Altered States

A.J. Jacobs — How to Be Less Furious and More Curious (#588)

Illustration via 99designs

“Getting caught in a mental rut is the enemy of coming up with good solutions.”

— A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs (@ajjacobs) is a bestselling author, journalist, and human guinea pig. He has written four New York Times bestsellers, including The Year of Living Biblically (for which he followed all the rules of the Bible as literally as possible) and Thanks a Thousand (for which he went around the world and thanked every person who had even the smallest role in making his morning cup of coffee possible). He has given four TED talks with a combined 10M+ views. He contributes to NPR and The New York Times and wrote the article “My Outsourced Life,” which was featured in The 4-Hour Workweek. He was once the answer to one down in The New York Times crossword puzzle. You can find my 2016 interview with A.J. at

His new book is The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs recruitment platform with 770M+ users, Helix Sleep premium mattresses, and Headspace easy-to-use app with guided meditations. More on all three below.

#588: A.J. Jacobs — How to Be Less Furious and More Curious

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

Using LinkedIn’s active community of more than 770 million professionals worldwide, LinkedIn Jobs can help you find and hire the right person faster. When your business is ready to make that next hire, find the right person with LinkedIn Jobs. And now, you can post a job for free. Just visit

This episode is brought to you by Helix SleepHelix was selected as the #1 overall mattress of 2020 by GQ magazine, Wired, Apartment Therapy, and many others. With Helix, there’s a specific mattress to meet each and every body’s unique comfort needs. Just take their quiz—only two minutes to complete—that matches your body type and sleep preferences to the perfect mattress for you. They have a 10-year warranty, and you get to try it out for a hundred nights, risk-free. They’ll even pick it up from you if you don’t love it. And now, Helix is offering up to 200 dollars off all mattress orders plus two free pillows at

This episode is brought to you by Headspace! Headspace is your daily dose of mindfulness in the form of guided meditations in an easy-to-use app. Whatever the situation, Headspace can help you feel better. Overwhelmed? Headspace has a 3-minute SOS meditation for you. Need some help falling asleep? Headspace has wind-down sessions their members swear by. And for parents, Headspace even has morning meditations you can do with your kids. Headspace’s approach to mindfulness can reduce stress, improve sleep, boost focus, and increase your overall sense of well-being.

Go to for a FREE one-month trial with access to Headspace’s full library of meditations for every situation.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear the last time A.J. was on the show? Have a listen to our conversation here, in which we discussed radical honesty, a worldwide family reunion, strategic chutzpah, ethical cannibalism, personal advice from George Clooney, biblical slavery, the lingering lessons of ephemeral self-experimentation, and much more.

#211: A.J. Jacobs: Self-Experimenter Extraordinaire


  • Connect with A.J. Jacobs:

Personal Website | The Puzzler Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Why have A.J.’s kids lately deigned to show him a modicum of respect?
  • For most of his books, A.J. has a number of friends read the draft and offer suggestions for edits — what to cut and what to keep. Why was this usually sound strategy a bust for The Puzzler?
  • Why did A.J. abandon his next planned book midway and pivot to writing The Puzzler?
  • Is A.J. more of a George Plimpton or a Nellie Bly?
  • Why puzzles are worthwhile and not, as I once believed, frivolous time-wasters, and what happened when A.J. discovered he was a clue in world-famous The New York Times‘ crossword puzzle.
  • How does one compete in the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship? For that matter, how does someone who doesn’t really even like jigsaw puzzles wind up representing their whole country in one? What did A.J. and his hastily assembled Team USA learn about jigsaw diplomacy and strategy when they unwittingly became participants in this annual event?
  • What would “the Ironman triathlon for nerds” look like? A.J. reckons it would be something like an MIT puzzlehunt.
  • “Don’t get furious. Get curious.” Every problem or disagreement is just a puzzle in search of a solution.
  • A.J.’s writing process is strong on structure and outlining, but he likes to allow room for surprises. One of these surprises while penning The Puzzler: a decades-unsolved CIA puzzle sculpture called Kryptos.
  • On puzzle trolls, fabulous prizes, and what you can win if you solve one of A.J.’s designated puzzles in The Puzzler.
  • What makes a good puzzler (and why does A.J. consider himself a better puzzle solver than puzzle creator)? As an aside: A.J. shares the origin of the phrase “Think outside the box.”
  • Transferable ways we can apply our puzzle-solving skills to other areas, with examples from a preteen Gauss, British crosswords, tormenting jigsaw puzzles, and reverse-thought riddles.
  • What puzzles does A.J. consider to give the most bang for their buck? It all depends on what you’re hoping to retain from the act of doing them, but Japanese puzzle boxes take things to a whole new level.
  • The shadow side of puzzles that drive people mad: the Monty Hall problem, the Sleeping Beauty problem, and a puzzle A.J. commissioned that can’t be solved within the lifespan of the universe.
  • If researching and writing Thanks a Thousand imparted A.J. with a lifelong appreciation for gratitude, what residual takeaways from writing The Puzzler does A.J. predict will remain with him for years to come?
  • In what puzzle-oriented subculture would A.J. feel most at home?
  • Obsessed with puzzles? Beware the perils of apophenia.
  • According to A.J., the hardest corn maze in the world is run by a sadist in Vermont. What has this sadist learned about human nature during the time he’s spent observing people trying to escape from this maze?
  • On puzzle creation epicenters, Gary Kasparov, and how chess puzzles differ from chess games.
  • How do puzzles pertain to the meaning of life?
  • Parting thoughts.


“Little puzzles like crosswords and logic or secret codes, they’re just ways to help you come up with strategies to solve the big problems in life. So little puzzles help you with the big puzzles.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“I did not love jigsaws until this project. And now I have tremendous respect for jigsaws, which is all about flexible thinking.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“Gratitude and curiosity to me are two amazing forces.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“If I’m talking to someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum, instead of seeing it as a debate, a war of words, I try to see it as a puzzle that we can try to solve together. What do we really believe? What [are] our real differences and how can we overcome them? Is there any evidence I can present to him or her to make her change her mind? How do we solve this puzzle?”
— A.J. Jacobs

“You have to be a little sadistic to be a great puzzler, and I don’t have it in me. So I stick with the masochism of doing puzzles.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“Getting caught in a mental rut is the enemy of coming up with good solutions.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“Another big theme of puzzles, I think, is don’t trust your gut. I am very wary of my gut. I feel my gut is an idiot, especially when it comes to matters of probability.”
— A.J. Jacobs

“Part of the meaning of life is the search for the meaning of life.”
— A.J. Jacobs


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

“Recover and Get Pregnant Naturally” – Danielle Sheriff
Duke Gusion: The Demon of Foresight and Social Elevation
Unlocking True Healing: An Interview with Jonalyn Greene on Overcoming Adversity and Embracing Holistic Wellness
Seth Godin and Dr. Sue Johnson (#747)
Awakening the Inner Divine with Igor Kufayev, Spiritual Luminary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *