Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Subconscious Counting

I do crossword puzzles; I've been doing them for 30 years. These days the only ones I like are the Saturday puzzles from the Times, which are 1) hard and 2) not full of puns, a way of thinking I cannot comprehend, which makes it impossible for me to do British puzzles. I only read newspapers online these days, but I like to do crosswords on paper. So I do them out of books.

I got a new such book this Christmas and have been working my way through. I was just marveling at the strange way my brain knows instantly if a word or phrase I think of will fit the space I see. I can make this calculation without being able to tell you how many letters are in the word or how many spaces are in the row. I just know right away if a word or phrase will fit, and these instincts are never wrong. I recently did this with NAVALENGAGEMENT, so I can do it for 15 letters.

I have no idea how. Since I don't know the number, I can only guess that some automatic module in my mind takes my visual memory of how the word looks written out and lines it up with the blocks I see on the page.

I don't really feel that it is me doing this at all; it just happens, without my having anything to say about it.


G. Verloren said...

Do consider that confirmation bias might be creeping in, and that while you think you are never wrong, you likely just discount or don't notice the times when you are wrong.

Also, what kind of crossword requires you to combine two discrete words like Naval Engagement? That's just weird.

pootrsox said...

It's probably the answer to a question of some sort... NYTimes puzzles in particular seem to have lots of answers that are more than one word, especially those clues related to the puzzle's theme.

I do better w/ the Monday-Wednesday Times puzzles than later in the week... I'm not smart enough to ace the Saturday ones very often!

Katya said...

I smiled at Verloren's comment.

It's a good consideration, but, yes, in all likelihood your brain is now primed with these visual patterns. "Ways of seeing" (there's a book out there with that title, probably outdated by now) are fascinating to me as a (sometime) visual artist.

But truly I am commenting today in appreciation of your comment regarding puns.

Yes, me too. I have long past accepted the implicit buffoonery that comes alongside this blindspot.