Elite Scrabble players are pretty clever, and so are crossword puzzle champs. So who's the smarter wordsmith?
A new study designed to answer that very question shows things are a bit more, um, puzzling than you might have imagined.
"The overall intent was to see whether elite expertise in two very competitive, cognitively demanding games, both of which seem similar on the surface, depended on different types of working memory or strategies," study co-author Michael Toma, a doctoral student in applied cognitive psychology at Claremont Graduate University, told The Huffington Post in an email.
The researchers set out to find these differences by measuring the working memory capacity and strategy of 26 nationally ranked Scrabble and 31 crossword experts.
The experts were asked to determine the vertical symmetry of different images presented to them on a computer screen, and to remember where a series of blue squares appeared on a grid that flashed before their eyes. They were also asked to judge whether sentences on a computer screen made grammatical sense, as well as to recall the letters in the order they were presented in the sentence, and complete a word analogy test. The experts' results were compared with a control group of 30 college students.
What did the researchers find? The experts beat out the control group on every task -- no surprise there. And the crossword experts scored significantly higher on the test of word analogies than Scrabble experts. But "aside from performance on the analogies task, Scrabble and crossword experts did not differ significantly for the remaining three measures," Toma said in the email.
And so it turns out that this battle of the brains seems to have ended in a tie.
The study was published online in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology on August 17, 2014.