PRO­FES­SIONAL PUZZLERS RE­VEAL THEIR SE­CRETS

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - Mind -

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.

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