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A Memory of Pre-Shenanigans Mind

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sudoku2018jan01Want a glimpse at how my mind used to work before the shenanigans? Here, spend a few minutes reviewing my first daily sudoku exercise for 2018, and perhaps you’ll see the memory that flashes through my head.

This is is puzzle graded as “easy” from a book I picked up before the shenanigans, one of several I still go back to for ripping a page out for daily mental therapy post-shenanigans.

Now, before the shenanigans I only did this part in my head, never on the page in ink; but after the shenanigans I found it to be useful therapy to actually draw it out: as many have since seen, I like to draw the arrows mapping out my progress through a puzzle. Sometimes the maps flow very smoothly; other times they are a tangle worthy of the most complicated mess in my knot book.


Now, follow my path through this puzzle. I started with a “1” in the NW block, continued with a “2” in the same block, then found a “3” in the W block, then a “4” in the SW block . . . And yes, this used to be one of a whole collection of variations I have played with for keeping easy sudoku puzzles fun enough to remain of interest to me: for this puzzle, I decided to fill in the numbers in sequence. I filled in one string of digits, 1 through 9, then another string 1 through 9, then a third string.

Now when I do a sudoku like that — looking for a particular digit such as the next digit in this particular puzzle, that fourth “1” — quite frequently I am seeing more than that particular “1” that would be taking my mapping’s next arrow after that third “9” over in the E block. In my mind’s eye I might see all three “1” placements through all three southern blocks; or I might see the “1-5” pair of the SE block as a single pair; or I might feel the finger-snap in my head of the “4-1-5” in that SE block (and yes, with my mind grinning briefly at the tickle of a tax code section I have always loved); or I might even instantly chalk up in my head when each of the last remaining four “1” squares would be filled in if I were to continue mapping things out with my arrows.

Whatever the spark that happened to flash through my head, since the shenanigans it would be right about here I will typically put my pen down. When I’ve mapped it out in ink past this, it has usually been only to see it for myself on the paper: what it looks like in my head. When I put the pen down, it’s not because I’m stuck and can’t finish it; it’s because at that point I can tell you what belongs in all remaining empty blocks. And I can even tell you what sequence I would take in filling the empty blocks in. Even when I play one of my variations, like the 1-9 sequencing I have been doing on this one.

And now, here’s that glimpse of my pre-shenanigans head. Because although I didn’t start drawing my arrows until I needed them for therapy post-shenanigans, it was on a puzzle very much like this one that I started developing what to me became what I have called “blindfold sudoku.” Because as I have done with so many other things, I became curious and decided to see how far I could take it. I can even see the puzzle I did it with in my mind almost well enough to recite it again over a decade after I first did it. I was on a business trip to Atlanta, filling in an airline magazine sudoku. Another easy one on which I was doing one of my variations. Got about this far. Put my pen down when I could see the rest. Closed my eyes and could still see it. Decided to pretend to erase in my mind the last number I’d inked and see if I could have left that blank; decided I could have. Then found that step by step, I could go backward in my mind through that puzzle, digit by digit erasing what I had inked in, still at each step finding that I could have done it from there through the end entirely in my head. Before our plane touched down in Atlanta, I reached for the airline magazine in the pocket by the empty seat beside me, looked at the completely blank sudoku puzzle that I had just inked halfway in my own magazine, and found that I could see my way through the entire puzzle, solving it in my head without writing any of it down.

The “blindfold” step of that actually came almost more accidental than I would want to admit, since usually these things come to me because I look for them, rather than by accidental thunderbolt. I had been doing my mental non-ink sudoku puzzles for several months after that Atlanta trip, when I came to a point where I “started” a puzzle on the commuter bus to downtown Houston, with the newspaper sitting in my lap during the ride. Normally I would have finished the puzzle by the end of the bus ride. This time I had been distracted by a pension calculation I would be working on at the office, so still had about the final third of the puzzle to do when I left the bus. But without even paying close attention to what I was doing, I found that upon arrival at my desk, I knew the entire puzzle: in the brief walk through the downtown Houston pedestrian tunnels, I had finished the puzzle in my head without looking any further at my newspaper . . . although still primarily focusing on that pension calculation!

So my curiosity was pinched anew: I began spending a few minutes simply looking at the starting layout of a sudoku puzzle, then laying the puzzle aside and working it out in my head without looking any further at the printed page. Presto. Blindfold Sudoku!

And as I’ve told SuziQ, this actually tells you about the instant when I first realized the damage done on my head by the shenanigans: how it messed up my sudoku. Before the shenanigans, I had worked my mental sudoku practice to the point where I could even do some medium-level sudoku puzzles blindfolded. Then after several weeks in the hospital after the shenanigans, about halfway through the stretch I did in a rehab facility, my mother — remembering how much I enjoy sudoku — mailed me a new sudoku book. I opened it to the first, the easiest. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t focus past finding the first digit. So I asked for a pencil and filled that first digit in, then struggled to find another digit, any digit. And didn’t make it past half a dozen before making a mistake. NO!!!! Not only could I not find the memory for Blindfold Sudoku, not only could I not find the focus for Mental Sudoku, not only had I lost the discipline for Ink Sudoku, but I couldn’t even make it very far with Pencil Sudoku!! I had fallen all the way back to Eraser Sudoku!!!

At first I figured I was just being too hard on myself. But then as I mentally studied the routines they were taking me through to re-teach myself to walk, to keep my balance, to catch a ball, to step off a curb and climb a stair, to rebuild my physical endurance, very quickly I came to realize that what needed to be done with my own head was not at all unlike what they were teaching me to do with my body. An experience like the shenanigans does literally change a person. And not just physically, but just as much mentally. The doctors gave me therapy to work on my body; but even after I have pushed repeatedly seeking their assistance, they never had a clue on what needed to be done for the mental damage.

Before the shenanigans, I could do Blindfold Sudoku for medium-difficulty puzzles, sometimes even while focusing on other matters at a high level of complexity. Six years afterward, still very much in recovery therapy both physically and mentally, you can catch glimpses of how my mind used to see it in a puzzle such as today’s.

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Written by macheide

1 January 2018 at 9:51 am

Posted in sudoku

Tagged with ,

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