Engage Your Mind: Crossword Puzzles and Mental Fitness

Short-term memory lapses are common as we age. You might find it unnerving to forget essential details like the last four digits of your Social Security number. And it’s even more frustrating when you can’t recall it while silently reciting the entire number. A friend recently shared a similar experience and mentioned taking up crossword puzzles as a form of mental exercise. It’s a popular recommendation to fend off Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline. I enthusiastically endorsed this idea, being an avid crossword enthusiast myself. My crossword journey spans nearly half a century, with the New York Times puzzles being a beloved companion.

The Power of Mental Challenges

Engaging in mental challenges has been advocated as a way to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Crossword puzzles, in particular, offer an enjoyable way to keep your brain sharp. My addiction to crosswords began five decades ago when I first encountered the iconic New York Times daily and Sunday puzzles.

Special Crossword Moments

Crossword aficionados often share memorable moments related to their puzzle-solving adventures. I recounted two such moments. The first occurred during a flight to San Diego, right after airlines banned smoking on board. As a heavy smoker, I feared the seven-hour deprivation until landing. Crossword puzzles came to the rescue, diverting my attention from my craving for cigarettes.

The second exceptional moment took place during a train ride to Manhattan, a daily routine. I usually completed the puzzle before reaching the city. However, on this particular day, the puzzle was exceptionally challenging. I continued wrestling with it throughout my journey. Upon arriving at our news office on the 16th floor, I was greeted by a frenzy of activity. My colleagues were abuzz with the news of Governor Rockefeller’s passing. My puzzle addiction had left me unaware of this significant development.

Crossword Evolution

Margaret Farrar, a brilliant woman, was the first to oversee the Times’ crossword puzzles. Her appointment marked a shift in the newspaper’s stance on crosswords. Initially, the Times dismissed them as a “primitive form of mental exercise.” It wasn’t until two decades after puzzles’ inception in New York papers that the Times embraced them. However, when the Times finally acknowledged the enjoyment and value of crosswords, it quickly surged ahead of its competitors in terms of cleverness and complexity.

The Legacy of Gene Maleska

Gene Maleska, the third person to oversee the Times’ crossword section, corresponded with me after I shared my crossword stories. He passed away not long after our exchange, depriving his readers and solvers of these tales. The benefits of keeping the brain active, whether through crossword puzzles, card games, or other cognitive activities, are undeniable. They can help maintain mental agility and ward off cognitive decline. However, moderation is key to ensure that these activities don’t become overwhelming obsessions.

The Wider Benefits of Mental Exercise

Mental exercise is not limited to crossword puzzles. Activities like card games, chess, or engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations can also help maintain cognitive function. These endeavors serve as workouts for your brain, akin to sending it to the gym for a rigorous session.

Crossword Puzzles as an Intellectual Pursuit

What was once ridiculed as a mindless pastime has evolved into a cherished intellectual pursuit. Crossword puzzles are no longer viewed as mere distractions; they are valuable tools for keeping the mind sharp and engaged.

Crossword puzzles are not just a pastime; they are a means of keeping the brain active and vibrant. These puzzles can be a delightful and intellectually stimulating daily ritual. So, challenge your mind, enjoy solving crosswords, and stay sharp—just remember to strike a balance between mental exercise and life’s other pleasures. Whether you choose to embark on a crossword adventure or explore other cognitive activities, keep your mind in shape and embrace the benefits of lifelong mental fitness.