Can Crosswords Make You Smarter?

Among the most popular games in the world, you’ll find crosswords, with an estimated 50 million people worldwide playing on a daily basis. It takes a lot of patience and a large vocabulary to nail a crossword puzzle. Because of this, there are many wondering if doing the daily crossword will make them smarter.

The answer, and the scientific research that goes along with it, may surprise you. Let’s take a look at crossword puzzles and how they’re linked to overall intelligence.

The Intelligence Quotient

When determining IQ (intelligence quotient), there are five scores that are taken into consideration. These are verbal comprehension, visual-spatial, fluid reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. Working on a crossword puzzle requires someone to use all of those IQ factors at once.

Research has shown that there are certain aspects of IQ that can be improved when doing crosswords. Working memory and processing speed typically require practice, and crosswords are a perfect way to make sure that you’re brain is staying active.

Crosswords and Aging

Many of the people that do crosswords on a daily basis tend to skew toward the older age bracket. While researchers were hopeful that games like crosswords would be able to slow down mental decline, they were able to find out that these games made it easier to cope with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

James Pickett of the United Kingdom Alzheimer’s Society said that “Although playing ‘brain games’…may not prevent dementia, it has been shown that regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with (the) disease.” However, there was another study released a few years after Pickett’s that said that there was a link between crosswords and brain age.

What About Intelligence?

Keith Wesnes, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exter Medical School, said that “We found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning, and memory.”

Wesnes added that “Performance was consistently better in those who reported engaging in puzzles, and generally improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle use.” While he said it would take some time to prove how the crossword puzzles improve these skills, those that played the puzzles each day were likely to have younger brain ages.

Another study that was spearheaded by Tiffany Hughes and Chung-Chou Chang stated that “A lower risk of dementia was found for a greater number of activities and for a high compared with low weekly time commitment,” which included crossword puzzles. Their conclusion was that crosswords and related activities for one hour each day might be protective against dementia in late life.

Scores Don’t Lie

Those that participate at an elite level in crosswords and games like Scrabble are shown to have high-functioning cognitive abilities. One study took people who were nationally ranked in these games and compared their cognitive function to college students who scored an elite level of over 700 on quantitative and verbal SAT tests.

While there wasn’t a major difference, the crossword players did tend to score the highest in cognitive ability. This meant that the smartest crossword players were achieving the same in reading and writing as those with SAT scores that were good enough to get into Ivy League schools like Harvard or Yale.


At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be right to say that doing a crossword puzzle every day is certain to increase your intelligence, it is safe to say that it won’t hurt. In fact, the link between crosswords and improved cognitive ability shows that simply doing one puzzle daily leads to a lot of mental health benefits that are too good to pass up.

Even the great Carol Burnett has said “I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning to keep the old grey matter ticking.”

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