Play Scrabble for your brain

After four decades, the scores are still written in the bottom of the yellowing Scrabble box. Five hundreds and six hundreds mostly, although one score reaches all the way up to the grand number of 769.
If you remember playing Scrabble during its heyday in the 1950s, you’ll recognize just how magnificent those scores are.
That grand score came from our honeymoon. There we were at Lake Placid in the beautiful Adirondack mountains of northeastern New York. Visiting the North Pole and Santa Claus, travelling the hairpin curves up Whiteface Mountain, and sightseeing in the land of mountains and scenic lakes created long ago by glaciers.
And who in the world would play Scrabble in a setting like that? We would. We did, in fact. Because 1954 was the height of our Scrabble mania—and the chance to top all those high scores that previously had been written in the box simply couldn’t be passed up.
Both before and after our wedding, we worked in a church publishing house in western Pennsylvania. By day, all of us were writers and editors together. And by night, we continued sparring with words as we played Scrabble.
Oh but those editors knew their words! Nobody needed a dictionary even if it had been allowed. Everybody’s favorites were “em” and “en”—printers’ terms you might never have met in another crowd.
Elizabeth was the best, but she had one fault. She claimed she had high blood pressure and simply couldn’t stand waiting for the slowest of us to finish our turns.
Her solution was to plug in the toaster. When she pushed the handle down, that toaster would tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick. Like a time bomb. And when the handle popped up, your turn was over.
That’s how I remember Scrabble from the 1950s.
But that was a long time ago, and people rarely play Scrabble anymore. Then an article in the “Mayo Clinic Health Letter” made me think we should pick it up again.
The Mayo article instructed those of us this side of 60 to “work crossword puzzles or play Scrabble” to keep our minds sharp. The researchers explained, “Mental abilities don’t inevitably decline with age. ‘Use it or lose it’ applies to your mind as well as your body.”
Other writers have said the same thing in recent years. Take Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the Florida centenarian who was a powerful lobbyist for saving the Everglades.
Writing in her mid-90s, Stoneman said, “There’s nothing inherently wrong with a brain in the nineties. If you keep it fed and interested, you’ll find it lasts very well.”
Eric Pfeiffer, a psychiatrist who led a long-term study of older Americans, discovered the people who most likely are to age successfully are those who “stay in training.”
There appears to be a great deal of truth to the old adage “use it or lose it.” And when it comes to the brain, you can’t take any chances.
So as you prepare for 2006, consider resolving to exercise your brain. And why not begin by getting out the dusty Scrabble board tonight? If that’s all it takes to keep your mind sharp, how can you justify not doing it?
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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