I enjoy puzzles – many types. I’ve been doing them from an early age. I must have started with jigsaw puzzles and then worked up to word and logic games. I am not particular to the type; I enjoy most of them. My favorites are the pencil puzzles viz. things solved on paper with a writing device that has an eraser.* I am not keen on logic puzzles, or riddles for that matter.

I recently heard a nice definition of a puzzle:

? —> !

Now ain’t that spot-on?

Most card and board games (whether done on your own or others) are essentially puzzles. I enjoy them too. Games however should have some element of luck but not too much or entirely, which is boring. My puzzles I do on my own. When growing up my parents and adoptive uncle Richard would spend Sunday afternoons doing the NYT crossword puzzle, helping each other out. I thought then that was cheating, but now I know there is a social element to solving puzzles as a group. My cousins always bring along a jigsaw puzzle to the reunions and over the pieces we chat and laugh.

On family holiday, while the rest of the family were running around taking in the sights, Mother sat by poolside doing crosswords. This is another thing I thought daft. Now I see the value and pleasure of it. While others lounge by the pool mesmerized by their iPhones, I have the latest “GAMES’ magazine and a handful printed Sudokus.**

Puzzles come and go. Wordle and its varieties is all the rage. I play from time to time. Someone does so every morning and shares his stats with three or four buddies. I do mine at day’s end as a sort of night cap. The game has just enough thought and fun for the end of the day. I’m very good at it, having had ‘practice’ in similar word games for decades.

My favorite type of puzzle is ‘cryptic crosswords”, which is a variety of crossword puzzle whose questions are quite clever. Here’s some examples:

‘Ointment: use with cap of’ Answer: Unction (FUNCTION without the F)

“Snake stopped on the paved road” Answer: (ASPHALT)

I am slowing down on these, sad to say. It seemed I went through puzzle games quick as a quarter note in my youth but not now. I hope this is mere lack of practice and not a sign of dementia. Puzzles often oblige one to give up your usual means of solving problems and ‘think outside of the box’. This is good practice and may stall the onset of dementia.***

I need to dissociate puzzles from vacation as it seems that’s the only time I allow myself any. When I do them I remember how fun this is. I need to keep GAMES magazine in my briefcase so when opportunity arises rather than pulling out the phone I can whip out a puzzle and work on a cryptic crossword. Here’s one more example:

The plan: blow up a megastar. Answer: strategam (analog of mega star)

*I prefer pencils to pens, mostly because I make a lot of mistakes. There is something delicious about an eraser. It matches my thinking process: a continual journey of making mistakes, erasing them, and moving on. Then again in grade school I used to sniff the rectangular pink erasers to feel euphoric.

**Add an iced tea or a “Windex” cocktail to this scene and I am happy as a clam at high-tide.

***Patients sometimes believe doing a daily crossword puzzle will keep away dementia. This is not true. If you do the same sort of puzzle this isn’t ‘learning”. Better to do different types of puzzles, which obliges you to learn. Add exercise, sleep, proper nutrition and learning new things and you may have a fair chance at forestalling the inevitable.