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What’s a four-letter word ...

What do websites, sausages and golf courses have in common? Think about it. If you do a daily New York Times crossword puzzle or are a 10-year-old who delights in telling jokes — you’ll probably recognize the answer quickly.

What about this one? It’s a little tougher. What do rivers, airplanes and Wall Street have in common?

Not to worry — I will offer up the answers, but not until I make a few points about how to enhance an aging memory. Research supports that nudging your brain function with thinking games, crossword puzzles and, yes, silly, sometimes- hard-to-figure-out jokes, can maximize our cerebral edge.

I am well into a retired lifestyle. I no longer wake up every morning saying, “Every day is a gift” as did in the first few months after I stopped working full-time. I love the slower-paced rhythm of the retired life. That said, pandemic isolation left some holes in my day’s activities, which I started filling with a simple 25-grid crossword puzzle. I used to scoff at them — crossword puzzles that is. Now I’m hooked. I particularly like the ones that have embedded jokes or answers (when you finally get them) that make you grin —and openly admire the mind of the puzzle’s creator.

This new-found passion began after decades of watching my husband complete a crossword puzzle every morning while eating his granola with blueberries and zero-fat milk. He does them in pen … never succumbing to a Google look-up. The first morning I pulled out a crossword grid and began to focus on it, he gave me a disbelieving glance. He thought it was a one-time effort — but I persisted.

And now I’m totally hooked. There is a feeling of pleasant, unexpected satisfaction upon completion of a puzzle. I venture to say it has prompted a new kind of marital bond in our 40-year relationship. My spouse may (occasionally) reach out for my input and offer up questions like —“What’s a five-letter word for “industry tycoon?” (The answer is ‘Baron” with one “r”.)

I have recently taken to creating my own puzzles to use in my daily tutoring sessions with our grandson. He favors crossword creations with embedded jokes. The task is a tough one and even harder if I’m looking for an answer that will be both funny and memorable for him. He likes jokes that he can re-tell and easily bring up the punch line. As illustration, ‘What is a four-letter word for “bottom”? The answer is “butt,” which my grand boy thought was absolutely hilarious.

Memory loss is inevitable as we age. The little and big things we can do to support good memory function range from eating nutrient-dense blueberries to finding a quiet corner with no distractions in which you can do your crossword-of-the-day.

Perhaps you’re doing a crossword puzzle in which the answer is “ links” or “banks” as in the introductory queries above. Already got those answers? Good job. What about a three-letter word for “quite an achievement?” (The answer is “Wow!” — exclamation point optional.)

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.