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My Daily Brain Workout

I love puzzles. I'm not particularly good at solving puzzles, but I enjoy the challenge and I especially enjoy learning how to solve more complex puzzles by following a master.

Which brings me to one of the very best YouTube channels around: Cracking the Cryptic. Every single day for the past several years, Simon and Mark solve the most fiendishly elegant and difficult Sudoku puzzles, and thousands upon thousands of people watch them do it.

There are a few especially cool things about the puzzles they solve. First, they are hand crafted puzzles. Extremely smart humans create (or 'set') the puzzles before offering them up for people to solve. There is an elegance to a hand-crafted puzzle that makes them more fun to solve; it's like folding an ornate origami shape rather than cutting and gluing paper together.

Secondly, most of the puzzles introduce types of variant sudoku. Instead of your standard 3x3 boxes, these puzzles have all sorts of lines and dots with specific rules that guide the solver to take a unique path through the solve.

Thirdly, the puzzles are solved live, in real time, and the solver is looking at the puzzle for the first time. That means that difficult puzzles take a long time to solve. Simon tends to be given the more difficult puzzles, and they routinely take him over an hour to complete. Sometimes there is complex math involved. Sometimes he needs to draw upon set theory. But in every case, once per day, Simon takes his time and explains the logic behind every deduction he makes.

Beyond the genius of the puzzle setters and solvers, they do their puzzling with kindness and humility and grace, which has earned them over half a million followers and formed a large, active community around their work. It's so friendly that Simon even reads out birthday announcements at the start of each video!

And the best part? You can solve the puzzles yourself. One of the community members created an app where you can solve the puzzles from the channel, either attempting the puzzle before you watch Simon or Mark solve it, or solve along, or try it yourself afterward.

And the other best part? There is a Cracking the Cryptic community on Discord where kind souls create more approachable (that is, easier) versions of the variants Simon solves on YouTube. They call them GAS puzzles (Generally Approachable Sudoku) and release a new puzzle every morning. I never miss a day, and I'm getting better over time. GAS puzzles used to take me around 20 minutes to solve and these days I'm pretty consistently under 10 minutes.

So if you've ever tried a Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper, you really should check out the Cracking the Cryptic YouTube channel and the CTC Discord Server. It's a pile of fun.

Here's two of the more recent YouTube videos for a little taste.

PS - Simon and Mark are also champion cryptic crossword solvers and they solve them on the YouTube channel on Friday. Cryptic crosswords make my head hurt something fierce, though. So I dip in a little bit from time to time, but otherwise leave them to their fun.