Am I getting stupider? The numbers are suggestive

For half the year I’ve been anticipating writing this note. Here’s the story.

Every day, Monday through Saturday, I do the LA Times crossword puzzle, which is carried in my daily paper, the San Jose Merc. Back in 2012 I started recording my solving times in a spreadsheet. Each morning I use the stopwatch feature of my watch to time my solving of the puzzle, and record it. Obviously I have the spreadsheet keep the average time for each day.

I start a new “sheet” in the spreadsheet file each year, and about 2014 I began including in the current year’s sheet, the difference between this year’s average and last year’s. Early in 2021 I noticed what looked like a trend, which has remained consistent for the whole year.

Third row shows the average of the times for this year. You can see how the LA Times puzzle makers very nicely grade the difficulty of each day’s puzzle, so that Mondays take less than half the time to do, as compared to Friday, and Saturday is the hardest of all. The Sunday column is for the NYT big puzzle.

Top row, as it says, is last year’s average, minus this year’s average. It’s red if the result is negative, meaning this year’s time is longer. Notice they are all red. My average solving time for 2021 is, as you can see in the middle row, from 8% to 19% slower than it was last year, across the board.

Does this mean I’ve gotten 8-15% slower in my verbal thinking this year? It might mean that. It might mean the puzzle has gotten harder, which I very much doubt, because how and why would they do that? For more info I pulled in more data. I graphed my solving times for all the years I had.

Here the vertical axis is minutes to solve, and the horizontal numbers are the annual averages. This graph omits the Sunday times, so it doesn’t have to be tall enough to show 35-40 minute values. What does it show?

It seems to show that I had trouble with Friday and Saturday back in ’14 and ’15. That aside, just looking at 2018-21, there seems to be a fairly clear trend, a shallow rise.

Will the numbers for 2022 continue the trend? Am I getting verbally slower? And if so, will the change continue a slow climb, or will it accelerate?

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