Although it didn't occur to me for a long while, playing the Chinese tile game of Mah-Jong on the computer is not just a nice quiet way to pass the time, it teaches some interesting lessons along the way.
The computer lays out the tiles in a specific pattern. The app I use has about 300 different patterns, only eight or nine of which I've actually used so far. You're timed. You have five minutes to remove all the tiles by matching them to an identical tile somewhere in the layout. The catch is that the tile must be exposed on three of its four edges, or it cannot be removed from the board. Difficulty is determined by the layout, as some layouts leave many tiles exposed and some leave only a few exposed.
|Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter Tiles|
I've tried numerous approaches and I've learned it's better if I organize my search beginning in the upper right hand corner. My brain observes more quickly and accurately working right and down and then to left centre to upper left corner, which is counter-intuitive in a culture in which we read left to right.
In practice of course you search over the entire board, or should, but that's generally a distraction and I will frequently empty 60% of the middle and right side of the board without ever touching the left tiles, except perhaps to pick up a match for a straggler.
|Chinese symbol tiles|
This is much like multi-tasking in daily life, a skill women are supposedly better at than men. Stir the soup, stop Jr. from climbing a tree, change the baby's diapers, run out and throw rocks at the neighbour's dog who is chasing the chickens, run back in and stir the pot… or keep a single tile in mind as several other pairs pop out at you. I find I am less and less successful at this the longer I play. My fastest times are my early ones. My brain tires quickly, but not as quickly as it did when I began playing.
Then you come to a point where there are still 15 or 16 tiles on the board, and you can't see a match anywhere. You go "match blind". At times the two tiles are adjacent, sometimes one is up in the corner, alone, or doesn't appear to be exposed. But you know there's a match. The solution is there, if you persist. And once you find that one match it often uncovers a tile that then allows you to end the game in seconds.
This says to me that most problems have solutions, maybe not obvious ones. I have to look stop, think, consider all the options.
And if there are no tiles left on the board which match in that configuration, the app shuffles the tiles, and then progress can be made. Beating my head against a wall which can't be fixed gets me nowhere. Sometimes you need someone to shuffle the tiles. This may be advice from a calm, reasonable friend, your doctor, your spiritual adviser; the person you trust to listen. Someone who has your best long-term interests at heart, and won't just tell you what you want to hear.
And then I look at the timer, and while occasionally I finish under in 5:00 minutes, it almost always says 5:28, or 7:45 or 8:10. And I don't care, because I'm here to relax, not stress out. Decisions made in haste are often regretted.