April 1, 2006


Brain Teasers (Clive Thompson, Mar, 27, 2006, Wired)

A while ago, the science writer Steven Johnson was looking at an old IQ test known as the "Raven Progressive Matrices." Developed in the 1930s, it shows you a set of geometric shapes and challenges you to figure out the next one in the series. It's supposed to determine your ability to do abstract reasoning, but as Johnson looked at the little cubic Raven figures, he was struck by something: They looked like Tetris.

A light bulb went off. If Tetris looked precisely like an IQ test, then maybe playing Tetris would help you do better at intelligence tests. Johnson spun this conceit into his brilliant book of last year, Everything Bad Is Good For You, in which he argued that video games actually make gamers smarter. With their byzantine key commands, obtuse rule-sets and dynamic simulations of everything from water physics to social networks, Johnson argued, video games require so much cognitive activity that they turn us into Baby Einsteins -- not dull robots.

I loved the book, but it made me wonder: If games can inadvertently train your brain, why doesn't someone make a game that does so intentionally?

I should have patented the idea. Next month, Nintendo is releasing Brain Age, a DS game based on the research of the Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. Kawashima found that if you measured the brain activity of someone who was concentrating on a single, complex task -- like studying quantum theory -- several parts of that person's brain would light up. But if you asked them to answer a rapid-fire slew of tiny, simple problems -- like basic math questions -- her or his brain would light up everywhere.

Hence the design of Brain Age.

I've always recommended that folks preparing for a standardized test, like the LSATs. do the NY Times crossword puzzle, rather than a commercial preparation course or book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2006 6:00 AM

Here I've doing the NYT crossword puzzles for the past 50 plus years for fun and all the while I've been getting smarter and smarter as well. Nice. BTW - Doing the crossword puzzle on the computer instead of with a pencil is one of life's nice little blessings. especially when one's had surgery on the right hand and filling in little boxes is a chore.

The Times should figure out a better way to do Acrostics on the computer. One that simulates the puzzle as it appears in the paper. Something to look forward to. My favorite is the diagramless. I do it on a little Excell grid. Our local paper has a great one every Sunday and it's the main reason we take the paper at all.

Posted by: erp at April 1, 2006 7:36 AM

I got a whole lot smarter when I went to back to school after 20 years for horticulture, and later, cooking.

But be careful. When you think that the brain is such an important organ, just remember what's telling you that.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 1, 2006 11:30 AM

Rick, I also went back to school at 40 and found out how much fun it is to really concentrate your whole mind on one thing. When you're in school steadily from childhood, you don't think of it as a treat, but after 18 years of the chaos of taking care of a family, going to classes was a distinct pleasure and in those days, there no were cell phones, so you couldn't be reached. That was heavenly!

My brain has already taken revenge and is no longer to be trusted, but that's okay, I think we'll make it to the end with body, soul and mind all of a piece going out together with a semblance of style -- at least that's my plan.

I hope my brain doesn't have something else in mind.

Posted by: erp at April 1, 2006 12:13 PM