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

Richard Restak, with Scott Kim, Riverhead, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59448-777-4
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/2010
Release date: 12/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-1-59448-545-9
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