What keeps my brain working overtime is worrying if my brain will keep on working overtime.

My friend’s father, cognizant that he was developing dementia, said to his son, “Well, if I get Alzheimer’s, it’s your problem.” I related to that.

It struck many nerves – my cranial nerves that affect our sight, taste, motor functions, and hearing.

I went through a “what if?” scenario, when I read about Kim Peek.

Peek, an autistic savant, was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film “Rain Man” starring Dustin Hoffman as the Peek character; he displayed an extraordinary power of memory. Clinicians believed that Peek had the world’s most capacious memory for facts. He died at 58.

Lately, I am forgetting things. I go onto my computer and do not remember what I wanted to research. Or I write down a “to do” list, but don’t remember where I put the piece of paper.

I’ve read that playing bridge helps us to retain memory cells.

As a kid, I loved playing hearts, a card game that requires a skill for memorizing all the cards in a deck. It’s a distant cousin to bridge but far more intricate.

So, I signed up for the series of bridge classes taught at the Gus Canty Center in Falmouth, to stave off impending memory problems and learn some new card tricks. 

Well, the “joker” was on me. I missed the first class because I had actually forgotten about it. Not a good sign.

Fortunately, the instructor, Ginny King of Falmouth, called the next day to remind me of future meetings and to buy the book, “Bidding in the 21st Century,” developed by the ACLB, the American Contract Bridge League. I put it somewhere in the house.

To jump-start my brain I favor word-oriented games. Things with numbers fluster me. While I have no problem balancing a checkbook or paying bills, tax forms and figuring out multiplications literally tax my brain.

As a Scrabble aficionado, I breathe better and smile sooner each morning when I finish the Jumble puzzle, that scrambled word game, in the newspaper. It’s a set of five anagrams with a cartoon syndicated in 600 newspapers. The Sunday Jumble is twice the fun, twice the number of the anagrams.

There are various brain games in the newspapers today that help get our mornings going, such as the crossword puzzle, Sudoku, Kenken, Chess Quiz, and Daily Bridge Club among others.

Puzzles like these keep the brain cells working. It sharpens the mind keeping it active, as does playing strategy board games – chess, Go, backgammon, checkers, to name the most popular ones.

My friend Larry plays chess constantly, He’s always on the computer pitting moves with other obsessed players on one of the chess sites; he also plays with a group of other retirees on Wednesdays. He can’t get enough of chess playing. Before the Internet, he used to play solo at home with an electronic computerized board called “The Chester.” No kidding.

Another fun word game I enjoy is the logic-oriented Jotto, played with two players using pen and paper. It too is a great brain jump-start. 

Each player picks a secret word of five letters that is in the dictionary; proper nouns are not allowed. The object of the game is to correctly discover the other player’s word first through a deductive answer and response methodology.

 Players alternate asking words attempting to deduct the other’s secret word; for example, if one’s secret word is “house” and a player asks “reach”, he gets a reply of 2 (for the “e” and the “h”). Using a written-out alphabet as a guide, players can eliminate letters in the opponent’s word when a response is “zero letters.” Jotto is deductive logic at work.

During my first interview with ASCAP’s Director of Public Relations, we somehow got on the subject of journalism and word games. My prospective boss, Mr. Frolich, a high-energy, New York extrovert, had a great sense of the absurd and a curiosity about everything. He was also fastidious about grammar and spelling.  Out of the blue, he asked if I knew how to play Jotto.

My first, and only interview, consisted of us sitting across from each other with pen and paper playing Jotto. In our last game, in characteristic style, he wrote on his paper and slipped it to me:


ASCAP was a jump-start to my destiny. Leave it to a word game to find one self.

Mark Chester is a freelance photographer/writer in Woods Hole. He can be contacted at: markchesterphotography.com. Chester’s photos are on display at Coffee Obsession, Water Street, Woods Hole.