As dedicated followers of cryptic crosswords will surely know, there is no substitute for experience when it comes to tackling a Telegraph Toughie. But a new scientific study has identified the key mental qualities which allow a select handful of crossword addicts to stand out among their peers.
So-called “fluid intelligence”, or the ability to “make the mind jump through hoops” while solving problems, is directly linked to the ability to untangle cryptic clues, researchers found.
People with higher fluid intelligence are able to reason more quickly and logically, manipulate date more easily and have a better grasp of complex and abstract information.
Researchers from the University of Buckingham studied a group of 28 experienced cryptic crossword solvers, all with decades of experience, but some of whom were elite crossword champions while others simply solved the puzzles as a hobby.
The participants were given 45 minutes in which to solve a crossword, and also sat a test designed to measure their fluid intelligence.
Unsurprisingly the expert solvers were much more likely to finish the puzzle within the time limit, but they also scored significantly higher in fluid intelligence.
Dr Philip Fine, who led the study, said: “We think that cryptic crossword solvers as a whole may have an innate aptitude for problem solving, making cryptic crossword solving an attractive and rewarding pastime.
“But we also found that experience in itself doesn’t fully explain the differences between expert and non-expert performance in this area. Higher problem solving ability appears to play a role in enabling elite solvers to excel.”
People who regularly spend all day struggling over a fiendish clue should not feel downhearted, however.
“Most people don’t set out to solve a puzzle at break-neck speed, and feel cheated if it doesn’t offer them a little challenge,” Dr Fine added.
“There’s a lot to be said for tackling the crossword at a more leisurely pace, admiring the skillful construction of the clues and savouring that ‘Aha!’ moment when the penny finally drops.”
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