Do you reserve your Saturday afternoons for the brain fitness promised by crossword puzzles?
If not, congratulations. That could be a wise decision.
But for over 50 million people, crossword puzzles are a part of their daily lives.
And they think it’s helping them.
In fact, there’s a pernicious myth out there.
One that is generally assumed by far too many people who hope, wish and pray that doing word puzzles regularly can help keep your brain young and active.
Many people also believe that the health benefits of crossword puzzles can even keep Alzheimer’s or dementia at bay.
The question is…
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Why Do People Believe These Crazy Things About Crossword Puzzles?
Here’s one reason:
Many consider crossword puzzles to be the pastime of the intelligent and knowledgeable people – a connection that we are only too happy to have.
Playing word games may legitimately improve your vocabulary.
Then again, so will developing your own mind as the perfect vocabulary builder (our focus on this YouTube playlist):
The idea that crossword puzzles will develop your memory is true enough.
For some people, at least.
Here’s Who Really Benefits From The Memory And
Brain Fitness Benefits Of Crossword Puzzles
Can you guess who gets the most bang for their buck in the crossword universe?
The answer is simple:
The people who design crossword puzzles – the cruciverbalists – experience the ultimate benefits.
As dedicated logophiles, crossword puzzle designers love using obscure words whenever and wherever they can.
And because they’re the architects of these games, they’re the ones most likely to remember the words they’ve enjoyed building into them.
To give a parallel example, it’s kind of like how songwriters find it easier than anyone else to remember the lyrics they’ve penned.
When Did We First Get Hooked on Crosswords:
A Fascinating History
The crossword – a standard feature in newspapers across the globe – celebrated its hundredth birthday on December 21, 2013.
And it’s still going strong!
However, when journalist Arthur Wynne invented and printed the first ever “word-cross” puzzle in the New York World newspaper on December 21, 1913, it was hardly met with much fanfare.
An editorial in The New York Times published on November 17, 1924 called crossword puzzles “a primitive sort of mental exercise” and a “sinful waste” of time.
The craze of word puzzles spread after publishing firm of Simon & Schuster launched its career in 1924 with a book of puzzles. This was the same year when the World published its first daily crossword puzzle.
Years later, the puzzle’s success surprised Wynne:
“… all I did was take an old idea as old as language and modernize it by the introduction of black squares,” he said in 1925. “I’m glad to have had a hand in it, and no one is more surprised at its amazing popularity” (Lynn J. Feigenbaum, Crosswords at a Crossroad, The Puzzle Turns 100. What is the clue to its Survival?).
Wynne was inspired by ancient word squares – where words read the same across and down.
Wynne also took inspiration from another puzzle, the acrostic – in which sets of letters (such as the initial or final letters of the lines) taken in order form a word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet.
Ultimately, the current format with its compact square diagram of white spaces and black bars, with connected across and down words, and numbered clues became popular.
The Addiction Theory Of Why We Love Crossword Puzzles
Word puzzles are not only fun, but immensely satisfying as every crossword problem has that one perfect solution – the feeling of perfection we miss in our everyday lives and seek through art, literature and now the Internet.
There’s also an almost addictive pleasure to finally finishing a puzzle.
Why is that?
Recall that ‘aha’ moment when you finally get that elusive word or phrase solution. Moments like those confirm, even if it’s only to yourself, how knowledgeable, smart and well-informed you are.
That’s A Heady Feeling!
Yet, therein lies part of the problem:
Isn’t it really the case that solving crosswords is the opposite of quest for knowledge?
When you think about it, crossword puzzles are kind of like a quest for confirmation. A journey to confirm that you are knowledgeable in a way that gives your brain that addictive high of accomplishment.
Some people have even called the crossword a sort of geometric Rorschach test, a kind of psychological experience that reflects the human need to solve a mystery.
Want to Know The Real Story?
In reality, crosswords encourage you to give up on things you don’t immediately know. For instance, if you don’t know a particular word linked to a clue …
You don’t know it!
And here’s the kicker…
Even if you did research to find the answer, would you remember it over the long term?
The amount of time the average person spends actually challenging their mind is questionable.
Because we usually know when we don’t know something.
As a result, we stop right there.
The instant our lack of knowledge becomes clear…
If the original motive to complete a crossword was to develop your brain, stopping the instant you feel challenged is as good as cheating.
Why Is Crossword Cheating Bad For The Brain?
When it comes to playing word games, we find an imbalance between frustration and challenge.
The frustration is often too strong. It overrides the fun of challenges that propel you forward throughout the puzzle without creating barriers that make you want to quit.
Or worse, cheat and look up the answer without submitting yourself to much of a challenge in the first place.
The Stimulating Benefits Of Working With Crosswords
All’s not lost though…
While the research results in this area are mixed, some studies have found doing crosswords can actually stimulate the brain.
A study of 488 elderly people by researchers at Department of Neurosciences, University of California San Diego found that solving crossword puzzles delayed the onset of accelerated memory decline by 2.54 years.
It was not all good news, however. Check this out:
Once mental decline sets in, the deterioration is usually rapid. However, some findings suggest that word puzzles did help delay the onset of dementia.
For example, researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London analysed data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over. They found that the more regularly people did crosswords, the better their brain functioned in later life.
According to their results, people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to ten years younger than their age, on tests of grammatical reasoning speed and short term memory accuracy.
But There’s A Catch…
And It’s A BIG One…
“It is essential that we find out what lifestyle factors really make a difference to helping people maintain healthy brains to stop the soaring rise of the disease (dementia). We can’t yet say that crosswords give you a sharper brain — the next step is to assess whether encouraging people to start playing word games regularly could actually improve their brain function.”
This quote is from Clive Ballard, Professor of Age-Related Diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.
Basically what he’s saying is that the results don’t really demonstrate that crossword puzzles help. There are too many competing factors to tell.
To make things even more confusing, check this out:
According to Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research of Alzheimer’s Society:
“This new research does reveal a link between word puzzles, like crosswords, and memory and thinking skills, but we can’t say definitively that regular ‘puzzling’ improves these skills.”
He recommends “keeping physically active, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy balanced diet” to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
What Are We Supposed To Conclude From These Confusing Contradictions?
Well, for one thing, these researchers are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are saying that “yes, solving puzzles helps” on the one hand, “but it probably really doesn’t” on the other.
Which is it?
It’s Not all Fun and Games When it Comes to Helping Your Brain
(And It Doesn’t Need To Be)
If only games could help you gain brain power!
While crosswords can be fun and satisfying, after the first dozen or so puzzles, the activity doesn’t offer enough variety or difficulty to engage your whole brain.
And as suggested, the temptation to skip over the challenging parts or cheat is so high that the actual amount of exercise you’re receiving is highly questionable.
And because of this high capacity for cheating and giving up that crossword puzzles invite, many people are actually not experiencing the ingredient that matters.
The Key Rule:
What Matters Most for a Healthy Brain
The key to a vibrant, healthy brain includes challenge and novelty. Doing only crosswords will help you get really good at solving crossword puzzles but nothing more.
This is because brain games can primarily improve the specific function that it is being trained for.
A 1999 study found that being more experienced in doing crossword puzzles didn’t offset the effects of aging when it came to mental tests of vocabulary and reasoning.
Moreover, the study revealed that success in solving crossword puzzles largely appeared to be a function of the amount of knowledge the individual already had, with little or no contribution of reasoning ability.
An independent panel set up by the National Institutes of Health also concluded that there is “no evidence of even moderate scientific quality” that exercise, drugs, dietary supplements or increased social engagement, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
I can’t emphasize this enough.
Research also states that any positive effects of being proficient in crossword solving does not elevate frontal lobe brain functions like decision-making, planning and judgment – functions that allow us to carry out our daily lives.
Moreover, just like physical exercise, when you stop doing the mental workouts, your brain loses the immediate gains.
How Crossword Puzzles Work For Kids Vs Adults
Surprisingly, solving crossword puzzles can build confidence and poise in school kids. This was the result found during a project presented to the Faculty of the School of Education, The University of Southern California.
The project also found that solving puzzles can also help young people learn to concentrate, develop systematic work habits and build the ability to recognize and deal with various problems.
Moreover, according to the report, puzzles with their natural inference to games, can stimulate children’s interest. (Robert Louis Ramsdell, Educational Use of Crossword Puzzles for Elementary Schools)
A Better Way to Improve Your Brain and Get Smarter
One quick and easy way to make you smarter is to address people by name every time you see them and dialing frequently from memory rather than using speed dial.
If you are looking for a complete brain workout try this brain fitness method…
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Memory improvement training should always be linked to memorizing information that will immediately improve your life.
And that’s at the core of Magnetic Memory Method.
When you build Memory Palaces the Magnetic Memory Method way it lets you measure your memory improvement activities.
Why Is This Important?
Because tracking your outcomes leads to rapid improvement.
You not only get to remember the information faster, but also get predictable and reliable permanence that grows in strength each time you use the Magnetic Memory Method.
All other memory techniques including playing crossword puzzles can be used inside of Memory Palaces.
But this never takes place the other way around (For example, you can’t use Memory Palaces inside of the Major Method the way you can use the Major Method inside of Memory Palaces.)
The Real Value Of The Crossword Puzzle
Crossword puzzles do have a value – but these ultimately amount to being little more than recreational in nature.
At the most, if you can solve a puzzle, you know your brain is still pretty much intact. But whether your brain is getting stronger and sharper, the more puzzles you solve, is a matter of opinion.
The undebatable fact remains that using Memory Palaces the Magnetic Memory Method way can help you see some real improvement in your brain’s problem solving faculties.
It not only stimulates your brain, it also helps move information into long term memory faster and with predictable and reliable permanence.
So, let’s get started playing the games that truly help. (Hint: It’s using the Memory Palace to learn and remember anything forever!)
Are you in?