Popular Science

Our checkered past

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN challenging their wits since at least the third millennium BCE, when ancient Sumerians carved riddles into stone tablets. (Try this one, for example: “There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?”) Over time, we’ve developed puzzles that test a variety of skills—and revamped the most popular forms to make them ever trickier. Yet as the difficulty of brainteasers has grown, so too has our urge to tap them for sweet respite from the everyday. Enjoy a little escape and see how many of these you can crack. (Pssst. It’s a school.)

Download a printable version of these games at pops.ci/puzzles.

Answers on pages 105–106


PLAYERS PENCIL IN letters to feel the teensy “aha” rush when the answer fits. Research also shows that satisfaction might not be the only upside to crosswords: Regular playing may help delay memory loss and other signs of cerebral aging. Whatever the reason for our obsession, in the 107 years since a New York City newspaper first published one, the audience has grown steadily and now includes the hundreds of thousands of fans who try to defeat The New York Times’ trickiest grids daily. —SKW


Likely inspired by the ancient Sator square—a box of five words that sound out the same sentence backward and forward—England-born Arthur Wynne created the first published crossword. The mechanics of the diamond-shaped game, which ran in 1913, are the same as contemporary ones.

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