Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BRAIN CREVICES

The true value of doing crossword puzzles is that it forces you to clean out your brain crevices on a daily basis. Scientists believe that humans only use about 10 percent of their brain’s capabilities (and we have all met people who use even less). But in all our years of living, we continue to store and stockpile huge heaps and mounds of information, shoving it into our brain’s closets and garage rafters. Unless we take that information and air it out once in awhile, it’s a perfect target for mental moths and brain termites that eat it all away.

Enter the lowly crossword puzzle. In order to work a crossword puzzle, you have to recall vocabulary. For example, this morning, I had to unearth the word “isotropic” from a corner of my mind where it had lain undisturbed for years. Surprisingly, I find very little occasion to use the word “isotropic” on a daily basis; but this morning, I needed to find it. If I hadn’t done the crossword puzzle, “isotropic” would have sat unused in my brain, “a-moldering in the grave” (like John Brown’s body).

Just this morning, I was forced to find homonyms and definitions, abbreviations and acronyms, medical terms and geographic trivia. I had to recall a sports team, a semi-famous athlete, and an arena. I had to remember which college was in Tampa, Florida, and the Roman numeral for 1,583. I had to think of the name of a famous actress from the 1930s, as well as recall names of a doctor, a lawyer, and an Indian chief (it was Wilma Mankiller). There was a dreaded question on pop culture (not my strong area). I had to try to remember the name of a city on the Aker River as well as come up with an obscure agricultural term that I only know because my daughter dates an organic farmer. I had to know one Latin phrase (strong suit because I took two years of Latin in high school) and one Spanish word (common sense language). Thank goodness there was no French today, although I always hope there’s a German word or two to practice my two years of college German. I had to think of the prefix meaning “distant” and the suffix meaning “adherent.” I had to think of a four-letter first word in a title by Dostoevsky.

By 6 a.m., a person doing a crossword puzzle has done the mental equivalent of cleaning out ten closets, the attic, and the jumbled corner of the garage. There’s something cleansing about taking those words out of storage and hanging them on the clothesline to air out a bit before putting them back, fresh and restored, in the brain crevice where I found them.

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