Stupidly, for Puzzle Day, I went for the Rubik’s Cube, knowing full well that I’m utterly rubbish at it. I’d love to be a whiz kid at Erno Rubik’s wondrous invention, but I just never seem to have the patience. Still, I decided to give it a proper go today, and I can proudly say that I completed the mechanical puzzle in just 829 moves, give or take fifty or so. And I didn’t even swap any of the stickers round. Go me!

My mam’s great at the Rubik’s Cube and it got me thinking about funny family skills or party tricks, most of them belonging to distant relatives. Some of these aren’t strictly puzzles but I like it when a day gets me thinking about other things too, so it’d be great if you could humour me for a minute.

One great-uncle (I think that’s what he was) favoured the coin behind the ear trick, and from what I’ve been told he was a natural. Then there’s other sleight of hand, such as the disappearing thumb, and string figures like Cat’s Cradle, both of which were demonstrated by family members for the amusement of others. Some of these relatives still love jigsaws, covering their kitchen tables in thousand-piece images of kittens in wicker baskets, and many chew over crosswords and word searches during lazy Sunday afternoons. I don’t think anyone in the family belongs to Mensa, though. I know I certainly don’t – I can never get past the ‘Two trains set off at 2pm, one from Liverpool, one from Aberdeen’ type questions, I just end up deciding they both turned up on time and everyone got on with their lives.

In terms of quirky stuff, personally I’m excellent at reciting the alphabet backwards at speed, observe: ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA. Okay, so it doesn’t have the same effect when typed, but I give you my word I can say it as quickly back to front as I can the right way round. I also enjoy word puzzles, although I admit I sometimes get frustrated when I’ve been pondering over a seemingly impossible sentence with missing letters which then turns out to be something really simple like ‘The duck sat in the pond’.

I’m thinking I might buy myself a puzzle magazine tomorrow, as all this talk of using the old grey matter is making me hungry for a mental challenge. I might start small though; I hear they sell Sudoku for five-year-olds these days.


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