Solving puzzles beneficial for brain, soul

Becky and I like puzzles. It is quite possible we spend too much time on them, but I like to think that working puzzles is good for my brain, so I convince myself it is time well spent.

I think there is some scientific evidence to support this. Healthy or not, however, we both look forward to starting our mornings puzzling.

We also start our day studying the Bible and other spiritual readings. I believe this, too, is good for our brains, as well as our souls. The Bible is a inexhaustible source of wisdom and guidance for those who spend time contemplating it. Life is richer and deeper because of our Bible studies.

Now, I don’t mean to be irreverent in the comparison, but as I think about it, I believe puzzles teach me something about life, as well.

Becky’s favorite puzzle form is Sudoku. I stand in awe of her abilities. She also does the newspaper crosswords and usually finishes with word jumbles. We often work on these together. Like Bible study, it is something that helps us grow as a couple.

My go-to puzzles are crosswords. On Christmas morning, I know without guessing that one of those wrapped gifts is a Page-A-Day New York Times Crossword Puzzle Calendar for the coming year. The difficulty of the puzzles increases over the week, so that a Monday crossword is easier than a Tuesday, and so on.

By Thursday or Friday I am sometimes wrestling a good while with them. It is the wrestling that is one of the life lessons for me. I’ll use as my text the calendar page from Thursday, June 8, 2017.

So often it happens that I get discouraged right at the start. I look over the clues and can answer only one or two three-letter words. At this point I want to give up.

“This one is impossible,” I tell myself.

But I go back once more, hoping that my small answers will spark others. If I stick with it, a connection usually will arise, and I slowly chip away at the blank grid. Discovering the puzzle-creator’s over-arching theme also helps.

Experience has shown me that if I stay the course, I will be rewarded.

“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again,” as Proverbs reminds us. Eventually I figured out this puzzle’s theme — oil and water.

Although I didn’t spend all night wrestling with the Angel as did Jacob, I did spend several blocks of minutes throughout the day with this puzzle. I would put it away and later come back to it.

This is another puzzling insight into life: Sometimes you have to let it go to get the answer. New connections are often made by allowing things time to rest. To everything there is a season.

As any crossword puzzler can tell you, when it comes to words and their meanings, you must try to think of as many possibilities as you can. Clue for 48 down: “Two- or four-seater, maybe.” I considered various vehicles but nothing fit. Hmm. What else has a seat? After filling in more squares I realized the answer was “maitre’d.”

This lesson is something I try to carry with me out in the world. Many times we communicate using the same words, but our understanding of these words and the ideas behind them are not always the same, sometimes not even close. And often I find I am considering the person rather than his or her ideas, which only hinders comprehension.

In this world, without understanding, we’re lost. Proverbs again tells us to “make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding.”

Well, I eventually finished the June 8 crossword. Some people might think puzzles are a waste of time, and they may be right. But I think it helps my brain. And maybe my soul, as well.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to

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