entire time if you open your mind to all solutions rather than a select set of pre-defined ones.

In middle school, the puzzle resonated with me after being thrown into a world that seemed, at the time, bent on keeping me beat down. This is where I gained my love for puzzle and strategy games, music, and algebra. Later, in high school, I would learn to love literature and writing for the same reasons.
And I know that I can’t be the only one.

The people that have given us the things in life that have made it easier are the people who saw life as a grand puzzle instead of a foolproof list of instructions. What if our founding fathers decided that giving in to the British crown was worth it because it was the path of least resistance? What if Thomas Edison had decided that candles and oil lamps were perfectly fine because that’s what everyone else was using? What if the Wright brothers had decided that everyone else was correct and mankind could never fly? What if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had decided that there was no need for personal computing to be introduced to the masses?

The prevailing thought in society is that it is the select few “gifted” folk that changes the world and makes a difference, but the puzzle teaches us that everyone can. If we saw life not as a gaping maw ready to devour us when we slip, but instead a puzzle in which to become ingrigued, lost, and eventually solved, then perhaps we could all make a difference.

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