Consider this arcane fact: according to a recent survey, over 200,000 people subscribe to the NY Times Crossword service. That means there are 200,000 people out there who don’t care at all about the dozens of fine feature articles and advertisements in the Sunday Times newspaper; all these hardcore puzzlers want are their crosswords!
Similarly, walk into any bookstore and you’ll likely see entire shelves devoted to Sudokus, Kakuros and Kenkens, Japan’s unique contribution to the world puzzling craze. Just the other day, for example — while on a flight from San Francisco to Denver — I watched a mother and child, in rapt attention, poring over a Word Search book for their entire two-hour trip. Clearly we live in a puzzle world!
As puzzles are so popular with such a wide and varied population, here are 5 great reasons to include puzzles in your next team-building activity:
1) Puzzles help you practice pattern recognition: Let’s say you look at a puzzle and find three quarters, followed by three pennies, followed by three quarters. What’s going on here? A savvy puzzle solver would quickly recognize a Morse Code pattern, with the quarters standing in for dots and pennies representing dashes. The message thus reads “S.O.S. Recognizing patterns and decoding them is a key skill for puzzle solvers – not to mention an excellent mental practice for all types of professions, particularly lawyers, engineers and computer coders.
2) Puzzles require logic and reverse engineering: So you’re working through a cryptogram puzzle and know in advance that the final answer is a quote from, let’s say, Mark Twain. In that quote, you determine the word ”you” is most certainly followed by the word “are” and the word I is probably followed by the word “am”. Furthermore, a single letter standing alone must be either an “A” or an “I”. Working backwards and forwards in this manner, from the answer to the puzzle and vice versa, you slowly figure out the other, un-deciphered letters. That’s reverse engineering—a useful skill in the work world as well.
3) Puzzles allow for delegation according to specialties: You’ve just received your treasure hunt clues. One puzzle is a crossword. Another is a Sudoku. A third is movie trivia. Assessing who is good at each type of puzzle and then delegating appropriately is excellent practice in leveraging your team’s diverse knowledge and skills, both at play and at work.
4) Puzzles often require pairs to accomplish the task: Word searches are a great example of a puzzle where two sets of eyes are better than one. Similarly, it can be helpful in many decoding puzzles to have one person call out a puzzle while another person is reading the decoder sheet. For example, in a Morse Code clue like the one above, one partner might say “one dot” and his companion would write down the letter “E”. Working alone, a solo puzzler would have shift her eyes back and forth, from puzzle to decoder and back again – a much slower process when working alone. You get the idea. Puzzles are almost always easier when solved by two people (or more) – an excellent reminder for the “lone cowboys” in your office who default to “going it alone”.
5) Puzzles encourage cross-team collaboration: Let’s say you’re on a treasure hunt and one team needs a Braille decoder sheet while another requires a list of world flags. If the teams would only share their resources, they could both succeed (and save themselves a lot of Googling). Puzzles are great for breaking down silos and encouraging a culture of abundance and collaboration rather than scarcity and enmity.
Puzzles grab your attention, they work your mind, and when solved, they deliver a deeply satisfying “Eureka” moment. They’re a powerful team-building tool as well — to be used liberally and often by trainers and managers alike!