What crosswords have taught me

I’m a huge proponent of puzzles not just being fun, but being great for the brain as well. There are numerous studies (and PuzzleNation blog posts) touting the ways that certain puzzles can keep you sharp and perhaps even stave off developmental issues later in life.

Whether it’s crosswords helping with retrieval of previously learned information or Sudoku exercising your concentration, attention, and formation of new memories, puzzles are good brain food.

[Please note that I am making no promises about potential health benefits of our puzzles; I’m simply reporting on the results of certain studies regarding puzzles and brain health. The jury is definitely still out on this subject.]

And then there are the curious facts and new words we learn simply by solving crosswords and other puzzles.

In the decade plus that I’ve been constructing and editing puzzles, I’ve encountered all sorts of strange vocabulary and interesting trivia that wouldn’t have crossed my path in other fields.

Through proper crossword cluing and fact-checking, I’ve learned the difference between Inuit and Eskimo (and why they are not interchangeable). I’ve learned which Hawaiian islands the nene calls home.

I now know that cows are fed magnets in order to cope with the random bits of wire and other metals that they unintentionally swallow. A puzzle about rationing during World War II taught me that an ordinary piano contains enough steel, copper wire, and brass to make a dozen bayonets, a corps radio, and sixty-six thirty-caliber cartridges.

My Latin has certainly improved from years of studying word etymologies. Did you know that “ita erat quando hic adveni” is Latin for “it was like that when I got here?” That’s a handy phrase to have in your back pocket.

Heck, I now know how pineapples grow because of crosswords. How cool is that?

And it doesn’t stop there.

Crosswords provoke your curiosity and lead you down unexpected avenues of thought. Crossword clues cause you to ask questions you probably never would otherwise, like “Is ‘L.A. Law’ two words or three?” or “Is ‘bat-signal’ hyphenated?”

(Both of those are actual topics of discussion for puzzles of mine in the past.)

What sorts of interesting facts and weird vocabulary have crosswords introduced you to, fellow puzzlers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about it!

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