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Puzzles - A Popular Workout for Your Brain

More than fifty million people do crossword puzzles every week. Among these are Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Stephen King and the Indigo Girls. One in four newspaper readers are hooked on the puzzle page and that may be one of the reasons newspapers continue to survive.

Created in December 1913 by Arthur Wynne of Liverpool, England the first crossword, as we know it today, appeared in the New York World newspaper (1860-1931). Simon and Schuster built their publishing empire by printing the first crossword puzzle book in 1924, during the height of the crossword craze. The fad got so out of hand that one lady sued her husband for neglect. The sentence: he was restricted to three puzzles a day.

Thanks in part to National Public Radio, the most well known puzzler is the New York Times puzzle editor and enigmatologist Will Shortz. Surprisingly enough, the New York Times was one of the last U.S. newspapers to include crosswords in their publication. They waited until 1942 to add a weekly. It was not until 1950 that they began doing daily crosswords and acknowledging what has become a morning ritual for many. The Times puzzles, which get progressively more difficult during the week, seem to scare many people. Success often depends more on how you jell with the puzzle maker and not so much on how smart you are.

Baby boomers may be the reason for the onslaught of popular television game shows, crossword puzzles and Sudoku. They are eager to do puzzles or any other mental exercise to stave off impending memory loss. Although doctors have begun to study memory, the demand to know more about how it works within the brain will continue as millions of baby boomers age. Memory in the elderly can be improved and maintained over time as shown in one case study done by the American Medical Association, but that does not translate into better functioning capabilities, such as preparing meals or general household duties.

Also, there is no proof that mental exercise will prevent Alzheimer's disease. In spite of this, puzzles, as we have seen with Sudoku, should continue to flourish. I think Mark Twain said it best, "It isn't so astonishing, the number of things I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so."

Copyright 2007 by Linda K. Murdock.

Linda Murdock is the author of Mystery Lover's Puzzle Book, Crosswords with Clues from Your Favorite Mystery Series. She keeps her mind active by reading over 50 mystery books a year. Her puzzle book includes reviews of 29 award-winning mystery series. A helpful check-off list of all the titles in each series is also included, just so you do not have to remember them. To learn more go to