Game of the Week: Paying Attention As You Live

28 Aug

We walk through our lives enjoying the big picture and living beyond the tiny details. That is not a bad thing and personally, I love just taking it all in.

The past few weeks I have been adding to the Cranium Crunches photo well. That means taking pictures as I live. Cranium Crunches, here on the blog and in the interactive games and in the Cranium Crunches Apps, is about practicing thinking skills in the context of your life. I want you to feel like you are taking a walk with me each time you play a Cranium Crunches game, and together, we will have a few smiles, enjoy a good conversation, and nourish our brains.

I don’t have a fancy camera or even a removable or expandable lens. I don’t stop and focus on a shot. Honestly, that is not the way most of us live.  We don’t take the time to stop and focus-we just walk right through. And in the end, the photos I take with my every day no frills camera as I walk through my life, sometimes turn out every bit as beautiful as the scenes I experience. I could add color and touch them up but I prefer to leave them, as I took them, as I lived them.

Here are a few of my favorites from this last batch. I turned them into some One of These Things Are Not Like the Others puzzles for you!  Notice that I switched up the format a bit to change the experience. One of These Things puzzles in the online game have nine images-three rows of three. These only have 2 rows and have either eight or six images. You will have to challenge yourself to focus on the details to figure out which image is different.

This one was taken at the San Diego Astronomy Association’s viewing area in Tierra Del Sol, CA.

star gazing static


Another beautiful sunrise in San Diego….skyline staticI snapped this (on the sly) at the Trombone Shorty and Galactic concert at a venue I won’t mention here because…well, I was breaking the rules when I took this photo.  It was an amazing concert and we danced and danced and danced some more! Check them out!!!

shorty static

I took this photo from the window of the Amtrak Surfliner. This is what Los Angeles looks like from the train…..

tagger static


Don’t forget you can always play more brain puzzles and games at or customize some games using your own photos in a few our Apps!

Zooming Out: Hiking, Learning, and Honoring the Past

26 Aug

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture sometimes the world becomes clearer and you see how everything just seems to fit together.  This week’s exercise is a great example of  just that.  Random slices out of a whole scene don’t tell you the whole story and you don’t get the rich in depth view of the experience.

My bigger picture includes living a purposeful life and I try to push myself each day to amplify my experiences by including those things that are meaningful and important to me on a deeper level. I look for those things I love-what makes me happy and feel fulfilled-and turn the volume up on those experiences.  So, when planning a trip, even a two day train get away, my husband and I try to amplify our experience, and make our travel purposeful where ever possible.

We love to hike,  learn, and uncover pieces of the past so a trip to Painted Rock. Carrizo Plain National Monument via Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner to check out an ancient Native American Chumash site seemed to fit our needs perfectly.

Of course you must always pack the proper shoes for the occasion. This is a photo of me, in my natural environment.

hiking boots

Pre-planing served us well on this trip. Carrizo National Monument is open to the public and there is no admission fee however, Painted Rock is behind a locked gate in a protected area.  From March to mid-July you must get a guided a tour and those can be arranged at the Education Center. The rest of the year, you can do a self-guided tour but you must apply for access, get approved, and get a gate code to access the site.  The night before we left for our trip we got our access code via email!

One of the first things we saw was this rock cluster covered with different colored lichen-the stuff that rock art paint is made of! Orange, green, red, and, at this site, even purple lichen covered the rocks.

paint material

Of course, these creatures (Dan and me), in their natural element must take photos!

shaddow camera

The whole scene was a bit eerie. Here we were, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, completely alone. Or so we thought.  Check out what is coming over the hill.

elk 2

And here he is, in all his glory, at full glide, across the side of the hill. It always amazes me just how graceful full grown elk can be.

Elk 1


At the end of 3/4 mile hike and some serious exploring and wonder, we came to another rock formation just sitting in the middle of this huge plain.  The rocks formed a protected bowl and here is just a sampling of what we found in that bowl.

rock art chumash

The Chumash used this area for ceremonies and gatherings. Standing in the middle of the rocks, you can almost feel the ancients, hear the drums and the singing, see the dancers and painters, and experience the rich history this place holds.

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And some bonus photos of this amazing site!

The trail in…. Hot, dry, and completely civilization-free!P1130001 (2)

Across the Carrizo Plain is the dried up Soda Lake…. More on this next week but this shot of the vast plain gives you an idea just how alone we were on this site. Very powerful feeling.

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And there, in the distance, was the Painted Rock site.

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Rock art is a generic term for the images left behind by the ancients all over the world. There are two types of rock art: petroglyphs and pictographs.

This etching is one of the first images we saw as we walked.  Carvings are called petroglyphs.

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Paintings like this one are called pictographs. This particular, was mostly likely painting using lichen similar to what is still present on the rocks less than 1/3 of a mile away (see above).  We believe that this is a symbol that represents and a blanket but no one is really sure.

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Many of the stories, legends, and meanings were lost over the centuries but this one is pretty clearly a lizard!

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Purposeful travel is such a meaningful and enjoyable way to see the world.  Learn as you go, gain a deeper appreciation, and come out on the other side with a stronger, more connected appreciation of where you and those before you have been.



Zooming In on What is Meaningful

25 Aug

Finding what you love and pursuing it is the shortest path to overall health and surely the most direct route to quality of life enhancement.

Today we are Zooming In on a few things I love: being active, engaging in life, learning, exploring, and honoring the wonders of the past.

The following bits came from my photos I took on a recent day trip. They are all clues to figuring out what excites me and those brain healthy activities that I use to enhance my life and keep my brain nourished.  Each comes with a hint — even when you might not need one :)!

The right accessories for the job….

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The right ingredients for the job….

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Using the right tools….

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The perfect cast of characters….

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And the reward at the end of the journey.

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All of the details tomorrow in Zooming Out about this pretty cool adventure and the story behind it all!

Zooming Out: Sorting Into Categories

19 Aug

Yesterday we played a categorization game.  The goal was to try to identify at least 2 common characteristics in three close up photos. This is a helpful game because it forces you to think systematically and be intentional about what you are paying attention to. In general, sorting items into categories and trying to place one item in multiple categories increases your odds of being able to recall that item later.  In particular, practicing categorization skills can help you:

  • Store more information because it is stored efficiently,
  • Improve recall, and
  • Help you struggle less to find the right word!

Here are the Zoomed Out version of the photos from the last puzzle.

It’s a bird. It’s a butterfly. It’s a bee! That means it is a living creature with wings and it flies! We had some incredible guesses on this one!





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Zooming In: Categorizing to Improve Memory

18 Aug

The brain both organizes information and saves space by categorizing.

The act of identifying similar physical characteristics (ie.  tall, red, or soft), common themes (ie. things you might use when swimming or working out),  common places for use  (ie.  in the kitchen or in a classroom), or similar emotional  responses (like sadness, anxiety, or joy) helps the brain make sense out of the millions of bits of information available at any given moment and store it more efficiently.

We call this process categorization — the act of taking experiences, identifying common items, and storing those things in one or more class of items based on a prototype of that class — and is key to both storage in and retrieval from long-term memory.  One of the really compelling things about this idea that the brain holds prototypes that direct how to store bits of information is this — practicing this skill will make it better.

Let’s turn Zooming In this week into a categorization exercise.  Can you identify the common category in these small pieces of the photos?  Try to identify several kinds of prototypes — one that is based on physical characteristics, one that refers to a common activity, and one that holds a shared emotional response.  


bird feet on the rock

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Can you guess the category?

Weekly Brain Challenge: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

13 Aug

In this week’s One of These Things is Not Like the Others challenge we are looking at how changing your perspective can change what you see.   Playing this game can help you develop strategies to search and sort and maybe even figure out when it is time to look at a scene from a different angle!

In this first puzzle, zooming in and looking at the fine details might not be all that helpful for one very specific reason.  You can hold just so many bits of information in your working memory at one time.  As you move from photo to photo, is almost impossible to remember every single detail — the words, the number sequences, the graphic elements — too many pieces of information to remember everything.  In cases like this it helps to take a step back and look beyond the details — look for things like balance and symmetry.  Do the lines look the same?  Does anything feel off?
fortune cookie static


The next puzzle is a case where just the opposite applies.  Your brain is likely to look right past the changed photo if you don’t pay attention to the details.  Do you see why?

kitchen witch staticIn this next one, do you think it is better to Zoom In or Zoom Out?’

airport cart staticHow about here?

Splash static

This is something that you can practice every day.  Look up from your screen and take a good look at what is around you.  Then close your eyes and change your perspective.  Do you notice any differences in what you see when you look at life up close and from a distance?


Zooming Out: Embracing the Context

12 Aug

Looking for clues in the context can help you orient yourself and figure out how to prioritize information.  Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

Yesterday in Zooming In, you got little bits of text and your challenge was to try to figure out where each was printed.  First example was this:

1ZI pc program

There are several clues here. The first line is in bold so that would indicate some kind of listing — in this case a workshop title.  The words “Exhibit Hall” and “affords participation” also point to a conference.  Here is a the conference brochure.

exhibit book



Entry #2:

1zi bookjacket


The purple background and white letters here tell you that this is probably not a newspaper or traditional magazine.  Probably not a the interior of a novel either.  The words “visionary with strong…” and the attribution to  “Miami Herald”  indicate a review. It is a book jacket covered with reviews.

2 seth godin out


Zoomed In bit #3:
1ZI bookmans

The clues in this are found both in the writing and printing styles.  Times New Roman letters on an off white background indicate traditional printing. The language is loose and feels a bit conversational so this is probably not  a news vehicle or a piece of business writing.   It is a page of novel.  One of my recent favorites, The Bookman’s Tale, that I won on one of my favorite blogs, Books Is Wonderful,  with one of my recent favorite lines, “One day when, without prior notice, life changes is a fundamental way.”

bookman out


And this delicious bit….

1zi menuThe words were a good indicator that this had something to do with food.  The type style changed as well and the tells you that this was probably not a food review.  The informal use of a + gave further clues and the textured looking paper sealed it that this morsel came from a menu — a menu from an amazing restaurant Bo Beau in Long Beach, CA.

bb menu out


And the one you could hold in your hand….

1ZI pc bc

Phone number? It is the back of my business card!

bc out

This one is something I see all the time….

1ZI pc of research

What are the clues here?  Could this be some kind of reference to the piece?  Article 245 on page 1something? “me 8 indicates volume?  I spend entirely too much time reading journal articles but this is a good one — a study about what happens to the brain when you listen to music every day!

2 res paper out


And the final entry….

1ZI pc inside boook

Clues here are in type style and wording.  Times New Roman so maybe a book or newspaper. The phrases “business dinners”, “by spa doyen Deborah” and “first wellness ret(reat)” point to a review of location.  This happens to be in a great book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” that my friend from Midlife at the Oasis sent me in book box.  This description really makes me want to go to the Golden Door….

1000 out


You can get so much information just by paying attention to the context!

Zooming In: Using Context to Fill in the Gaps

11 Aug

The brain masterfully fills in gaps when life leaves holes in the scene.  Your brain is wired to make sense out of whatever sensory information is presented. This filling in the gaps and making assumptions happens pretty quickly — partly because it creates an uncomfortable feeling to not be able to figure out what is going on and partly because when you focus too hard on one thing you are missing everything else buzzing around.

It helps to use the context to make quick attentional decisions about what you see. Context can help you figure out if you should fill in a gap (make an assumption) or spend time figuring it out what really belongs there.

Today’s Zooming In selections are all about words in context. Your challenge it to figure out where you might find these words by using visual clues like the type style, color, textures, placement, and even some of the words themselves.  Can you figure out where I found these words?

Where might you find this selection?

1ZI pc programSeveral clues here….

1zi bookjacketCan you place this by style of writing?

1ZI bookmansHow about this?

1zi menuCan you feel this one between your fingers?

1ZI pc bcDoes this bring back any memories?

1ZI pc of researchLet the words guide you on this one….

1ZI pc inside boook

How well did you fill in the gaps?

Photo Walk With a Sound Track

8 Aug

I have a very personal and profound connection with music. This may sound oh so cliche but music really did help save me. Rhythms and melodies took my recovery to a new level as I worked to heal my brain after an injury. Words woven in songs inspired me to keep moving as the healing power of music helped my body release all those nourishing chemicals that triggered all that healthy electrical activity that pushed open those dormant pathways that took me to a better level of functioning. So much more on this coming soon but for now, just know that I used music to rewire my brain….

Most moments I have a song playing in my head. Some times that song is related to what is happening right at that moment but most times it is some random piece of music.

Adding music to everyday activities sets a restorative process in motion. With that in mind, this week’s photo walk has a sound track. Hum along to the song running through my head this morning as you stop and enjoy the flowers in a unlikely place….

light up flowers

bird of paradise

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All of this beauty, right at the very end of the runway….

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And one more song to set you on your way!

Weekly Brain Challenge: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

6 Aug

Music is tied to memories for a variety of reasons but primarily because the brain processes music on multiple levels – emotional, sensory, physical, temporal.

This week’s puzzle challenge is from a game with a name that will bring up a musical memory – One of These Things is Not Like the Others.

Did you just continue singing the song?  I do — every time!

One of These Things is Not Like the Others, the game, helps you work on the second step in the memory process:  your working memory.  The first step is attention — the sensory information has to get past your filters or it will never stand a chance of getting processed and stored. In step 2, you must hold all the information that is in your awareness, right now, and sort through to decide what to keep and what to let pass by.

By practicing working memory skills in games like this one, you can develop strategies that help you navigate the process most efficiently.

The object of this game is to try to find the one image that is not exactly like the others.  Every one of these photos has a musical theme!

Ready? Go!

music 1 ottnlo

music 2 ottnlo


music 3 ottnlo

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