Date: Feb. 23, 2003
Byline: Mary-Kathryn Craft
Tease Your Brain With PuzzlesFiguring out the clue for No. 5 down on a crossword puzzle could could be just as invigorating for your brain as a quick jog around the block is for your body.
Puzzles, word searches, scrambles and other games have long been popular entertainment, but there's more than fun to these mind bending activities. "There's an old saying: If you don't use it, you lose it," said Billy Hills, Coastal Carolina University associate professor of psychology and director of gerontology. "You need to have stimulation to keep those areas active. What the crosswords will do to some extent is to force you to think about things you otherwise wouldn't think about."
In fact, working puzzles, playing cards, or reading books could even help prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to a recent National Institutes of Health study. Scientists aren't sure what the exact link between brain teasing activities and the disease is, but one theory explains that mentally stimulating exercises protect the brain from decline.
The health benefits are a nice bonus, but puzzle lovers turn to the brain games for fun, fellowship and a chance to conquer a challenge.
"It's you against the puzzle creator. For a lot of people, it's the satisfaction that you work at something for a while and get the answer," said Katherine Bryant, editor of "The Enigma," the monthly magazine of the National Puzzlers' League.
Anne Lombardo of Myrtle Beach, who has been playing Scrabble since it was unveiled in 1948, turns to the game as a social outlet. She plays weekly with the Scrabble Club at the Grand Strand Senior Center.
"I enjoy playing with the people," she said. "We've made friends, but it's also stimulating. Most of us are seniors, but we are sharp."
Puzzle lovers take pleasure in language, words, numbers and what you can do when looking at them in new ways, said Bryant, who's tested her skills at the mother of all puzzle contests - the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.
Division finalists at the tournament, which will be held next month in Connecticut, complete giant puzzles on white boards in front of an audience. Bryant made it to the finals in 1999 and won her division.
"I think in times when a lot of things aren't very stable in the world, having something that has a definite answer has some appeal," she said.