The Playful Brain: The Surprising Science of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind


This is your brain on puzzles.

Everyone knows that puzzles can improve your brain function. Now a leading neurosurgeon and a noted puzzle designer team up to reveal the fascinating science behind it. Packed with illuminating insights and dozens of puzzles, this is both a lively book of popular science and an engaging set of exercises in developing a wide array of thinking and memory skills.

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This is your brain on puzzles.

Everyone knows that puzzles can improve your brain function. Now a leading neurosurgeon and a noted puzzle designer team up to reveal the fascinating science behind it. Packed with illuminating insights and dozens of puzzles, this is both a lively book of popular science and an engaging set of exercises in developing a wide array of thinking and memory skills.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Idle mental diversions are good for you, according to this delightful neurology primer–cum–brain teaser compendium. Neuroscientist Restak (Think Smart) begins with an engaging introduction to the brain's features and flubs, from quirks in the visual system that yield optical illusions to the inescapable influence emotions exert over mental performance (dart throwers, we learn, find it difficult to hit a bull's-eye on a child's photo). Divided into three sections--Memory, Perception, and Cognition--Restak sets the stage while former Discover magazine puzzle master Kim weighs in with puzzles to exercise the gray matter muscles. While memory maneuvers (memorize pi out to 32 digits?) are often more chore than game, the majority explore a broad and improbable array of mental faculties in an ingenious fashion. Classics like sudoku get a twist, and puzzles challenge visual acuity (find details in complex pictures), auditory imagination (match the sound to the Foley artist's contrivance), and physical coordination (mirror-writing); while at the cerebral end there are exercises in making brilliant conceptual leaps with matchsticks. The result is a fun and illuminating pop science frolic that will make readers feel like, if not exactly think like, Einstein. Illus. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Restak, prolific author and award-winning neuroscientist, and Kim, author and prolific puzzle designer, are the dream team promoting healthy brain functioning through puzzle-solving. Different types of puzzles stimulate activity in different brain areas, so Restak explains the science and Kim gives the readers puzzles to solve. Thankfully, the author says that even just trying to solve a puzzle helps your brain, even if you don't solve it. The book is divided into sections on memory, perception, and cognition, which have separate chapters focusing on more specific areas, e.g., the perception section breaks down into visual thinking, spatial thinking, and listening, and all are generously peppered with appropriate puzzles. The simply written but very engaging text helps make dense scientific information accessible. The puzzles are a delight to solve (or at least to attempt).Verdict Helping your brain function more efficiently and sharpen your thinking processes is a very popular topic. This book brings focus as well as practice examples (the solutions are in the book, too) to help the reader learn to tackle particular puzzles while improving specific brain function.—Elizabeth J. Eastwood, Los Alamos Cty. P.L. Syst., NM

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews

Neuroscientist Restak (Think Smart: A Neuroscientist's Prescription for Improving Your Brain's Performance, 2009, etc.) and puzzle-designer Kim provide mental activities, and the reasoning behind them, for brain-performance enhancement.

The brain never ceases to undergo structural and operational changes, writes the author in this lucid, entertaining book of how puzzles—with dozens of witty, stylish and often vexing examples created by Kim—can ward off the inevitable decline in brain function. Like muscle tissue, the brain needs stimulation to stay healthy, with practice and repeat exposure establishing and maintaining brain circuitry. Restak addresses concentration, memory, fine motor skills, visual observation, logic, numbers, vocabulary, visual-spatial thinking, imagination and creativity. For each function, he describes the workings of the relevant brain areas, and he clearly explains brain plasticity, synaptic connectivity, dendritic complexity and other such neurological terms. He also provides a selection of pertinent studies to illustrate our increasing knowledge of the brain's landscape. The author is helpfully able to identify a weak function—for instance, in your ability to turn an image in your head, because "our schools neglect visual and spatial thinking, focusing instead on developing language and mathematics skills"—and then provide a number of opportunities to work on it. Kim's puzzles run the gamut from engaging to bewildering, and although it can be disconcerting to be flummoxed by a puzzle considered to be kindergarten-level, Kim provides insightful tips and strategies, as well as the correct answers.

Never again will endlessly poring over a crossword or Sudoku puzzle be considered a waste of time.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594485459
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/6/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 783,217
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Restak
Richard M. Restak, M.D., is a neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and Clinical Professor of Neurology affiliated with the George Washington University Medical Center. He is the author of the bestselling The Brain--a companion to the PBS series of the same name--as well as The Mind, The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own, and The Brain: The Last Frontier. He lives in Washington, D.C..
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

The Art and Science of Brain Enhancement 12

Learning to Solve Puzzles 17


1 Working Memory: Brain Juggling 41

2 Long-term Memory: Imagining the Future by Remembering the Past 57


3 Perceptual Skill Learning: The Sommelier and the Hockey Player 87

4 Visual Thinking: Seeing, Not Just Looking 96

5 Spatial Thinking: The Challenge of Mental Rotation 116

6 Listening: The Foley Artist and the Cocktail Party 144

7 Motor Skill Learning: Of Mental Maps and Pickpockets 159

8 Time: Clock Time vs. Brain Time 180


9 Thinking in Words: The Hammer, the Saw, and the Hatchet 191

10 Logic: Reasoning in Uncertain Situations 203

11 Emotions and Thinking: The Anger Superiority Effect 229

12 Mathematics: Doing the Numbers at the Checkout Line 239

13 Illusions: Shadows, Balls, and Rotating Snakes 255

14 Creativity: The Magic Matches of Carlo Reverberi 267

Conclusions 283

Acknowledgments 285

Resources 287

Index 289

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