More geek news – we had a contest at work to solve a problem programatically in an efficient and elegant way. Having not had much time to spend on it, I was chuffed to come fifth out of fifteen. What I liked best about it was the reminder of why i’m in the career I am. Software was originally a source of puzzles to be solved and I could never resist a puzzle

When I was little it was jigsaws. I had one of Popeye and Bluto which canonly have had about 100 pieces but must have done it as many times. I loved fitting each piece into place and finally having a finished picture, although that was always a bit of a let down. The girl next door used to finish hers and glue them into a frame to hang on the wall. I hated that idea – it was the solving that was fun, not seeing the picture. If they were glued together, you could never take them apart and do them again. What was the point of that?

Like everyone else in the eighties, I moved onto the rubik’s cube. Although i loved the idea and the feel of it in my hands, I didn’t (and still don’t) have the sort of mathematical brain which really “got” it. I learned from a book a set of moves to allow you to complete it, but that wasn’t really the same.

When I started university, we had a break every morning after the first lecture. Someone would produce the Glasgow Herald and we got into the habit of doing the cryptic crossword between the group. At first I had no idea what was going on. A couple of the mature students seemed to be talking in a language all of their own describing how the clues worked – double definitions, hidden clues, pangrams – gradually, I started to get the idea. Eventually, it became a habit and at times, almost an obsession. I still can’t pass a newspaper without checking to see if there is a crossword in it. I do the Guardian and Observer crosswords on line without fail. I don’t often finish them but i get closer each time. The wonderful Fifteen Squared site blogs all the day’s crossword clues and solutions with explanations of how the two match up. If you are at all interested in how crosswords work, I urge you to give it a visit.

Sadly, I find that less and less of my daily grind is spent with the problem solving side of my brain engaged. Instead, I’m reading documents, writing documents, attending meetings about documents and, very occassionally, fixing some defects. But every now and again, i get a juicy problem to sink my teeth into and i remember why i’m there.