Sunday, April 4, 2010
It's probably a little of all of those things. We can't do anything about the latter two - illnesses and genetic predispositions can take a toll over which we have no control. But we can certainly do plenty about the first two.
I was thinking about this today as I did the daily Sudoku on the Washington Post site. I do that puzzle Wednesday through Sunday. I skip Monday and Tuesday as they are too easy now -- I am solving them faster than I can put down the numbers. The WP puzzle is rated by difficulty one through five stars. The puzzles begin at one star on Monday and progress to five on Friday. Then the weekend is usually a three-star on Saturday and five on Sunday.
My goal is to finish quickly without making mistakes. In Sudoku, one mistake is fatal and you have to start again. No guessing either. A guess is simply a gamble. Sudoku is a logic puzzle in which you use various techniques for determining the placement of numbers. Sometimes you determine what CAN go in a spot, and sometimes you determine what CANNOT. I have developed my own techniques and methods, but it still requires some thinking and deducing on my part.
I like to test myself as I play. I look at a row/column/square and see how quickly my brain can determine what numbers are still needed there. I am at my sharpest when I can take it all in in a single glance and know exactly the numbers needed. I am at my dullest when I have to actually run through the numbers 0 through 9. It is proof to me that my brain at certain times functions more optimally than at others. And thus this game has become a little something more to me. It's a way of watching my own mental capacity as I age and determining the things that seems to make me sharper.
I am usually pretty sharp in the morning after a cup of coffee - but not if I've had little sleep. I'm very sharp right after a workday that has involved learning a lot of new material. I can run through a Sudoku, make stunning Scabble plays, solve some tough crossword clues, sight-read piano music. It seems my brain is most available to me when it has had some challenges and has had to work hard -- but is not yet over-tired. I am not at all sharp right before bed. I always have a crossword and a Sudoku on the nightstand, but it is often only a matter of minutes until I can no longer concentrate and I am falling asleep.
I'm rambling on a bit here, but this is all important stuff to me. It helps me to see how people keep their brains fit and accessible into older age. Two things seem to be important: Sleep. Mental challenges. No doubt, food plays a part in this, too.
As I approach retirement age, I have begun paying more attention to what my retired friends do with themselves. I worry that retirement will not offer sufficient mental challenges that I want and need. Perhaps the puzzles and music do help but are they enough? I can't answer that. I'm still figuring this out. But I do have an easy way of keeping tabs on how I'm doing so far.
(By the way, I love the diagonal Sudokus that offer one more dimension to the puzzle. I'm always looking for those.)