Crossing the Chasm
From the time I was in elementary school, I had been interested in codes, and I have no idea where I first learned of them, but the idea of substituting one set of letters, numbers, or symbols (or a combination of them) for the alphabet, and then writing something that only someone with the code key could read was fascinating to me.
When I was in high school, I occasionally visited the public library in a larger town near the one in which I lived. I enjoyed just walking down the aisles of books and looking at the titles, and sometimes browsing through a book that caught my attention. While doing this one day, I noticed a book that discussed codes. I checked it out, read it, and enjoyed it.
When I attended college, the school published a weekday daily campus newspaper, which I enjoyed reading. One daily item that interested me was the cryptogram, probably picked up from a national newspaper syndication. I had never seen a cryptogram, and I could not imagine how to solve it. Obviously, it was a coded message, but I didn’t have a clue how to approach it; it just looked very difficult – in fact, it looked impossible. Although I didn’t attempt to solve them, my eyes were always drawn to them.
One of my favorite authors from my junior high school (or middle school) days was Edgar Allan Poe, but the first time I encountered his story "The Gold Bug" was while I was a college student. I enjoyed the story, as I did most of Poe’s writings, and one of the parts of it I found particularly intriguing was the coded message passages and Poe’s description of how the message was deciphered.
One day, after reading Poe’s story, I happened to think of the coded message solution of that writing at the same time I was looking at the cryptogram in the campus paper. Suddenly, my brain made some sort of connection, and I “crossed the chasm.” Applying what I had learned from Poe, I quickly worked my first cryptogram puzzle. Ho, ho – what an eye-opener. After that, I couldn’t wait to work the cryptogram every day in the paper.
I have experienced that feeling a number of times, generally in working some type of puzzle or playing a complex game. I recall the same thing happening when we first acquired a Rubik’s Cube. It looked impossible, but I was soon not only solving it, I was trying to solve it quicker and quicker.
When we first purchased an Atari electronic game machine and bought the game cartridges, we entered into a new arena of entertainment. One of those games was called “Kaboom.” The challenge involved little round black bombs dropping from the top of the screen, and the player had to catch them in little buckets of water at the bottom of the screen. If a bomb was not caught in time, it exploded at the bottom of the screen; three explosions, and the game ended. If the player was successful on one level, catching a certain number of bombs, the next level dropped more bombs and dropped them faster from different locations at the top of the screen. At the higher levels, the game became frantic. The first few times I played the game, I thought “This is impossible.” It appeared to me that no one would be able to progress past a couple of levels. Then, at some point, I crossed the chasm. I discerned a pattern, or something like a pattern, that allowed me to begin anticipating the next bomb, even at much faster speeds. I was soon doing what I had, a few days before, considered impossible.
I have experienced similar moments while attempting to solve “mechanical” puzzles – metal, wood, or plastic items that must be disassembled and/or assembled. There usually is one set of steps or one key movement combination that allows the puzzle to be solved. Once the puzzle is solved, it is solvable again and again. Additionally, the principle that is involved in solving one puzzle is sometimes directly or indirectly applicable to the solution of other puzzles.
It seems to me that much of life involves standing at a chasm – encountering a problem that seems impossible to solve – and finding a way to cross it. The most successful people in life find or build a way across, while others panic or become dismayed and give up. Successful people also learn to adapt previous solutions (theirs or other people’s) to cross new chasms, thus making their own lives much easier. There are several keys to crossing chasms – learn from prior personal experiences; learn from other examples; keep an open mind; ignore the little voice in the brain that tells you “it’s impossible”; look for a solution that isn’t obvious; let your mind work on the problem unconsciously while you are doing something else; and look at problems that are similar, to find something that might apply to the current problem. Perhaps the most important way to cross is to just simply keep trying; practice does indeed make perfect. Once the problem is solved, you have that “ah-ha” moment, when it all comes together and makes sense – you cross the chasm.