Puzzling Words

The COVID crisis has unintentionally sparked a trend for people to exercise at home, rather than at a gym. My dog has started to expect three trips to the park, even though he has easy access to our yard. My partner is obsessed with the number of steps he takes each day. Me – I’m focused on keeping my brain active.

Crossword puzzles are one of my favorite types of exercise. I do 2-3 crossword puzzles each day. I write down words I don’t know and look them up in the dictionary. Why? Because crossword authors regularly use the same clues in different puzzles. I like expanding my vocabulary. I also like training my memory so that I can recognize the words when I see them.

I use a similar strategy for word search puzzles. I try to focus on two or three letters of the word while examine the puzzle. What letters are the least common? Are there double letters in the word? It’s easier for me to find small parts, rather than the full word. If I get frustrated, I move onto another word so that I don’t get caught up focusing on something that blocks my focus. I can always come back to that word when I’m finished with the other words on the list.

Fill-In puzzles are fun, too. They’re a mix of crossword clues and word search in the sense that you have all of the words; you just have to use some logic to discover where they fit in the grid. I start by filling in one section at a time, focusing on the longest words first. I look at connecting words to see if they match up with each other. Just like crosswords and word search puzzles, I can see words that are often on the list. It’s a good memory exercise.
My speech therapist taught me that it’s okay to look in the back of the puzzle book to verify my answers. It’s not “cheating.” It’s a way to get started on the puzzle without getting frustrated.

I hope you develop the same sense of entertainment for word puzzles that I have. I can carry a puzzle book in my purse so that I can do mental exercises while I’m waiting for the bus, or sitting in a lobby waiting for an appointment. Word puzzles are also a great way to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a scone. Your brain needs just as much exercise as the rest of your body. Have fun, and keep your brain working!

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