One of the biggest red flags of the aging process crops up when you find someone letting their mind go to seed. What’s worse that a stagnating mind? Nothing that I can think of (providing I can still think).
Some folks just assume that, once they’ve retired, they are no longer required to think. It’s an easy assumption to make, but I submit to you that your mental “self” is just like your other three “selves”: You’ve got to feed ‘em, nurture ‘em, exercise ‘em . . . and then put ‘em to use, lest they atrophy and put you into the worst of all circumstances: walking death.
The four “selves,” for those of you new to this post, are your mental, physical, social and spiritual selves. My theory on this is simple: To be a complete and wholly functional human bean—as opposed to a Lima bean or pinto bean—all four of those entities need to be alive and well, up-and-running at full capacity. Otherwise, you’re damaged goods, a wounded beast out there among the lions and tigers who feast on weakened, non-functioning critters.
Which brings us to mind games, the best means known for keeping the old brain pan at full strength. Doesn’t matter much which one you choose, do something that stretches your mental acuity. Watch “Jeopardy” and challenge the contestants with the awe-inspiring breadth of your knowledge. Do Sudoku and keep your numbers skills up to date. Do the crossword puzzle in your daily paper.
That’s my game, the crosswords. I love language and all that comes with it, especially word games. When phone caller asks if my wife is around, I invariably answer, “No, she’s a trapezoid.” (Sometimes they get it; many times they do not.)
Word games are a delightfully inherent part of the crosswords. I delight in the built-in puns. The other day, the answer to the clue “dead giveaway” was a will (as in one’s final testament). The “baby talk” theme clues in the Wall Street Journal recently were, in order, “Baby goat at rest,” “Person squealing on a baby lion to the authorities,” “Baby bird’s fridge adornment” and “Bodyguard for a baby elephant.” The answers, respectively, were, kidnapping, cub reporter, chick magnet and calf muscle. Hilarious, to my way of thinking.
What is most helpful in solving crossword puzzles is the ability to see patterns. When you see “ng” together, you can almost certainly figure there’s going to be an “i” just in front of that. When you see a “u” as the next to last letter, or a “p” as the last letter, something is definitely “up.” The letters “s,” “e,” and “d” are the most common final letters, so “seed” might be the ideal word for the bottom row of the across clues, or the right hand side for the down clues.
My failing is overthinking an answer. Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct answer. If the clue is “transmit,” the four-letter answer is almost certainly “send.” It has three of the most common final letters and, well, it’s obvious. When confronted with the clue “Green feature,” I was all over the place with ecologically-based answers . . . until it finally dawned on me that they were talking golf and that the answer was “hole.” Similarly, “err” is almost always the correct answer to “Do the wrong thing.” It just is.
To further the challenge, I do even the New York Times puzzles in ink. It forces me to slow down just a bit—entirely against my ADD/Aries nature—to check the cross-references before filling in my answer. Deliberation is not a quality that comes naturally or easily to me. I even, on occasion, do the far easier daily crossword in my head, without actually filling in the squares. That’s a real mind- and memory-stretcher. And memory may be the gift and capability most enhanced by mind games. Which is, if I recall correctly, why we do these exercises. Got to keep that mental self sharp, capable and useful.
©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle