Monday, May 10, 2010

The War is Over!

I don't remember the exact date the war started... Perhaps January or February of 2008? I'm not even sure how the war started... I seem to recall browsing the iTunes app store for games. I remember coming upon a simple, yet nifty, logic puzzle game called Blocked. I thought, "Well, I really suck at these lateral thinking games, but it's only $2.99. Why not?"

The next thing I knew, some Archduke got himself knocked off and my brain found itself mobilizing for the puzzle game to end all puzzle games.

Blocked, if you haven't played it before, is a game where you slide gray blocks back and forth and attempt to clear a path to move the blue block through the opening to the right. So simple, so elegant, so... incredibly aggravating.

I tore through the first ten levels blitzkrieg style and I must admit, my confidence was running high. Perhaps I was better at lateral thinking than I thought?

I think it was around level 17 that I was disabused of that notion. It was then that I realized I'd been drawn into catastrophic, mind-grinding, cerebral trench warfare. Where before I was completing levels in under a minute or two, now the progress was slowed. Five minute levels... Then ten, or fifteen. Occasionally I'd flail away for the better part of a half an hour. I inched my way through the rest of the teens and began the brutal slog through the twenties. My sanity took high casualties, but I was progressing.

And then I reached level 33. It was like my own personal Battle of the Somme. Again and again I thrust myself into the breach only to be repelled by my inability to work out the solution. Days, then weeks passed with no victory. At about a month and a half I took a break from the game, hoping some leave would bring fresh perspective, but each time I returned I found myself knocking against the same dilemma. I just couldn't work it out.

And then, after about three or four months of this stalemate I finally broke down and did what needed to be done. I went on Youtube and looked for a cheat solution. Look, I'm not terribly proud about this, but it was war! Men do what they have to do in war. I guarantee you that if Churchill could have simply gone on Youtube and watched a five minute video and ended the Blitz, that cigar chomping fat-ass would have been all over it. Then he would have watched that OK Go video like 25 times and drank whiskey until he puked.

Anyway, so I had cleared my first big hurdle by less than ethical means, but I had very little expectation that I'd be getting much further without repeatedly cheating. But a funny thing happened. I started getting good at the game. I knocked off the rest of the thirties in under two days and it only took me another two weeks to get up into the fifties. But more important than the fact that I was completing levels was the fact that I was beginning to see the puzzles differently. Instead of moving the blocks in a linear fashion, step by step until blocked, then reversing and trying again. I was able to analyze the whole puzzle and make moves based on where blocks potentially could be. In short, I was learning. I was getting better at the game.

I realized something very basic and obvious then that had always escaped me in the past. My capacity for lateral thinking puzzles wasn't static. It was dynamic and able to develop. To that point I had always considered Blocked a game I would play as far as my limitations allowed, never realizing that my limitations might lift simply by the act of doing.

I think it was when I hit level 60 that I determined I was going for total victory. I was going to win this war and I was going to do it without any more help. The campaign was slow and dirty. I finished some levels in ten or fifteen minutes, but most were taking me a day or two, and some a week or more. I had my challenges, particularly in the 80's (screw you, Reagan!), but over the last six months I methodically pushed my way through. The enemy army was on full retreat. I was cruising through the nineties

I'd been sitting on level 100 for the last three weeks. I'd grown weary and haggard, frustrated by my inability to decisively end the conflict. My brain was longing for V-Day, maybe a nice parade, certainly a baby boom, but I couldn't finish that last level!

Then, late last night as I was laying in bed playing my customary fifteen or twenty minutes before bed, it happened. I actually audibly gasped when I opened up the path for the blue block. I paused for a couple of seconds to reflect on the accomplishment of getting to this moment. It may seem a silly thing to take such pride in, but finishing Blocked and winning the "war" meant an awful lot to me at that moment.

I slid the blue block free and read the rather underwhelming "Congratulations." message that popped up on the screen. I was really hoping for that parade.

In fact, I feel so proud of winning this war that from now on I'm going to tell people I'm a member of the Greatest Generation. In your face, Brokaw!

So there's two plus years of my life into winning the war and solving Blocked. Need to make sure I craft a sensible peace or else I'll be right back here in 20 plus years playing Blocked 2: The Rise of Hitler.

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