I play Picross pretty regularly. It’s a simple little game that my computer can pull up in a browser window and then I can belt through a game, or fail at it, very quickly. It’s something I’ve been doing pretty much on and off since Fox got me into the game in a waiting room at a doctor’s.
Picross, or a nonogram, is something I’ve written about in the past. The tool I use generates random ones within a particular difficulty grade, and you can ramp it up or remove elements that make it easier whenever you feel you need to. For me, this means that my personal limit on picrosses is around 15×15, no-mistake wins, with the occasional exception for unwinnables. I’m not amazing at them, but they’re functionally infinite and I don’t find myself holding onto great examples so I can share them around.
Though maybe I should.
Chances are if you’re on youtube, you’ve seen some of those specialised channels for dealing with particularly dense, high-potential games like Chess, where there are dozens and dozens of chess channels that want to break down famous games, or explore potential games, or just talk about games in progress as puzzles. In this space, there’s the fairly well known Cracking the Cryptic, which does Sudoku puzzles (and other things, they promise, but, I mostly see Sudoku puzzles).
I haven’t picked up Sudoku as a skill, mind you: I’ve just been observing it, from this other channel, and something I find most interesting is the ways that the people involved get very familiar with making intuitive leaps that they then explain. They’re not guessing – they just see solutions, and then they have to back-fill the explanation, to bring you along with them on their path of logic.
When I start on Picross now, I tend to see how quickly I can get the basics laid down – I know the numbers that matter the most to the kind of things I can do, I’m familiar with certain patterns that reach further than you think, and that means that I have tools that make approaching a Picross puzzle a little bit quicker. Not fast by any means, but it gets some of that initial friction out of the way.
Tonight, as Youtube brought on another Cracking the Cryptic to me, the puzzle involved ‘thermometers’ and that yielded someone describing the way you can slide numbers forwards and back, but you have limited space, and that gives you information you can work from. It was a small detail, but it made me sit up and go: Oh, like 4s in those regions.
And just like that, I was seeing the way these skills translate. I didn’t study Picross, I just played it a lot. Playing it a lot resulted in familiarity. Familiarity made it easier to play a lot. The systems of games feeding one another, and only when you put that in a different context do you see the way that familiarity can be turned into actionable, practical, pragmatic result.