After last week’s post about computer games and the difference in play offered by more traditional games I thought I’d put together a wee post about board games, I’ll put together one about multi-player games later in the week but I thought I’d get the ball rolling with this. This re-post comes from a post I made back in February about ‘solitaire’ style board games. I’ll admit that solitary puzzles are exactly the kind of one person activity I was putting down last week but the difference is in the tactile element and the fact that in cases where they leave you stumped, solving these can become a group activity. On top of that they’re wonderfully, frustratingly fun.
I often post about slightly ‘younger’ toys, this is probably because my sons are 2 and 4 (soon to be 5) so my home experience is limited to this. This week I thought I’d try and get outside this box and talk about some toys aimed at older children: those toys/ games described as ‘logic puzzles’. They can range from the simple (yet frustrating) tangles of metal that you get in a Christmas cracker, to larger, more complicated sets with multiple pieces and varying scenarios (such as Thinkfun’s ‘rush hour’ pictured above, which you can get here). These kinds of sets incorporate multiple pieces which have to be moved around in designated ways, sometimes by consulting a plan from an accompanying set of cards. In the case of Think Fun’s ‘rush hour’ you have to get a car out of a traffic jam by only moving the surrounding cars backwards or forwards (no turning!).
I love and loathe these sorts of games in equal measure. Because of my stubborn streak (and I have to confess a little over-confidence in my intelligence) once I start one I have to complete it which can, in some cases, take hours. I’ve solved most of the smaller puzzles in the shop at least once and some many more times than that. Completing a logic puzzle can give you a wonderful and guilty mixture of achievement coupled with a feeling of superiority (“I can do this and you can’t!”). That said, I have genuinely given up with some puzzles, e.g. I have never solved a rubik’s cube and I gave up on Think Fun’s ’36 cube’ game after 4-5 hours. I think I like the challenge but there’s a limit on how much of my time I’ll put into it and that’s kind of what I’d like to ask people to comment about today.
What’s the ‘sweet spot’ between the eureka moment when you complete something challenging, and the frustration of inability? For me it is probably the factor of time that makes the difference: if it takes too long I’m just not going to try any more, that perhaps sounds lazy but part of me becomes increasingly aware, as time goes on, that I’m playing a game. There are so many other things I could be doing with my time and as fun as games are, solitaire games in particular can only warrant my attention for so long. It’s different for conventional board games because then there’s the socialising aspect to make the time more meaningful, since the game itself is normally just something to do while you enjoy other people’s company.
This said I often come back to a logic puzzle to try my luck again thinking: “Maybe I wasted four hours on this yesterday but I know how it works now so I’ll get it dome in about twenty minutes”. I’ll delude myself like this, repeatedly in some cases, but I must admit I don’t see myself returning to a Rubik’s cube or 36 cube. I just can’t ‘get them’ and ‘getting’ them will probably take more time than I could ever bring myself to put in.
I wonder if there could be other factors, other than time, that might make someone abandon a puzzle; perhaps a lack of confidence (I guess that’s part of my cop-outs too) or even using the ultimate excuse and blaming the toy for being defective (e.g. giving up because you think it’s been made wrong). As always comments are welcome, and feel free to taunt me on my lack of Rubik’s skill pointing out how intellectually superior you are for having solved it (you know you want to, that’s part of the fun). It would also be interesting to know what logic puzzles have really got under your skin. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John
EDIT (20.07.13): I completed a Rubiks cube the other night! Finally, I can claim membership to this elite group. Remember, it’s all about the centres, the opposing sides are always the same so theme your moves around them.