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Feeling creatively blocked? Don't get cross. Get a crossword.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

There are people who LOVE crosswords. It's clearly a good way to exercise your mind muscles. But they can also help with creating new ideas.

The crossword was invented by Arthur Wynne, a Liverpudlian who emigrated to Pittsburgh in the USA. It was in New York World magazine that Arthur published the first 'word puzzle' officially credited as a crossword in 1913. There had been word squares and cross puzzles of different types for the previous 100 years. But it was Arthur who formulated the puzzle we now recognise as the modern crossword.

So why are crosswords good for creative thinking? Well, the puzzle itself helps us to think in a non-linear fashion. There are words left to right, there are vertical words, intersecting words, and there are the questions themselves.

The questions force you to think of words that fit a certain character count and contain particular letters. So your brain has to sift through all the words you know that 1) answer the clue 2) fit the space 3) contain letters you may already have from other answers.

All that sorting forces your brain to make connection after connection after connection; sometimes where there previously wasn't one. The grey matter is looking for a pattern - something familiar, something that fits. The very fact your brain is trying to connect previously unconnected things means - guess what - it's being creative.

Many creative thinkers are fans of the humble crossword. Some of the cryptologists chosen to crack codes at Bletchley Park in WWII were picked based on their ability to tackle a crossword.

Doing a crossword moves your brain into connection mode. If you're lucky, a clue - or an answer - will set off a chain of mental connections that ramp up the speed with which you can get at those elusive ideas.

You don't even need to go out and buy a newspaper to do a crossword anymore. There are thousands of online crosswords, and every national newspaper has one on its website. And if you still like the papery feel, grab yourself a crossword book.

A quick fact about Arthur Wynne's crosswords: the puzzles were originally called a 'Word-cross' - but a few weeks after they first appeared, the words in the name were accidentally switched round, and it thus it became the 'Cross-word'. Forever.

Bloody proofreaders. You just can't get the staff.

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