Performing some mental gymnastics on Puzzle Day

29 January is Puzzle Day, the day to celebrate all things puzzle related.

Of course puzzles are wonderful things, created to challenge, to entertain, to confound, even to frustrate when we cannot solve them. They come in all shapes and forms – jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, soduko, three-dimensional challenges, folding puzzles, disentanglement puzzles, cryptograms, mathematical puzzles, word puzzles, mazes, riddles, lateral thinking puzzles, logical paradoxes, you name it. No matter what your specific interests, there’s sure to be a puzzle type that tickles your fancy.

Personally, I’ve never been the biggest crossword fan (somehow just never got into it), but I do quite enjoy the odd maths puzzle and I love a good 3-D challenge, especially a tough disentanglement puzzle.

Untangling intricately combined metal shapes - disentanglement puzzles can provide hours of frustrating fun.(© All Rights Reserved)
Untangling intricately combined metal shapes – disentanglement puzzles can provide hours of frustrating fun.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While puzzles are often merely used for entertainment purposes, they can also serve a more specific cause. Companies like Microsoft have been known to challenge job interviewees with logical puzzles to test their logical, deductive skills. Puzzles can also stem from real-life mathematical or logistical problems, in which case the efforts to solve them can potentially contribute to basic mathematical research.

Not only are puzzles fun – they can also be quite beneficial to your mental development.  According to a University of Chicago study, kids playing with puzzles develop better spatial skills. Puzzles also improve hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, logical problem solving ability and memory.

A recent study also suggests that people who regularly exercise their minds with puzzles are a lot less likely to develop brain plaques that are tied to Alzheimer’s disease. Other beneficial activities include reading and writing.

All research seem to agree that regularly mental exercise are as beneficial to your mind as physical exercise is to your body, and the earlier you start the better. While starting to do crossword puzzles or taking up chess after retirement may help a little, the real benefits are gained by those who start early in life.

So why not use this Puzzle Day to kick-start your daily brain-gym? Here are a couple of interesting sites you may want to visit:

Circling the world with a worldwide candle lighting

Since 1997, the second Sunday in December has been the day of the Worldwide Candle Lighting – an event to commemorate the memory of all the children who have died in the past year. The event was initiated by The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a US-based organisation providing support to families and individuals who have lost a child. The candle lighting event was started as a small internet observance, but has since grown to an international initiative, said to be the largest mass candle lighting in the world.

This year marks the 15th candle lighting, and people around the world are encouraged to take part by lighting candles at 7pm, local time.

Lighting a candle to the memory of children who have passed away.(© All Rights Reserved)
Lighting a candle to the memory of children who have passed away.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Imagine all the lights in the world being turned off, and then each person across the globe lighting a candle at the moment the clock strikes 7pm in their location, keeping the candle lit for an hour until 8pm. If you were to see this from space, it should be like a giant flame moving across the world from east to west, as time marches on.

OK, it probably won’t quite look that way – for one thing, the progression of  lights won’t be smooth, but rather happen in discrete steps because time zones are defined in discrete steps (as folks in one time zone light their candles, those in the previous timezone would be extinguishing theirs). Clouds may also obscure parts of the view, but what the heck, it’s just a theoretical image anyway, so we may as well assume clear skies across the globe for this one night. Still, just imagine the world being lit up by a spreading wave of candlelight – it does sound grand, doesn’t it? And quite fitting as an act of remembrance for the millions of children who have lost their lives through the year – through war, famine, disease, accidents or whatever specific reason their lives were cut short.

So go ahead, light a candle, and be part of a virtual 24 hour memorial of light, circling the globe in memory of the children.