For many people, the crossword is a daily ritual. Some consider the puzzle an essential component of their mornings, treating it like a vitamin for the brain. Others think of the puzzle as a quick escape from the day’s demands. And a few, like late actress Olivia de Havilland, fantasize about the perfect evening spent completing a crossword.
Famous crossworders include Bill Clinton, Yo-Yo Ma, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Kate Hudson, Dustin Hoffman, and Sting.
My Crossword Journey…
Twenty years ago, I faced several family and personal health challenges. While spending time in waiting rooms, I craved an activity that would keep my mind occupied for short bursts of time. Crossword puzzles were the ideal solution during those stressful days.
When the stress abated, I found myself unable to let go of my daily “date” with the crossword. I was pleased with the sense of accomplishment I experienced each day, and I also believed (and still believe) that doing crosswords will help keep my brain young.
Not everyone in the medical community agrees with the health benefits of crosswords. In his recent release, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out that crossword puzzles can improve the ability to remember and retrieve information. But their benefits do not extend to brain functions like reasoning and problem solving, both of which are key to building cognitive reserve. He does concede that keeping an active mind can help reduce a decline in thinking skills, and for some people, doing crossword puzzles is a way to do that.
I have noticed that several crossworders in my circle (and I include myself) have also taken other steps to help prevent memory loss. We read voraciously, attend lectures and author events, and sign up for courses and workshops.
Tips for Solving Crossword Puzzles
- Use a pencil. This will allow you to guess at different possibilities and not give up too quickly. Mistakes can be simply erased.
- Skim the ACROSS and DOWN clues, and zero in on the easy answers. At least ten percent of each crossword can be completed quickly.
- Check off each clue that you solve. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and allow you to focus on the remaining clues.
- Become familiar with crosswordese, those short three- and four-letter words that puzzle constructors love to use. Some examples include eke, oreo, idea, area, olio, and idea.
- Look for clues written in plural form. Using your pencil, write an S at the end of each grid entry. Often (but not always), the S will be correct.
- Note the parts of speech in the clues. The answers will call for the same endings: ED, EST, or ING. Insert these endings into the grid entries.
- Work with the intersections. If you are stumped by the ACROSS clue, look at the DOWN clue for hints.
- Take a break if the puzzle starts to feel like work. The answers may come more quickly once you’ve taken a breather.
- Don’t be afraid to use outside resources. Looking up answers in a dictionary, atlas, thesaurus, or the Internet is not cheating. You are learning something new and will likely reuse that information in a future puzzle. I like to keep a copy of The New Comprehensive A-Z Crossword Dictionary on hand. If I’m really stumped, I will visit Crossword Heaven on the Internet.