Crossing swords with crosswordese!

In the past, I’ve written about crosswordese, nemesis and irritant to many crossword solvers and constructors. For the uninitiated, crosswordese is shorthand for any and all obscure or curious words that you only encounter in crossword grids. From EPEE and OONA to Greek letters (ETA, RHO) and French rivers (AARE), these killer crossings are the bane of any solver’s existence.

And wouldn’t you know it, I encountered some crosswordese in a most unexpected place.

I was reading Patricia Marx’s book Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties, a humorous look at the common fear that our mental acuity declines as we get older. In the book, Marx references numerous ways she’s noted her brain working less efficiently than it used to, and she hilariously chronicles her attempts to combat this and keep her wits sharp.

As part of her ongoing efforts, she even created a crossword grid utilizing only tough crossword entries.

Her puzzle featured some truly great, funny clues, like “The side of the ship you want to be on if you don’t want your hair to get messed up” for ALEE and “No matter how bad your memory is, this is something to remember” for ALAMO.

While I wouldn’t count every entry in her grid as crosswordese, there were plenty of major offenders on her list. (You can check out the full puzzle in her book!)

And this gave me an idea. I would try my hand at creating my own 9×9 grid, composed entirely of crosswordese, utilizing some of the words from her list and some from lists submitted by fellow puzzlers.

[Forgive my nonstandard grid. I tried to go for the same homemade charm as Marx’s grid. Feel free to print out this post and try it out!]

ACROSS

1. Toward shelter, to salty types
3. Arrow poison OR how a child might describe their belly button in writing
5. Flightless bird OR Zeus’s mother
6. Hireling or slave
8. “Kentucky Jones” actor OR response akin to “Duh”
9. Compass dir. OR inhabitant’s suffix
12. Wide-shoe width OR sound of an excited squeal
15. No longer working, for short OR soak flax or hemp
16. Like a feeble old woman OR anagram of a UFO pilot
17. Actress Balin OR Pig ____ poke

DOWN

1. Mean alternate spelling for an eagle’s nest
2. Old-timey exclamation
3. Unnecessarily obscure French river or part of the Rhone-Alpes region
4. Supplement OR misspelling of a popular cat from a FOX Saturday morning cartoon
7. Maui goose
10. An abbreviated adjective covering school K through 12 OR how you might greet a Chicago railway
11. My least favorite example of crosswordese OR good and mad
12. Ornamental needlecase
13. Movie feline OR “Frozen” character
14. Shooting marble OR abbreviation for this missing phrase: “truth, justice, and ____”

Did you conquer this crosswordese-riddled grid? And what’s your least favorite example of crosswordese? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Puzzles and Brain Health

There is a lot of talk nowadays about brain boosting and other attempts to combat the effects of aging on the brain. There are numerous websites and products boasting that they can help keep your wits sharp, your memory keen, and the threat of Alzheimer’s at bay.

From visual acuity and perception to coordination, critical thinking to spatial reasoning, from observational skill to improved memory, there are a lot of promises being made about brain health.

Unfortunately, there’s a wealth of conflicting and inconsistent data out there. (This article by The New York Times points out some of the inconsistencies in brain health reporting when it comes to puzzles.)

From a recent NPR article:

Molly Wagster, chief of the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch at the National Institute on Aging, studies how puzzles can benefit brains. “What we know is that it probably makes us better at puzzle solving, but it may not necessarily make us better at other types of cognitive activities,” Wagster explains.

However, in general, experts agree that puzzle solving is good for us. But what puzzles do the most good, and when should you start solving?

I’ve done my best to comb through the available data — both through reports from news sources and scientific papers themselves — and there’s one thing that they all seem to agree on…

Start puzzling when you’re young.

A study by the University of Chicago said that children who play with jigsaws and other shape-based puzzles at a young age tend to develop better spatial and math-related skills.

And there are other studies that support the idea that a fundamental base of puzzling at a young age contributes to better brain health later in life.

A study at Berkeley published in the Archives of Neurology (and covered by CBS News) found a correlation between crossword puzzle solving (and other challenging mind games) and a decreased likelihood to develop a particular marker for Alzheimer’s disease.

This study also said that when you engage in these activities is a factor. Like the University of Chicago study, the Berkeley study states that adults who engaged in crosswords and similarly brain-stimulating activities in their early and middle years had the lowest amount of these markers.

There is plenty of data to suggest that crosswords and other associative puzzles can have unexpected brain health benefits.

My friend Jake had major brain surgery years ago, and part of his post-surgery recovery consisted of solving crosswords. It was considered excellent speech/occupational therapy, and he sought out more crosswords post-recovery.

(This article from The New York Times discusses in detail another example of the curious relationship between crosswords, memory, and post-surgery treatment.)

But what about those who’ve come to puzzles later in life? Are all the promises made by those websites and brain-boosting products possible?

It depends on the puzzle. There are plenty of puzzles that are great at exercising various brain functions and observational skill, but there’s precious little scientific data to back up whether these games and puzzles actually help with memory retention or other faculties challenged by age.

But a recent article by Dr. Rob Winningham suggests that certain types of puzzle solving are more beneficial than others.

Crossword puzzles involve getting a cue and then attempting to retrieve previously learned information, which is something that people with age related cognitive impairment and even early to mid stage dementia can do fairly well.

Age related changes in cognition and earlier stages of dementia are primarily associated with impairments in the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and make new memories; crossword puzzles don’t really exercise those abilities, but Sudoku puzzles do.

According to Dr. Winningham, the heavy demand Sudoku puzzles place on concentration and active attention-keeping — especially when solved with distractions like television or conversation in the mix — exercise those parts of the brain associated with the formation of new memories, encouraging better memory retention and other mental faculties so many solvers of all ages want to keep in top condition.

While there’s still more research to be done to narrow down exactly what puzzles are best for your brain in the long term, there’s no denying that puzzle solving is always a healthy decision.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our puzzle apps and iBooks, play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!