Legos and Crossword Puzzles

28 Nov

There is an immense sense of comfort and satisfaction that comes from doing something well. Such is the case for me, with crossword puzzles, and for my 7-year-old son, with Lego sets. In both situations, there is a system to be followed in reaching the final outcome. The beauty of both is in following the system, improving upon it each time, and reaching the solution.

As my son is soon to find, and I have been finding for years now, this is a feeling that few things in life bring to us. I can think of a handful for me, and the crossword puzzle is one. Writing is on the list. Knitting is another. There is a fourth–ahem–not to be discussed in this forum, and if you are of age and do not know of it, I am sorry.

Some people describe this feeling as being “in the zone” or “flow.” As a writer, I am there when my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingertips are making a linear connection between my brain and the laptop screen. Words are coming from I don’t know where, and they keep pumping out in a way that makes good sense. When I am knitting, particularly on circular needles, I enter into this meditative state that is just as much about the means as the end.

With the crossword, it’s similar. I have a repeatable process that I use when doing crosswords. Start with the first few across, skip to the first few down, then go from end to start crisscrossing the downs and acrosses. This is my personal “flair,” my way of doing crosswords that’s like nobody else’s. If I were eating a cob of corn, it would be starting with the first few kernels of the first row, going to the other side of the cob, and meeting up somewhere in between.

For my son, the pinnacle of flowdom is completing Lego sets of the $10 or less variety, particularly those with a knight or adventure theme. His system involves opening up the packages, depositing all small parts into separate plastic containers in front of him at the kitchen table or on the floor of his room, and alternately reading the directions and winging the assembly process on his own. Interruption during assembly is not recommended. Any disruption results in a growl, or “get out,” or being chased away. He is very protective of his process, and I understand that. I do the same things when interrupted during my crossword. My husband has learned this.

The practical matter here is in finding more opportunities to be productive while being “in the zone.” Athletes do this (but what can they do when they no longer compete?). Maybe my son will apply his mechanical skills as an engineer or scientist some day.  The fine art in finding more time to practice our “art” is to have a good excuse for doing it–which can involve making money from the process and its outcome, but can also involve other positive byproducts. Finding a way to capitalize on that thrill of the chase, the sense of anticipation that comes from building up to something better than we’ve done before–this is the ultimate. It’s the difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and happiness.

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2 Responses to “Legos and Crossword Puzzles”

  1. Jason Gonzales November 29, 2008 at 6:24 pm #

    Hello TKB,

    I too look for areas in my life where I can feel flow. While I have never read Csíkszentmihályi’s books I have come to understand the concept of flow through my training in composition & rhetoric. I feel flow, when playing music, making a graphic design or even coding a website. When I was teaching I always sought to create tasks that would encourage students to get themselves deeply into a problem solving process that would engender flow. I was pleased when I would hear students say things like “OMG! Class is over already?” A sign that they were in a flow state. All education & workplaces should seek to create this whenever practical. I know that Csíkszentmihályi’s book was temporarily on the reading lists for upper-echelon management types, but I have never experienced a work place where this appeared to be the priority. I would love to work in such a place though. Thanks for bringing up the subject! I especially appreciate how you connect critically important child’s play to satisfying adult play and how both can call on similar problem solving skills.

    Cheers!

  2. Ben Edwards November 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm #

    Kimmbers, I get the same, “zone” when cooking, gardening or working on some home project. When I am in the zone I make many fewer mistakes in whatever I am doing.

    I enjoy reading your blog postings – even if I do tease you about them.

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