The Surprising Science of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind
by Richard Restak and Scott Kim
$26.95, 284 pages. Hardcover.
Just as healthy bodies require a variety of different, regularly performed exercises for proper maintenance, so Restak and Kim argue that a healthy mind can benefit from a similarly sweeping set of regular challenges.
Author and neuroscientist Richard Restak has written other books on the subject of brain phenomena and health, but his partnership with puzzlemaster Scott Kim makes this one both more accessible and more enticing to the non-scientist.
This intrepid pair provides a set of brain challenges that correspond to the areas of the brain which will develop when facing each challenge. From verbal and math puzzles which may remind readers of SAT or IQ questions, to creative puzzles which seem to have no solution (and certainly no obvious one!), the authors both explain why the puzzles and challenges are useful for mental stimulation and healthy maintenance and provide example puzzles to test your mettle against.
The book is not designed to be read in one sitting, nor is it necessarily designed to be read straight through; in fact, the authors are relatively convinced that because individuals are predisposed to enjoy solving some problems over others, it’s entirely likely that on your first reading of the book you’ll skip many of the puzzles and some of the chapters out of initial frustration or difficulty. However, just as an athlete has to work his way up to a particularly difficult exercise or event through practice, it does become easier to return to these challenges as others like it are attempted. After finishing the book, I have delighted in sharing the puzzles with my friends and family, and have returned to some of the harder puzzles several times already; occasionally I’ll peek at the hints or skip straight to the answer of a given puzzle (a technique the puzzlemaster Scott Kim himself advocates and supports in the book), but generally I just keep working those mental-muscles.
The book is downright interesting, featuring some of the most fascinating (and brief) discussions of brain wellness set into the sometimes chilling but always bizarre study of the brain. Restak and Kim cull out useless scientific jargon and deliver amazing anecdotes and study summaries about brain science. Educators and scientists will find these authors’ organization and premise to be somewhat similar to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (in fact, I think they may even mention his work once or twice), but I think a direct comparison would belittle the work of the authors and of Gardner–they’re working toward separate (though related) goals.
Anyone interested in learning about the human mind or the science of puzzles should dive into this book without delay. My only major complaint is that the most endearing and rewarding of puzzle types (Creative) is given such short thrift, despite being introduced with a bang in the opening chapters; if these men do compose the sequel they intend, I will be first in line to devour it.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Tom Donovan, The Book Nook, 1/17/11