Pattern recognition

I’ve never much liked computer games, but I do occasionally get hooked on puzzles. Recently I’ve been playing two small puzzle games on the New York Times website: the Mini crossword and Set.

There’s nothing much to say about the Mini. It’s just a 5×5 grid that never takes more than a minute or so to finish. Like the regular Times crossword, it’s updated with a fresh puzzle every day; unlike the regular crossword, it’s free and doesn’t count against the ten free pages per month that non-subscribers have access to.

Mini crossword

As you can see, it’s not what you’d call a real head-scratcher, but it doesn’t feel quite as dumbed down as the crosswords you often see in TV listings. I do feel a professional obligation, though, to point out that I-bar, hyphenated or not, isn’t a term used by anyone other than crossword puzzle makers. I-beam, yes; I-bar, no.

I usually do the Mini during lunch, just before I dig into another free Times puzzle: Set. There are four Sets per day, two Basic and two Advanced. The instructions for Set are not as well written as they might be, but once you’ve played it a time or two, you develop an instinctive understanding of the rules.

Set advanced

The idea is to make sets of elements from the graphics in the grid. Each graphic has four features:

A set consists of three graphics for which the features are either all the same or all different. Here are the six sets for the puzzle above, with an explanation for each.

Set advanced solutions

This example is an advanced puzzle, the basic puzzles use a 3×3 grid, hold one of the features constant, and contain only four sets.

Again, this is not the most challenging puzzle in the world, but it’s a fun break in the middle of the day.

The Times also offers free puzzles called Kenken, which I don’t play because they require Flash, and they also have a daily Sudoku, which I don’t play because I hate Sudoku.

Update 1/10/16 8:53 AM
As Dan Frakes pointed out, there are versions of Set for iOS available on the App Store: a free version that gives you one new puzzle per day, a $2 version that lets you play many games and has in-app purchases for more, and a $5 multiplayer version for the iPad. They’re all based on the card game of the same name.

Personally, I’m sticking with the Times version. It’s fun but self-limiting.