Author of STUMPED Book of Cricket Puzzles
‘GRIT… of course!! Has anybody got a rubber?’ asks the elderly nun.
The final words in a classic Two Ronnies sketch, in which all the occupants of a train compartment are tackling crossword puzzles in their daily newspapers. It’s a hilarious scene – and one that’s a perfect introduction to this post.
The sketch highlights both the popularity of puzzles and that everybody can have fun doing them, no matter how easy or difficult they are.
Ever since crossword puzzles first appeared in The New York World in 1913, they have been a popular feature in daily newspapers around the world. Nowadays, many UK newspapers have a weekly puzzle supplement. Most bookstores have a section displaying puzzle books and trivia quizzes. And in newsagents and supermarkets you will find rows of shelving packed with an assortment of different types of monthly puzzle magazines such as crosswords, Sudoku, logic problems and wordsearches.
The phenomena involving puzzles is for good reason. It’s because many people consider word puzzles and other such brain games to be great fun and an enjoyable way to pass the time.
The great news is that numerous studies show this pastime is not only good for the brain but can also provide benefits that extend beyond rest and relaxation.
I’ve always been a cruciverbalist (more of that later) and a massive cricket fan – and recently published the first in a new series of books called STUMPED Book of Cricket Puzzles. The cricket-themed puzzle books are specifically designed to provide just the right level of challenge and promote mental wellbeing.
The following is a list of some of the mental health benefits we can enjoy from doing puzzles regularly – with a few puzzles included to challenge your faculties.
Puzzles help us escape
Puzzles offer a perfect opportunity for us to properly switch off and forget our troubles. Because the mind is totally focussed on completing the puzzle it is an effective way to distract us from our worries – even if just for a short while. Puzzles can be especially beneficial therefore, for anyone suffering from depression and anxiety.
- See if you can unscramble the following anagrams to reveal the names of former England men’s Test cricketers:
THE CALM ANTIHERO
Did you name the cricketers? Well done if you did. But it doesn’t matter if you didn’t. You had a go and this gave your brain a bit of a workout. Engaging in any form of cognitive activity is good for the brain cells. And puzzles provide a mental challenge that stimulates the brain in ways that are important to our health and wellbeing.
Puzzles relieve stress
On the one hand, puzzles activate our brain cells, and on the other help us to relax.
This is because focussing our minds on how to solve a puzzle encourages the brain to go into a meditative state. As a result, we enjoy the same benefits as if we were meditating, such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Additionally, when completing some types of puzzle we learn important life lessons such as patience and focus, which are key components of nurturing a sound mind and better stress coping skills.
Puzzles boost our mood
Anyone who tackles puzzles regularly, will know the quiet satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a particularly difficult puzzle. With every success when solving a puzzle the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, concentration and memory. Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘feel-good’ hormone, as it’s associated with motivation and reward.
In addition, the sense of accomplishment we might feel after completing a puzzle, especially if it was challenging, can help to increase self-esteem and confidence.
- Can you identify the cricket-related terms suggested in the boxes below?
If you are lonely, bored or feeling anxious, just open a newspaper or magazine and find a puzzle to solve. This can help you relax and boost your mood.
Puzzles can improve short-term memory
Tackling puzzles reinforce the existing connections between our brain cells and boosts the generation of new ones. Many types of puzzle can improve short-term memory and enhance our mental speed and thought process.
- The surname of a former England women’s cricketer can be inserted in the bottom row of the grid below to complete nine 3-letter words reading downwards. Can you identify them?
Puzzles enhance problem-solving skills
Puzzles that challenge our thinking abilities can help to improve problem-solving skills.
A lot of puzzle types require us to think of different ways to find a solution – often involving trial and error. As a result, we learn the value of formulating theories, testing hypothesis and changing our approach if something doesn’t work. These skills can be applied in other areas of life, as well as help improve our critical thinking and make us better equipped at adapting to change.
The skills can also help us regulate our emotions and perspective when we find ourselves in challenging situations. How we handle these situations will often determine the level of stress we experience.
- Each name can only be spelt by moving from letter to adjacent letter, including diagonally. See if you can find 10.
Puzzles exercise both sides of the brain
The two hemispheres of the brain control different functions. The left side controls analytical and logical thinking, and the right side controls creativity, emotions and intuitive thinking.
A puzzle that exercises both sides of the brain will give us a thorough mental workout and enhance cognitive function.
Puzzles help prevent cognitive decline
A regular dose of puzzling is an excellent way to keep the brain active and sharp, especially as we grow older. Numerous studies have shown that people who keep their brain active by solving puzzles regularly have a much lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- The 4-letter surnames of seven cricketers are jumbled up in the grid below. Can you match the pairs of letters and work out which pair is not used?
All seven cricketers scored at least 700 runs during the 2022 English County Championship season.
All of this is great news for people who enjoy doing puzzles regularly. But what about those who don’t – the ones who say ‘I’m not a puzzle person’ or ‘puzzles are boring… I don’t find them interesting.’
This is partly the reason why I decided to write STUMPED Book of Cricket Puzzles. I’ve always enjoyed tackling puzzles and word games (which makes me a cruciverbalist) – and always been a massive cricket fan. So, I devised a collection of puzzles that all cricket enthusiasts can enjoy, including non-puzzlers, and who might be tempted to pick up a pencil and give them a try!
STUMPED Book of Cricket Puzzles is a unique collection of fantastic puzzles – and a brilliantly entertaining way to test your knowledge of men’s international cricket. It’s the first in a new series of puzzle books on the world of cricket – each featuring over 500 of some of cricket’s greatest ever players in a wide range of puzzles, including crosswords, logic problems, brainteasers and loads more. A second STUMPED puzzle book is soon to be published, followed by a book on women’s international cricket. If you love cricket and want to give your brain cells a refreshingly good workout, STUMPED is just the book for you.
- Denis Compton, Michael Atherton, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Harmison.
- Cow corner, Reverse sweep, Find the gap.
- Ambrose, Bird, Broad (Chris), Clark, Clarke, Close, Cork, Cowdrey, Ford, Key, Lamb, Marks, Read, Rose, Udal, Ward.
Amla, Cook, Dent, Hain, Hill, Lyth, Pope. (NO is unused).