Friday, March 2, 2012

Word puzzles, you and your brain

Word puzzles come in a variety of formats. You have your basic crossword, Find A Word, Scrabble, various letter arrangement games like Jumble or Boggle, Hangman, Charades, Fictionary, Anagram, Spelling Bee, Spoonerisms and many more. Then there is the Wheel of Fortune and Countdown.

There are people out there who can play all these games quite well, easily pulling on a large base of trivia and knowledge of the English language.

Then there is the average person who is good at several of them but not so good at the others, finding competition hard, their knowledge a little less than desired or their grasp of English good but not fantastic.

And finally there are those who struggle with all of these games, likely due to English being their second language, learning difficulties or reading and writing difficulties, a disregard for general trivia and any number of other factors that impede a person's ability to engage and puzzle out the answers.

Now here is what I'm interested in. Not what level you're at if you always perform about the same when playing these games. No, what I'm interested in is why you could be classed as a mix of two or three of these levels, depending on the game you are playing.

The brain is an organ but its function isn't simple and its growth and maturing isn't ever going to occur in the same way for multiple people. On a macroscopic level it generally all looks about the same, except for size or growth stage. On a microscopic level you will find the connections made between neurons will be as individual as fingerprints (or so the saying goes). This does not mean your neurons have free reign in connecting however they want, basic brain structure be damned. This means that when the sections of the brain mature the neurons within each section create connections according to the information an individual needs to be processed, what that person perceives, how the person goes about developing motor control, what excites/aggravates the person, the person's developing urges/impulses and desires, how the person learns to regulate the environment and their own functions, as well as the need to remember and learn particular things in order to survive/pass tests/function in society. 

So if everyone is an individual, their brain and their knowledge base different then everyone's ability to access the language, recognise and decode patterns, experiment with patterns, recall and respond, analyse, compete or fight, remain calm when stressed, liken two or more items together, draw parallels, predict or even see, move or speak will be different.

You may find that while you are exceptionally good at hangman that you can't see words in a Find A Word because it all looks like scribbles swimming before your eyes. This could be because of your vision being poor or it could be because your brain isn't wired to 'see' the patterns, 'seeing' the texture or colour or blocks instead. You can train your brain to some extent but if it can't be done then it can't be done. You have to live with what you are, whether you like it or not. Best to try and like it.

That's just one example but the same principle applies for other combinations.

Why I'm interested in this is because I could be labelled one of the ones who fall into different categories depending on the game being played. This isn't because I'm of low intelligence, dysfunctional, have a learning difficulty or anything else. I'd be classed your average ordinary to intelligent person who functions well, though with some social problems re figuring out what to say in general conversations as opposed to arguments or discussions (does this explain something to some of you?), in the world and has a good practical knowledge of a lot of different subjects, if not so good on general trivia such as sports and other topics I consider completely irrelevant to living my life.

For me, who can read, write, speak and learn without an excuse as to why I might fail, I find it quite frustrating that my mind will not always do what I intend it to or hope it will. As a result, scrabble is daunting with live players but okay with computers, hangman has to be played with a person and always goes over well, I'm fantastic at Find A Word but my brain often stalls when searching for answers to crosswords (especially when I know I know the bleeding answer and it is just there but I can't spit it out) only to find the answer logged in my memory a day later, all trivia games are a waste of time unless they include a random challenge topic which I will find easy while the rest of the questions sound like random words stuck together. I can play Boggle but when the letters are written I suddenly struggle. Explain that one for me! Totally irrational.

And here I am stringing sentences using formulas drawn from repeated patterns I read over and over rather than by having someone sit me down and plug grammar into my brain. Spelling, yes. I had plenty of spelling lessons, just not any on grammar past “This is a full stop” and “This is a comma”.

But totally irrational isn't far from what the brain is at times. Well, the conscious part anyway. Well, the unconscious too. Yes, the brain can be just plain ridiculous at times. At least it isn't all the time.

Conclusion: We each learn, adopt, adapt and function in our own ways, saying that is what makes us individual. We accept that we each have our own skills and failings, some obvious and some not. We work hard to accept others as we are pack animals by nature and the need to belong to a group is strong. To belong we accept many things we otherwise might not. Please apply this acceptance of individuality to your own and others' ability to perform not just in such things as word games but also in everything. Try not to go calling people or yourself an idiot for not being able to do something no matter how hard you try. I bet you're good at something else instead.

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