It's almost the big day and people all over America are atwitter with anticipation for it. We're speaking not about Christmas, of course, but about Crossword Puzzle Day on December 21 (yes, it is a real thing). This day is recognized as the anniversary (this year, the 101st) of the day the New York World published the first modern crossword puzzle, as devised by Liverpool-born journalist Arthur Wynne.
Though Wynne was not the first person to devise a crossword-like puzzle (earlier, 19th Century versions called "word squares" were popular in Europe, but were not published in magazines and did not exhibit the now-familiar format), he was nonetheless the first person to publish one in a periodical.
Wynne's crossword, which can be seen and worked here, was diamond-shaped and did not include the blackened boxes in between open letter boxes, as we know crosswords have today. Clues were arranged not by 1-Across, 1-Down, but by the numbers between which the word to be guessed began and ended.
Wynne's puzzle was quite popular; by the end of the 1920s, the crossword puzzle had become a fixture of American newspapers and had begun appearing in, and confounding, readers of publications worldwide.
Crosswords and other word puzzles are excellent fitness tests for your brain.
One must use several areas of the brain to successfully complete a word puzzle, including the area responsible for storing linguistic information and vocabulary, the area responsible for fine motor skills like writing, the medial prefrontal cortex (responsible for memory) and the area that is responsible for spatial relations, which allows one to twist words this way and that and see how they interconnect when displayed graphically.
Besides the venerable crossword, other word puzzles and games can get your mind's juices flowing and help to keep you sharp. Here are just a few.
It may be a bit macabre, but this guessing word game for two or more people has been around for decades. A clue letter may be given, and empty spaces must be filled in by guessing a letter of the alphabet.
If the letter guessed isn't present in the mystery word, a part of a man hanging on a noose is drawn. If a player guesses the word before any other player, he or she wins. Likewise, if a complete stick figure man is drawn in the noose before the word can be guessed (head, body, two arms and two legs) all the players lose.
Hangman is a great game to play with young grandchildren, if simple words are used. For adults, to make it more challenging, use longer words or phrases and set a time limit for each player to guess within, a la Wheel of Fortune.
For those who are code at ciphering, decoding, or word games, cryptograms are an excellent way to spend a few minutes. A well known word, phrase, or quote is generally encoded such that one letter stands for another letter.
A clue letter, like A = F, might be given to start the player off, but thereafter the player must guess which letter stands for which in order to decode the message.
A player must look for letter frequency, repeating patterns of code (which can stand for double letters, common blended consonants or common consonant-vowel blends) and word sizes to discern which letters are which.
A favorite of kids and adults alike, the word search is a group of themed words are hidden among a grid of letters— forward, backward, horizontally, diagonally and vertically—then listed again out to the side of the grid. A player must find and circle as many of them as possible.
To make it challenging, try setting a time limit on yourself (five minutes, say) and developing a search pattern, such as looking for only one word-starting letter at a time and following each appearance of that letter in every direction as you scan the grid.
In a word jumble, a group of letters given to the player, who must then make as many words as he or she can from the available letters. People skilled in anagrams, or who enjoy the games Boggle, Quiddler and Scrabble, particularly love word jumbles. A free online variant, called Text Twist, is available here.
This Crossword Puzzle Day, take a seat and stretch your brain over a few word games.
They're an excellent, non-strenuous and fun way for seniors (even those who suffer mobility issues and cannot participate in more physically-demanding activities) to keep alert and active. They can also be a great way to spend meaningful time, and have fun, with your grandchildren. You'll be doing honor to old Arthur Wynne and his puzzle, giving your memory a good workout and helping to keep your brain fitness level at maximum.