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Monday, March 30, 2009

Visual puns

“Visual puns” are readily available on a wide range of websites, and are a great way to get a group’s (or your own) creative juices flowing. As a group exercise, you might download a bunch of samples and either print them out or put them on a screen as part of a Power Point presentation. See if the whole group or partner pairs within the group can guess what they represent, and perhaps give a small prize to those who guess the most correctly – or come up with the most creative interpretations.

A variation on this theme is to show a few examples and then design your own visual illustrations of the phrase with simple drawings or Photoshop manipulations. This can be stimulating as both an individual or group exercise. It can also be stimulating to compare your thinking to others’ ideas. For example, shown here are two versions of a visual pun for “Ipod.”

Think about other words or phrases that might be interpreted in multiple ways: watch dog, quarter horse, eye ball . . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The good of complaining

One creative idea that appeals to my perverse side is to write a Complaint Song and/or form a Complaint Choir. While I am generally an advocate for looking on the bright side, the husband of the husband/wife team credited with founding the Complaint Choir movement says singing out your pet peeves and sense of injustice is cathartic, and helps you to bond with others who share your frustration. No reports have come in on whether Complaint Choirs have resolved any of the issues they have addressed (ranging from the high price of beer to global warming) but they have exercised creative juices, had a few laughs and made some beautiful music, all of which are worthy outcomes. (For more info go to http://www.complaintschoir.org/.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wuzzles = word puzzles

Brain Aerobics Weekly periodically features wuzzles (also known as Plexers, Word Winks and Frame Games) that are easy to create with simple paper and pencil. For example, what is “acriml”? It’s “criminal” (“crim” in between “a” and “l”). Got the idea? Then what’s “a chance n” or “welieight”? (See below.) If you enjoy these puzzles, you can order The Pocket Book of Frame Games by clicking here or Plexers by clicking here.
Answers: “An outside chance” and “lie in weight.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is a term coined by writer/psychologist Edward de Bono, who first used it in his 1967 book, The Use of Lateral Thinking, to describe creative and perceptual thinking – the kind computers can’t do. For example:

  • Some are groaners: How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it? Easily. Concrete floors are really hard to crack.

  • Others require us to imagine possibilities. A group of early explorers came to a wide, deep river. There was no bridge, and they did not have boats or material for making boats. Nor could any of them swim. How did they get across? We are often given problems like this in which we fail to ask all the questions that might give us pertinent information. They walked across because the river was frozen.

You can order the book these examples are from, Paul Sloane’s Improve Your Lateral Thinking, Puzzles to Challenge Your Mind, by clicking here.

The amazing Scott Kim
Brain Aerobics Weekly has also featured the amazing work of creative thinker Scott Kim whose website is http://www.scottkim.com/ and who first wrote Inversions – a book of names (like “dance” above) that read the same right side up, in the mirror and upside down – more than a dozen years ago. To order, Inversions, click here. His most recent project is Brainteasers, Mind Benders, Puzzlers, Mazes & More Page-A-Day Calendar 2009. To order, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Lewis Carroll, the Englishman best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and other children’s stories, was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, January 27, 1832. He was also a prolific puzzle creator, most of them based on math and logic. One exception was his doublets – the process of changing one word into another by changing one letter at a time to form a new word until the transformation is complete. For example, to turn “less” into “more,” you would write “less, loss, lose, lore, more.” Brain Aerobics Weekly features doublets periodically, and you can find more online by doing a web search of doublets, word ladders, stepwords, and word chains.

Alternatively, you can make up your own doublets by starting with a simple word like “fish,” “hand” or “head,” and seeing how many new words you can make by changing one letter at a time. It’s fairly easy to turn them into “carp,” “foot” and “tail,” but try to keep the chain going as long as you can.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make new friends

A 2007 University of Michigan national study led by Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), found that 10 minutes of conversation can improve your memory as much as brain exercises.

"In our study, socializing was just as effective as more traditional kinds of mental exercise in boosting memory and intellectual performance," said Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and a lead author of the study.

According to Dr. Ybarra, the findings suggest that visiting with a friend or neighbor may be just as helpful in staying sharp as doing a daily crossword puzzle. The study also calls attention to the negative effects of social isolation. At Wiser Now, we have long been preaching the importance of social interaction as a means toward cultivating a cheerful attitude, which contributes to healthy aging, so get out there and make new friends or visit with the old (One is silver and the other gold).

Choose to have fun.
Fun creates enjoyment.
Enjoyment invites participation.
Participation focuses attention.
Attention expands awareness.
Awareness promotes insight.
Insight generates knowledge.
Knowledge facilitates action.
Action yields results.
-Oswald B. Shallow

Monday, March 2, 2009

Foreign Phrases

Most of us have been embarrassed at one time or another to find that we were completely baffled by the definition or pronunciation of a word or phrase “we ought to know.” (In my case it was hyperbole, which I pronounced like “hyper-bowl.”) How to Sound Smart, A Quick and Witty Guide, by Norah Vincent and Chad Conway, provides a palatable path through this sticky realm along with interesting anecdotes or examples, even to the words we may know. For example, the full phrase for adlib is “ad libitum” (add-li-bee-tum) which means “to desire,” or in English, “as you wish.” When an actor forgets his lines, he fills in with what he wishes to say instead, sometimes with amusing results.

Even more than the easy-to-understand, albeit slightly imperfect, pronunciation guides (in parentheses following most words), I especially like the book’s usually succinct and pithy definitions, with now and then an amusing anecdote thrown in.
The French phrase “Chacun à son goût” means “each to his own taste,” but is sometimes sarcastic: The always outrageous Tallulah Bankhead, upon seeing the Catholic bishop of New York in full regalia, traversing the aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and swinging his censer, reputedly said, “Honey, I love your dress, but your purse is on fire.”

To order How to Sound Smart, click here.