Summary: Start with a collection of puzzles. Set a timer for five minutes. Solve the first puzzle, if you can. Take a break, then repeat.

Tags: Repeatable

Purpose: We want to be able to think quickly and accurately. Practice trying to think at speed, and discard wasted motion if you can.

Materials: You need puzzles. The ideal puzzles are very fast to solve if the solution is known; rubik's cubes and blacksmith puzzles are better than jigsaw puzzles. If you’re using blacksmith puzzles you’ll want at least one puzzle per two people.

Announcement Text

“Resolve cycles are when you spend five minutes by the clock trying to actually solve a problem you have. In Puzzle Cycles, we’re going to solve problems we really have but are fun to play with like this. [insert picture of your puzzle.] 

Is this serious practice for working on complex mental problems at speed, or is this an excuse to mess around with fun shapes for a couple hours? The answer is a bit of both, and you’re welcome to come with either interest! If you have some puzzles you’d like to share, feel free to bring them.”


1. If people besides you brought puzzles, take a picture of each puzzle next to a label with their name on it. If it’s not obvious from the picture (for instance, if multiple people brought rubik's cubes) check if they want to label it some other way and how upset they would be if it got mixed up with someone else’s.

2. Explain the following: “Tonight we’re doing puzzle cycles, which are based on Resolve Cycles from CFAR. The idea of a Resolve Cycle is to take five minutes by the clock to solve a real problem in front of you. They’re surprisingly effective at overcoming longstanding problems! The idea of a Puzzle Cycle is to do this with goofy puzzles as practice for working within time constraints. Everyone should find a puzzle to work on, or if you can’t find a puzzle then sit out the first round and you’ll take one next round. It won’t take long! I’m about to start this timer for five minutes! Solve your puzzle if you can. At the end of five minutes, we’ll pass the puzzle to someone else.”

(If using the variations) “Sometimes you might not solve your problem in five minutes. A supercharged Resolve Cycle is, when that happens, to take five minutes strategizing about how you might solve the puzzle. Once that’s done, take five minutes executing your strategy. I might toss some of those supercharge cycles in throughout the night! Another thing that happens is you might be almost done when the five minute timer dings. Sometimes I’ll ask if anyone thinks they’re about to solve it, and if so, we’ll do sixty more seconds and see if you’re right. Sometimes I'll ask you to try and solve a real problem in your life, as is done in a normal Resolve Cycle.”

“Grab a puzzle and get ready! The first timer starts in 3, 2, 1. . . Go!”

3. Lay out the puzzles on a table everyone can gather around, or several tables if there are lots of people. Again, you want at least a puzzle for every two people. Taking a five minute break between puzzle attempts is fine, but ten is starting to be a lot of sitting around without a puzzle. Alternately, people can cooperate on a puzzle, but especially working at speed four people won’t be able to see clearly and I suspect you’ll have a lot of “can I hold it for a second?” going on. 

4. Get your timer ready. Let people choose their puzzles, then start the timer. 

5. When it goes off, get everyone to put the puzzle down. Decide whether or not to go again; if you do want to do another round then whether the puzzle was solved or not have people hand the puzzle off to someone else. Get ready, then start the timer again and repeat.

6. When you’re done, use the pictures from step one to get each puzzle back to the right owner.

Variations: Resolve Cycles can be done in “solve it in five minutes mode” and can also have a fail case where you spend five minutes strategizing, then take five minutes to execute your plan. The Puzzle Cycle variation of this is to spend five minutes looking at the puzzle where you aren’t allowed to touch it except maybe to turn it over as your “strategy” middle cycle. Feel free to swap between five minutes and three sets of five minutes as you want throughout the evening, just make sure puzzles are being passed around and nobody is sitting out for too long.

Another variation is, when the five minute timer dings to immediately ask if anyone almost has it. If someone says yes, set the timer for another sixty seconds and everyone keeps going. Sometimes it feels like you’re just about to solve the problem and this is a good way to see if you’re right. If you’re going to do this every time, just set six minute timers in the first place. 

You can also do a mix of actual Resolve Cycles and Puzzle Cycles if you want! You already explained how they work so it's just a matter of reminding people to pick a real problem and try and solve it. Remind them that its still a success if the agentic part is over if following autopilot would solve the problem. 

You can also just do a Resolve Cycle meetup. Swap the announcement text for "Resolve cycles are when you spend five minutes by the clock trying to actually solve a problem you have. They're surprisingly effective at those quick but not super important issues you've been putting off for a while. They're even more surprisingly sometimes effective at problems you'd thought would take a lot more than five minutes. Today we're going to sit down, set a timer, and solve some problems! Come with a laptop if you expect to solve problems by typing at them, paperwork if you expect to solve problems by filling it out, or and most importantly a list of problems you want solved." Swap out most of the steps in Description, since people brought their own problems. I would advise against doing two hours straight of Resolve Cycles; take lots of breaks. The most aggressive and productive version of this is a group pomodoro. 

Notes: Encourage people not to repeat puzzles. The goal is to practice that first stab at a problem. The obvious exception is if you're doing the three sets of five variation.

People will likely chat with each other when they don’t have a puzzle in front of them. It can be worth deliberately removing puzzles from circulation so that half the room is sitting out every round and will talk to each other, and so that they take breaks.

This has the "Repeatable" tag but be aware you'll need a steady influx of new puzzles, without which this is much less repeatable. The regular Resolve Cycle variation is likely not subject to this problem.

Credits: This is transparently Resolve Cycles from the CFAR, but also owes a lot to Mark Xu’s condensed Training regime version. 

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I'm interested in variations on this that focus on Tuning Your Cognitive Strategies from 

Someday I actually will run this with a big jigsaw puzzle. I don't expect that to be good, but I do enjoy watching chaos. If your group does it, please send me a video.