Logic puzzles, what's their beef?
January 7, 2010 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I have been wondering this for a long time—do so-called "logic puzzles" really help sharpen your mind, or do they just help you get better at logic puzzles?

The same goes for sudoku, word games, this, other logic-type puzzles you find in the magazine section, and even things like playing solitaire and (recreational, not professional) chess. Do these really help with anything other than improving your skill at that particular game or puzzle?
I bought a book of sudoku and logic puzzles, thinking it would help me in my upcoming logic class, but I found myself quickly irritated with how repetitive and seemingly useless (self-enclosed?) they seemed.
I admit that some logic puzzles are really kind of cool, and could be useful, but these seem more to show what you already know about math and logic, rather than actually improving your mind.

Personal examples of how logic puzzles helped you live a successful life?

As a sub-question...what could one do to actually sharpen one's mind (this might be a possible good example) or logic skills, save for taking classes?
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My experience is that figuring out how to play the game is where the learning is at. After that it is mindless. I mean, suduku is just kindergarten arithmetic.
posted by gjc at 6:58 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's no arithmetic in Sudoku, it's a game of logic and deduction that just happens to use numbers. There are many skill levels in Sudoku that would challenge even the most hardcore of logic problem solvers.

Anyway, OP, if you're finding your logic puzzles too boring and repetitive, you need to step up the skill level and vary the games. At Barnes and Noble in the magazine aisle, they have tons of logic problem books. I always get the variety pack one from Pennypress but make sure you don't buy the one that says family at the top because those are too easy.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:06 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found that learning to play chess really helped quite a bit.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:24 PM on January 7, 2010

Best answer: "Sharpen your mind" can mean a lot of different things. If you're trying to maintain or improve your memory and focus, it's good to practice doing things that are difficult and require focus, and logical games are a good way to get there. If you're trying to get better at finding loopholes in arguments, then practicing finding loopholes in arguments is the way to do that, and there are plenty of logic puzzles that focus that way. In general all of these kinds of puzzles are good for getting into the habit of considering all your assumptions, which is a big part of 'logic'.

But as the other comments have mentioned, don't do the easy ones! If they're boring and predictable to you, do a new one - it's learning new things, challenging yourself, and thinking in new ways that you want to go for.
posted by Lady Li at 7:26 PM on January 7, 2010

To answer your sub-question, this article was in the nytimes a few days ago and the tl;dr of it is that to keep sharp you should (loosely) "scramble your cognitive egg by challenging your own ingrained perspectives."
posted by pwally at 7:28 PM on January 7, 2010

Adult Learning | Neuroscience — How to Train the Aging Brain

Recently, researchers have found ... positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different.

posted by netbros at 7:37 PM on January 7, 2010

Best answer: I'm not aware of any actual research on this—all I've heard about is people trying to stave off mental decline in old age (perhaps people who never used their brains much before!), which is a different matter.

But here's my thought: even if some type of logic puzzle really did "sharpen your mind" for some particular task (obviously there's no such thing as sharpening your mind for everything), it seems extremely unlikely that the puzzles could work better than practicing that task itself. So if you want to get better at learning languages or solving math problems or writing poems or whatever, I'm certain that you'd be better off actually practicing the skills you want to improve than doing puzzles.
posted by k. at 7:44 PM on January 7, 2010

Best answer: Transfer of skill from one demanding mental task to another is possible. Some studies find that the more related the trained task is to the tested task, the better the tested performance. Other studies find benefits to mental training even for tasks not related to the original training.

The training exercise with the most evidence so far in its favor is dual n-back. You should get the some benefit out of tasks that make you work under time pressure and juggle many different symbols in your head. So completing a 25x25 sudoku as quickly as you can probably constitutes good mental practice.

Other activities that are likely to be good for mental practice (that are cheap and fun) are competitive speed card games like Blink or Egyptian Ratscrew played with Sandwich variants (just playing for pairs stresses speed, but not working memory).
posted by Jpfed at 7:45 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

P.S. For logic class, ignore the book they give you, and read THE BEST LOGIC BOOK. This might be the only textbook I actually enjoyed reading. There's no gimmick about it; it just says everything exactly right.
posted by k. at 7:46 PM on January 7, 2010

It depends on what you mean by "sharpening" your mind.

I've run across peer-reviewed journals on epidemiological data suggesting that people who play mahjong or card games regularly have reduced incidence/severity of senility/alzheimer's - but the (lack of) control here is that in engaging in these games, they also have a social support boost.
posted by porpoise at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2010

what could one do to actually sharpen one's mind

Walking is the only thing has been shown to decrease cognitive decline.
posted by bigmusic at 8:27 PM on January 7, 2010

Response by poster: I don't really find them boring because they're too easy—in fact I try to go through them too quickly and end up getting all the answers wrong, which I thought at the time had been perfectly right. I just don't know if they're worth getting through if they're not actually going to help me with other things in life. I've been getting a little fast at Freecell too, but I haven't noticed an improvement in any other areas of my life that could have been directly attributed to Freecell.

By "sharpening" I mean having noticeable effects that sort of show up in other aspects of life. One example I think would just be reading critical essays; I read an essay showing a logical error in an argument then that very error started showing up everywhere.

I just find it hard to believe that something like the Mahjongg my mom plays on her computer at night could be contributing to an active cognitive improvement.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:41 PM on January 7, 2010

Oh, I forgot to mention the so-obvious-that-they're-often-overlooked: sleep and regular exercise. Those improve working memory and processing speed with greater effect sizes than these games do.
posted by Jpfed at 10:46 PM on January 7, 2010

I bought a book of sudoku and logic puzzles, thinking it would help me in my upcoming logic class, but I found myself quickly irritated with how repetitive and seemingly useless (self-enclosed?) they seemed.

Assuming your logic class is anything like the one I took in college, it's not at all "logic puzzles" or suduku, it's writing mathematical proofs, doing truth tables, and the like. I loved it, but the vast majority of my classmates (CS majors) did not. Knowing whether Amanda, Brock, Candy, Debbie, or Eddie lives in the green house is (while perhaps a related ability) not directly relevant.

If you haven't done truth tables before (we did them in 9th grade geometry), I'd suggest starting there to get a head-start on the class. Learn the formal operators (and, not, or, etc.), and what they do (and do not do). Look at inferences.
posted by lysimache at 8:24 AM on January 9, 2010

Response by poster: For anyone who still happens to read this and care, I found a website that seems a lot more useful than "logic puzzles" in those magazines.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:13 PM on January 14, 2010

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