There has definitely been a dumbing down of sudoku puzzles – I managed one labelled as “super fiendish” in about fifteen minutes. The logical processes demanded in the completion of the puzzle were an escape from those whose faces filled the television news.
Numbers have always seemed a way to escape from uncomfortable realities. Governments have always presented difficult situations in terms of statistics, as if to keep at arm’s length the realities faced by those whose lives were represented by the digits on the page.
It’s not just at a government level that numbers provide a getaway route, at individual levels as well, numbers have provided a way for people to disengage from the uncomfortable things around them.
Everyone will remember people in the school classroom who had a passion for numbers; or maybe the memories are nearly always of the boys at school who had a passion for numbers, because, looking back, it always seemed a male thing.
There would be the geeky boys who remembered cricket statistics, being able to reel off the players who had the best batting or bowling averages, with the statistical evidence now available live online, every match would now be a source for constant reflection. The cricket season would have been very short then, May to the beginning of September, so there would be numbers to be found in football league tables or in the attendances at matches. Often they weren’t the best at sports; sometimes they were loners. I remember them because I think I was probably one of them.
Why numbers? Perhaps it is because that numbers exist at arm’s length. As the government can use statistics to distance itself from whatever reality is being reported, so numbers demand no engagement. Numbers have no reality other than themselves.
The only online subscription I have is to the Financial Times. I continue to be fascinated by stock market indices, currency exchange rates; government economic data; and attendances at sporting fixtures. The 1913 edition of Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide together with the 1922 edition for Britain and Ireland provide opportunities for endless pondering of journeys and connections.
It is noticeable that daily newspapers feature considerably more puzzles than formerly, perhaps, when all news is instantly available, it is because that they have needed to develop different reasons for people to buy a newspaper. Perhaps it would be worth spending £2 on fifteen minutes of distraction. It would definitely be a more positive experience than listening to some of those who fill the news.