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Mind the winter

                                       January 2011  

 

Mind the winter

Mind gamesOur brains are just amazing. They are made up of around 100 billion nerve cells and each of these cells is connected to around 10,000 others – and so it goes on.

Keeping all this in good working order deserves some time and attention, and what better time than the dark winter evenings to enjoy fun mental challenges such as crosswords and brain games to help keep the brain active and fit.

Crosswords used to be pretty well the only mental game readily available for everyone. The very first crossword puzzle is said to have been put together by an American, Arthur Wynne, in 1913. His effort was published in the New York World newspaper in December of that year but it was very different from the crosswords we tackle today. That first crossword was in a diamond shape, with a hole in the centre, and there were no black filler spaces. But it was an instant success and crosswords have gone on to become an accepted part of many people’s lives, from the hugely challenging cryptic crosswords to general knowledge crosswords and a whole range of crosswords on other specialised subjects.

Rubik’s Cube is another hugely popular mental exercise, and it is thanks to Hungarian Erno Rubik that we can today grapple with this challenging nightmare. It was while he was working as a professor at the Academy of Applied Arts and Design in Budapest that he decided to design some puzzles to help his students think in a new way about three dimensional geometry.

Sudoku is a recent phenomenon here in the UK but originated two centuries ago, not from Japan as most people think, but from Switzerland. Here 18th century Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler developed a concept of “Latin Squares” where numbers in a grid appear only once, across and up and down. In the 1970s, this same concept was published in Dell Magazines in America under the name Number Place. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1980s when the modern version of Sudoku really took off, after the president of the Japanese puzzle giant Nikoli Inc suggested the company publish a restricted version of the game. Su means number in Japanese and Doku refers to the single place the number can fit into. Two decades later the game was taken up by The times in London as a daily puzzle and it soon became a craze across the west.

Today the range of puzzles and challenges to keep us mentally alert is endless. Most newspapers and magazines print whole competition and puzzle sections that will keep us thinking all week and on-line there is an enormous range of “brain games” available. Many of these are interactive adding sound and movement for additional entertainment and challenges.

Some of the old traditional ideas are also coming back into vogue. Bridge used to be a really popular activity among a wide range of ages, demanding high levels of concentration, memory and thought. It went out of fashion for a while, although still practiced by an enthusiastic minority, but today it is roaring back with beginner’s classes and clubs cropping up all over the country. Today, if you can’t find partners at your level, you can play computer generated games.

Chess is another of the old favourites that demands concentration and a high level of brain activity.

This must be one of the oldest “mind” games available, for its history ranges back over 1500 years to India. It spread in various forms across the Middle East and reached Europe in the 15th century. Today it is as popular as ever but of course with modern technological twists! Computers today will provide everything from game analysis to consultation to online competitions.

There are a host of activities that are perfect fun for a winter’s evening and offer an excellent alternative to watching television. The good thing is that none of them are expensive either, which means everyone can enjoy some cold weather brain training!



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