Some people recently gave us jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are a torment. They lie there on a table, unfinished mocking our puny little brains. Yesterday I put the finishing touches to a 1000-piece puzzle that my wife, daughter, and I started over the weekend. Something happened, more than once, during the solving that is intriguing to me.
Late one Saturday evening when I was in college, I was grinding away at some calculus homework. I liked math in school because I regarded it as solving puzzles. This particular day I was making good progress when I hit a wall. I looked at a problem had simply could not figure out how to solve it. After a half hour of frustration I quit. That night I went out and partied. The next day I woke up with a hangover, rolled out of bed, and looked at the calculus problem laid out on my desk. The solution came to me instantly. I sat down and knocked off the rest of the problem set without the slightest difficulty. Somehow, over the course of the previous 15 or 16 hours my brain had re-set.
Over the years I have become a daily crossword puzzle solver. The same re-setting process happens all the time. I’ll get to a point in the solving when noting seems to come to mind, or worse, I know the answer but can’t retrieve it from my brain. (I think this is called presque vu.) If I put the puzzle down, and come back to it an hour later, the answer, more often than not, pops into my head.
The same thing happened when solving the jigsaw puzzle. On Sunday night I hit a wall. I couldn’t fit one more piece. On Monday, the pieces started falling onto place. Then I got stuck again with 75 pieces to go. Off to bed. The next day, all the pieces seemed to fall into place, literally and figuratively. (Oddly, since I was making a picture, literally and figuratively mean pretty much the same thing.)
Is there some neurological explanation for this sort of re-setting?
Whenever I see pictures of bicycling infrastructure in The Netherlands I get envious. They build beautiful bridges and inter-city highways for bikes there. We have some decent trails in the DC area. In fact, I can pick up a trail near my home and ride with only minor on-road interruption to the eastern front of the Blue Ridge Mountains all on paved trails. Most of the route is along the Washington and Old Dominion Regional Trail, a very popular resource in these parts. The trail is along an old railroad right of way that has frequent, at-grade street crossings. One of the more dangerous at-grade crossings is at U.S. 29 near the Arlington/Falls Church border. This also happens to be one of the busier crossings on the trail. A few days ago, a new bridge was built over the crossing. They did this one right. Instead of doing things on the cheap, the designers built us one splendid looking bridge. In addition to looking fab, it has a concrete surface, attractive side barriers, and lighting. And its WIDE.
Winter in the northern hemisphere runs from December 21 to March 21. Meteorological winter in DC runs from December 1 to the end of February. As far as weather people are concerned, we’re in spring now. Last week we had a string of days with temperatures in the 70s F bookended by a couple of 60-degree days. Freed of my cumbersome winter riding gear, I gleefully rode 228 miles. Then reality hit and temperatures dropped back into the 40s and 50s. A month ago these temperatures wouldn’t have bothered me at all; I’d just put on layers and go for a ride. Now, having had a taste of the good life, I have retreated to the basement.
Even the neighborhood Bernie is having a hard time re-setting to winter. Her put one some earmuffs.