Thursday, October 3, 2013

Second opinion (Puzzle No. 3,297)

Earlier this week I attended a Grand Rounds lecture by Mark Graber of Stony Brook, who is an expert on diagnostic errors in medicine (an expert in understanding them, not committing them...).  While I was supposed to be thinking about medical care, I have to admit I thought just as much about puzzles and how we solve them.

The part about heuristics reminded me of anagramming: especially the times when you see a pile of letters and immediately get the anagram.  With anything more than just a few letters, the systematic, logical approach is impossible: just too many possibilities to roll around in your brain.  So in this respect, cryptics are especially good exercise for your brain: making it do several different kinds of work.

But heuristics can get doctors in trouble: like diagnosing patients based on the other cases they've seen recently and jumping to a conclusion instead of ruling out the alternatives first.  It got me in trouble too, on the solution to last week’s puzzle when I groused about pulling letters out of cORsiCA when if I had thought a little more, I would have seen they could also have come from majORCA (or minORCA).

One of the studies Dr. Graber showed us involved doctors-to-be taking their licensing exams.  Contrary to my experience on my rules test, most of the time that the persons taking the test changed their initial answer, they changed it from the wrong answer to the right answer, and the additional thinking helped them make the right diagnosis.

How do you reconcile those two tendencies of errors?  Patients are tricky, so the writers of the medical exams intend for their questions to be a little tricky.  Rules exams are supposed to be easy as long as you know the rules; the writers are not trying to trick us.  While some of enjoy making up unusual situations and debating them in the dressing room before or after a game (it’s like arguing Talmud law), the official tests are straight out of the rulebook and the situation manual.

Crossword-wise, most puzzles are like the rules test: if it seems tricky, you’re doing something wrong. In Word Salad, Hot and Trazom have made the point several times that they aim to be fair, and that part of the reason they have friends test-solve the puzzles is to catch and adjust anything that might be unfair.  And I provide the full annotations here on Monday so you can see where each and every part of the wordplay is placed in the clue.

Puzzle No. 3,297

Link to puzzle:

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): harder than usual

Hozom’s comment: “In Plain Sight,” in which Hot and Trazom talk about the ups and downs of hidden word clues, from the constructor’s perspective and from the solver’s.

Solution to No. 3,297 posted on Monday.  See you this weekend for Sunday brunch.

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