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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Is Your Brain Puzzled?

It is important to keep your brain active while you are going through chemotherapy. We all get “chemo brain,” and it’s especially true if you tumor has set up camp in your neuro region. My speech therapist encouraged me to do word puzzles (crosswords, fill-in, wordsearch . . .) in multiple platforms. One benefit of doing a crossword on paper is that you are exercising multiple parts of your brain. The cerebral cortex manages speech and reading comprehension. Another part of your brain controls the mobility of your hand while you write.

I love old-school puzzles in the newspaper or a book, but phone and tablet apps help my help me utilize another part of the brain. Isn’t it ironic? (cue Alanis Morissette). Here are a apps you can download for free on your smartphone or tablet.

  • Wordsearch: The app is pretty straight forward. You get a list of words that grouped by categories. The puzzle get more challenging the more you play the game.
  • Word Swipe:
  • The puzzles in Word Swipe are also categorized by theme, such as world landmarks, 1960’s pop culture, and famous authors. Every day there is a famous quote to decipher, and it’s a great way to learn about history/geology.

  • Memorama: This is a basic memory game. You turn cards over to find a match. It’s as easy as that.
  • Onet Connect and Onnect: Both of these game require you to find matching pictures. They’re different that Memorama because the pictures are face-up and you have to able to connect the pictures with just three lines. Onet Connect shows the same pictures each level, but the tiles start to move around. Onnect is similar, but the pictures change every level. You can replay the same level to increase the speed of your matching. I like to play the levels at least three or four times before I move onto the next level.

Video games can also exercise your mind.

  • I love Big Brain Academy for Wii. It has several memory games, as well multiple visual recognition puzzles. The utilize five types of learning: math, memory, matching, visual. You can play the game alone to build up strength. You can also play with multiple players to encourage a sense of competition.
  • Tetris a great throwback to the 1980’s is also available on Wii and the Amazon Firestick. This game utilizes space recognition and logic. You have to think about how different moves will set you up for future moves. It’s fun to play solo, or with a partner.
  • There are games to download to your phone or tablet that are similar to Tetris. 1010!, Flow Free, and Unblock Me both focus on block placement.
  • I change back and forth between games so that I don’t get bored. Think about going to the gym, or preparing for a marathon. Different types of physical exercise focus on specific parts of your body. Wee should take care of our brain as much as we tend to the rest of the body.

    I hope these tips can help you maintain your brain, your body, and emotional strength healthy are you travel through your cancer treatment. And if you don’t have cancer, we all need to keep our brains in check. So keep a puzzle on hand – even if it’s an old school paperback puzzle. There’s still value in the classic forms of reading.

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