September 17, 2023 at 10:45 AM by Dr. Drang
I’ve been thinking a lot about the NY Times Connections game lately, mainly because my family keeps playing it wrong. They’d get mad at me if I told them that, so I’m telling you.
As I’ve said before, Connections is an obvious rip-off of the Connecting Wall segment of the BBC game show Only Connect. The main differences, apart from the Connecting Wall being much, much harder, are
- The Connecting Wall, being on TV, is timed. Connections is not.
- In the Connecting Wall, wrong guesses don’t count against you until you’ve solved two groups. Connections counts your wrong guesses right from the start.
- Three wrong guesses in the Connecting Wall and you’re out. It’s four wrong guesses in Connections.
These rule differences mean game play is different. In the early stages of the Connecting Wall, rapid guesses are a common way to eliminate red herrings. If there are five clues that could fit into a category, you can eliminate the red herring in no more than five quick guesses,1 and that’s a good strategy for figuring out groups. It’s after the first two groups are set that teams tend to take a more methodical approach to conserve wrong guesses.
In Connections, at least the way I think it should be played, the goal is not simply to get all four groups (I’ve never failed to do that) but to get them with no mistakes. Texting a four-row solution to your group of fellow players is the ideal. Just guessing from the start—as some people I know do—is an almost certain way to get less than a perfect score.
So unless I’m in a hurry or have given up, I don’t start submitting guesses until I’m sure of at least three, and ideally all four, of the categories. This strategy means I almost always get a better score than my hasty wife and kids, and the additional need to keep track of all the categories in my head is another weapon in the fight against cognitive decline.2
By the way, if you’re outside the UK and would like to see Only Connect, the wheelsongenius YouTube account uploads episodes shortly after they air. The show is currently in Series 19, and wheelsongenius has playlists for several of the older series.
Combinatorics can work against you. If there are six clues that could fit in a category, it could take as many as 15 guesses to get through all the combinations. Keeping track of which two you’ve kept out of your previous guesses is basically impossible, even for the kind of quizzing champions that appear on Only Connect. ↩
I’m skeptical of the claim that doing puzzles and other brainwork can ward off the effects of aging, but it can’t hurt. ↩