PROFESSIONAL PUZZLERS REVEAL THEIR SECRETS
or professional puzzler Kate Mepham, her days brim with crosswords to create, checking algorithm-generated sudokus and coordinating other puzzle contributors. “Most days, I need to take time out from using my brain as it is too alert and too switched on; like a million light bulbs lit up at once,” she says.
Just as compiling crosswords keeps Mepham’s brain razorsharp, it can have a similar effect on those who complete them regularly. A 2017 UK study found the more regularly people report doing word puzzles, the better their brain function in later life. And while there is much debate about whether puzzles can stave off conditions such as Alzheimer’s, the consensus is that anything that challenges the grey matter is worthwhile, be it taking up a new language or instrument.
Mepham says her years compiling crosswords and the other puzzles like codewords have helped her cognition no end. She tries to learn a new fact or skill every day – like memorising the names of capital cities or a new recipe – and suggests everyone does the same.
Wellbeing is also an important aspect of her life. Each day she switches ‘screen space’ for ‘green space’; and after a busy day, Mepham and her husband will go out on their bikes. “It really clears the head,” she says.
She drinks limited caffeine and alcohol, follows a plant-based diet and often finishes her day on the yoga mat. Making time to socialise with friends who share her interest in dogs, gardening, cooking and reading is also important.
Here’s how other professional puzzlers keep their thinking gear in tip-top shape... Chris Lancaster, puzzles editor and cryptic-crossword compiler Train your brain while doing normal everyday things. One of my favourites: add up the cost of items in your supermarket trolley as you go around. When you pay, if you are within a certain amount of the actual cost of your haul, you can have a treat from your shopping as a reward.
Another favourite is to open the day’s newspaper towards the middle, where you get multiple small-news stories per page, and then give yourself 30 seconds to memorise as many headlines as you can. Then go away, make yourself a hot drink and then try to write down all the ones you can remember before checking how many you get right. John Halpern, cryptic-crossword compiler I keep my brain sharp by running marathons. You don’t have to go that far, but it helps! When running, one’s body is being stretched and is following a rhythmic pattern. Prompted by passing images of street signs, many wordplay ideas come to mind. Start looking for wordplay in everything you see.; spin words around, like making ‘desserts’ into ‘stressed’. Make anagrams of people’s names (for example, Meg Ryan becoming Germany or Usain Bolt becoming ablutions). Have fun. Make words out of car numberplates. The way to get good at anything is to keep practising. And don’t be afraid to fail; it’s completely OK to fail. Use mnemonics and rhymes to remember a task Try not to use a list when doing the shopping Use mental arithmetic instead of a calculator Dr Barry R Clarke, logic-puzzles compiler Try giving private tutorials in a subject you’re skilled at. Organising and presenting the material in an order that someone else can understand is a wonderful exercise in logic.