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Word wizard designs a national brain game challenge to fight Alzheimer’s
posted 08.18.2011

by Alison Biggar

Every week, Merl Reagle creates crossword puzzles that are syndicated in 50 newspapers across the country. Known for his wit, facility with word patterns and for starring in the crossword puzzle movie Wordplay, Reagle has now used his talents to design a National Brain Game Challenge for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).

Reagle and his wife, Marie, live in Tampa, Fla., and spent the last “1,000 days” of Marie’s mother’s life acting as caregivers during her descent into Alzheimer’s disease. Since that experience, “caregiving has been our deal,” said Reagle when Aging Today caught up with him by phone.

Earlier this year, Reagle and Marie met with AFA staff in New York, and convinced them that getting the nation involved in an online puzzle would be a fun, interactive way to spread the word about Alzheimer’s and its effect on caregivers, and promote the idea that mental workouts such as crosswords may help reduce the risk of contracting the disease. The Brain Game Challenge will help educate about the lifestyle choices that support brain health, alert the public to AFA as a resource for support services and information about memory concerns and raise funds for the organization’s programs.

For a $25 registration fee (which goes to AFA), people can enter to play the Brain Game Challenge and complete the four online puzzles, which “go live” September 25, 2011 at 3 p.m. First, second and third prizes are $5,000, $1,000 and $500, respectively; and more than a dozen $100 prizes also will be awarded.

Reagle’s Sunday puzzles may be known for their pop culture eccentricities, but this one has “nothing in it [that] anybody can’t understand,” he says. The AFA wanted to level the playing field to attract as many nationwide participants as possible, so Reagle made the puzzles less obscure.

“It’s about how sharp you are, not how smart,” Reagle says. “This is a thinking person’s contest to help the thinking impaired.”

In addition to the online brain game, AFA organizations across America will host Brain Game Challenge events in communities from September 10 to 24. These events will involve working with visual puzzles, math conundrums and memory games—activities geared toward all ages, abilities and interests.

To register for the game, and for more information about the AFA, visit For specific information about successful aging, visit

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