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Josh and I like solving crossword puzzles. Our go-to site is WaPo which uses the LA Times crossword. We are able to knock out Monday's in less than fifteen minutes. But as the week progresses, we get stumped. By Thursday we struggle. Sunday is impossible. And this isn't even NYTimes!

Some answers leave us in splits.

Yesterday, the clue for 1 Down was "Multiple choice choices". Five letters. The answer was ABORC. Huh??

A few minutes later we realized that multiple choice choices are A, B or C. ABORC!! Ugh! We wanted to throw something at the laptop but we knew that wouldn't hit the creator in LA!

This morning we had a similar one - APBIO. Well that one turned out to be AP-Bio as in the Advanced Placement test but the clue had nothing to do with the test. We are getting used to these wacky answers.

They say solving crosswords keeps the brain healthy. ABORC and APBIO are going to kill our brain cells, we fear.

There is plenty of research to show that regularly solving puzzles and crosswords staves cognitive decline by connecting long-term and short-term memories. Recently, I revisited the research on the connection between puzzles and cognitive health and was surprised to learn that the correlation is more tenuous than I was led to believe.

Case in point - a patient referred to as H. M., was the most famous cognitive study patient of the 20th century. In 1953, his hippocampus was removed leaving him with no method for recalling long-term memories. Yet, H. M. learned how to solve crosswords even though he didn't know why he knew the answers.

In 1974, psychologists Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch noted that short-term memory has three parts and 25 years later Baddeley added a fourth piece. The part that controls the flow of information is the central executive. This is aided by three "slaves" - the phonological loop (verbal), the visuo-spatial sketchpad (visual and spatial cues), and the episodic buffer which combines the cues. The slaves enable the central executive to connect long-term memory to short-term cues and to hold the narrative in our brain.

Recent research has found that puzzles solvers have very strong working memories. They are able to fire and integrate recall with verbal and visual/spatial cues better than others. Solving puzzles doesn't necessarily improve our cognitive skills but our episodic buffer enables us to solve puzzles.

Clearly, my episodic buffer ain't good enough between Thursdays and Sundays. It does fine on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays!

Clue: Puzzle solver

Answer: EPBUF

There's a new word for us!

For more details, see this link from Scientific American. Image is from

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