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Q&A with puzzle editor Will Shortz

Will Shortz, right, famously known as the New York Times' crossword editor, has written the book on puzzles. So what does he think about crosswords, Sudoku and the benefits of putting your brain to work to solve them?

Doing crossword puzzles has become standard advice to people hoping to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Do you think people should do crosswords to keep their brain fit?

People do crosswords primarily for entertainment. The mental benefits are secondary, but they are real — many surveys have shown that — so I guess it gives you another reason to do crosswords. There are lots of activities that can benefit the mind. Crosswords are just one. Learning a foreign language is a terrific way. So is playing chess. What's great about crosswords is that they utilize so many different parts of the brain. They test your vocabulary, your knowledge of all sorts of subjects, your mental flexibility and even sometimes your sense of humor.

You've published a lot of books containing Sudoku number puzzles (more than 50 in print). Do you think the Sudoku has made inroads into the popularity of crosswords?

I think the appeal of Sudoku is in addition to crosswords. The two puzzles have largely different audiences. Crossword people are word people; they want their puzzle to test them on their knowledge of the world and their vocabulary. With Sudoku you don't have to know anything about the world. It's purely logical exercise and has its own appeal. I love both, but I'm in the minority.

Do you think Sudoku puzzles are as effective as crosswords at stimulating the brain?

Sudoku is great training for the mind, but I don't think Sudoku stimulates as many different parts of the brain as crosswords.

Do you think that fear of Alzheimer's is creating a temporary surge in the popularity of crosswords?

I think we're living in the golden age of crosswords and puzzles in general. The level of crossword book sales seems to be stronger than ever before.

How do you explain that?

Crosswords are more interesting than they were 20 years ago because they connect with more parts of people's lives. In the old days crosswords were a little bland and dictionaryish. Now crosswords are filled with phrases from everyday life, from pop and classical culture. They connect with people's lives more.

Will crosswords ever appeal to the Internet generation?

When my predecessor began at the New York Times in 1977 he was quoted as expressing fear for the future of crosswords because people who made them and solved them were older. Nowadays crossword solvers span all demographics . . . I'm running crosswords constructed by teenagers. My annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which has been running since 1978, has age categories, and juniors are 25 and under. When I introduced this category there were about three kids in it. Now there are more than 20.

Tom Valeo, Times correspondent

Q&A with puzzle editor Will Shortz 09/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 2:07pm]
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