Are cryptic crosswords really ‘better than sex’?

Kathryn Friedlander explores the ‘kick’ we get from cracking a really good cryptic crossword clue.


A number of stories in the press earlier this year reported work carried out in Vienna and London on solving puzzles in a brain scanner. The study suggested that solving a clue to a puzzle can trigger a highly rewarding ‘Aha!’ (or ‘Eureka!’) insight moment, which releases dopamine into the brain. This is the reward chemical associated with daily activities such as eating, winning money … and having sex. This led to headlines promising that cryptic crosswords were ‘better than sex’… but what’s the reality behind the hype?

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What makes an expert cryptic crossword solver?

Study reveals what it takes to become a cryptic crossword expert – and it’s more than just practice

You may have heard of the “10,000-hour rule”, the belief that it takes thousands of hours of intense practice to become an expert in something. Training and practice are clearly vitally important in many highly competitive areas such as sports, music and chess. But is that really all it takes to achieve greatness?

Recent research suggests that other factors such as genetics influence the likelihood that you will try, enjoy and excel at a performance activity. We decided to test that theory in the highly challenging arena of cryptic crossword solving. Continue reading

What’s it all about?

Ever wondered why some people are better at playing the violin than others?  Mystified by those who knock off the Times cryptic crossword in only 5 minutes? Curious as to why some people pursue niche hobbies – like campanology, mycology or button-collecting?

Want to know what makes people creative (or not), and how creative thinking might be enhanced? So do we!

Based at the University of Buckingham, our CREATE research hub is dedicated to probing these questions, and more. Together with our guest bloggers and collaborators from other Universities, we’ll be sharing our thoughts and discoveries along the way.

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