Sunday, July 16, 2006

WordPlay: the Movie

I found WordPlay just plain fun, very much like the NY Times crossword puzzles that are the center of attraction here. The movie was short, crisp, amusing, and interesting. The clips of President Clinton, the Indigo Girls, and Jon Stewart, among others, added texture.

I also know the thinking by researchers on crossword puzzles. There's been a huge surge in interest in them in part because people think they help keep the brain fit. But many scientists have looked at crossword puzzles over time and come to the conclusion that the cognitive skills needed are so one-dimensional that the brain is really not worked very much at all. But there have been some studies in which crossword puzzles did increase the probabilities of keeping sharp throughout life by 41% compared to reading at 35%, and dancing and interactive games from 69-76%, if participation was at least four times/week. In other words, the more we spend time on mentally stimulating tasks, the greater the probability that our brains will continue to be quick and agile. Scientists have dismissed crossword puzzles in the past because they are typically just memory coding exercises that don't translate to much else. Once the player knows the author's style, it's an even smaller memory finding subset.

But the NY Times puzzles have got to be different, especially Saturday's and Sunday's. I note that the study cited above was in the NYC area. Maybe those study participants---oh, well, you know where I'm going with this. But, really, these puzzles require deductive thinking, grasping an overall theme, and , OK, yes, calling up puzzle memory but also large doses of general cultural knowledge memory not to mention good visual scanning skills. Typically, exercises that use multiple cognitive skills at once are the ones that make a difference in brain fitness. I think the NY Times puzzles qualify.

But mostly, they're fun. And we all know less stress is good for every part of us, including our brains.

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