Keeping my brain fit

I like Terry Helget. He’s a friend. But sometimes I hate Terry.

Terry didn’t mean us any harm. Knowing we were lifelong baseball fans, he introduced a group of us to Immaculate Grid. That is an online, daily game. It’s not for the casual fan. It’s for the fan who devotes each summer to watching grown men play a game, then analyzing it ad nauseum.

Does that sound like an addiction?


Immaculate Grid was created by computer geek/baseball fans. It’s simplicity is its attraction. A tic tac toe-like grid has nine spaces to be filled in with Major League players from baseball’s long history. There are three categories across and three down. Each player has to match two to fill a space.

For example, a player who played for the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees. Or a player who won a Gold Glove and played for the Boston Red Sox.

You get a score depending on how many of your nine guesses are correct. Nine out of nine is immaculate. Plus, there is a “rarity” score. You get more points for lesser-known players who are “rare.” If you choose Reggie Jackson as a player who played for the Athletics and Yankees, you are not going to score as well as if you choose Ping Bodie. Ping played for the Athletics when they were in Philadelphia in 1917 and the Yankees the next year. But you knew that.

Terry whups me most days. Besides that, Terry is younger, more athletic, and better looking. I’m glad I have a few old, fat friends to make up for him.

I really don’t hate Terry, but Immaculate Grid has cost me hours of wracking my brain.

Who was that mildly successful Twins starter who signed as a free agent with the Mariners a few years ago?

I know this. Don’t tell me. I can see him. I could look it up, but that’s against Grid ethics.

We share our answers the next day. Each day I see I could have done better.

But then, hasn’t that always been true?

“He could have done better” will probably be on my headstone.

By the way, it’s Carlos Silva.

You ask why would I put myself through this daily anguish?

I have decided that for all its frustration, Immaculate Grid is a good mental exercise. I can almost feel my synapses firing as they rummage through the attic of my brain where I store useless knowledge. “Okay, Twins pitcher. Seattle. Darn, I know it’s in here somewhere. Look behind that Sandy Valdespino box.”

I am soon to be 68, and preserving the brain cells I have left is the goal. Scientists say the brain is like other muscles. They benefit from use and will weaken if not stretched and pulled. It’s use ’em or lose ’em.

If you are this age, you know people who face some degree of dementia. That is the great fear. In talking to my peers, we agree we would prefer physical decline to mental. But if we live long enough, a percentage of us will struggle with significant memory loss.

The tricky part is that some loss is natural. We joke about losing our keys and forgetting what we had for supper. Trying to remember names has become a principal hobby.

“Remember that guy who used to work for Del Monte?

He had blonde hair and lived down by the pool?

You know who I’m talking about?”

Googe tells that the hippocampus is to blame. “The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, often deteriorates with age.” I didn’t know I had a hippocampus. I probably knew I had a hippocampus but forgot. Oh, the irony.

Our ability to remember peaks in our twenties. Even Terry Helget is on the downhill slide. The decline accelerates in our sixties. Yeah, we in our sixties have noticed that.

When does it become an area of concern?

Will we know, or will everyone around know before us?

Pam and I joke about taking care of each other someday. She should show me how to turn on Netflix if someday she can’t.

Would she put Twins’ games on the radio for me?

How do we keep our brains fit and hitting on all cylinders?

Some of that is genetic. Looking back a couple of generations can give clues about things we don’t control.

I remember meeting 104-year-old Len Youngman, the fellow who was a kid in the Babe Ruth picture. Len could tell us what business was in each building in town in 1922, and who lived upstairs. He was also versed in current events. He had a remarkable mind till his death at 107.

Good genes are a factor. Beyond the luck of who our parents were, there are millions of choices we have made and make every day that can help our brains, or not.

We know sitting around and eating Doritos all day isn’t good. The connection between physical activity, nutrition, and brain health has been established. We used to think a little alcohol wasn’t bad for us. Now we know that a little is a little bad, and a little more is worse for our bodies and our brains. I like beer, so there’s a challenge.

It seems instinctual that using our brains will help. While I flail away trying to think of a Detroit Tiger who had 2,000 hits, others are putting together 1,000-piece puzzles. A daily crossword puzzle or Sudoku serves the purpose of lubing the mind. I have friends who compete to see who can get the five-letter Wordle the quickest every morning. Solitaire has been boosting brains for centuries. Reading has been around longer.

I’d like to think writing a column keeps a sharp edge on my mind. There are readers who might dispute that.

I’ve read that socializing, being around young people, and being optimistic are good for your brain. All that sounds exhausting. That makes me want a nap. Oh, that’s right: sleep is vital for maintaining mental acuity.

On one of these foggy days we’ve had, I saw that a Dense Fog Advisory had been issued. I was sitting at the kitchen table still in my morning stupor. I wondered about a Dense Brain Advisory. “Mental fog can be expected with patchy slippery thoughts. Low clouds in your head may reduce visibility of the obvious. Allow more time to complete a sentence.”

Does anyone know a Marlin who had a 20-win season?

— Randy Krzmarzick farms on the home place west of Sleepy Eye, where he lives with his wife, Pam.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today