In terms of cognitive challenges to keep your brain healthy, games and puzzles are fun, but they don’t provide any added brain benefit. The more you engage in them, the better you get at doing them…but that doesn’t help preserve the abilities you need to live independently, like memory and executive functioning.
The recommendation, then, is to do something different to challenge yourself: learn a new language or learn how to play an instrument or go on a trip.
Go on a trip? You don’t have to ask me twice!
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was played over the course of the last month. I’ve been a fan of the University of Connecticut Huskies since I was a graduate student there from 1996-2001, and Sally caught the fever from me.
So three weekends ago, we made the 4 hour drive up to Storrs, CT, where the first 2 rounds were played on campus. When the Lady Huskies won those games, I went online to get tickets for the next 2 games which were being played in Bridgeport, CT, the following weekend. And when they won those 2 games we made the decision to do something we’d never done before: go to the Final Four in Minneapolis, MN!
This is where the cognitive challenge came in. We had 72 hours to figure out how to get tickets, book a flight, and get a hotel room. We started on the drive home from Bridgeport with me driving and Sally googling hotel rooms.
She found a hotel that was 3 blocks from the arena, so we booked it. When we got home, I searched for tickets online and learned that TicketMaster runs a brisk scalping business. I didn’t want to go all that way (about 1,000 miles) to sit in the nosebleed seats and watch the game on the giant monitor, so I took a deep breath and bought lower-level tickets for a price I never imagined I would pay for any event.
Finally, I went to the American Airlines site to book a flight and, hopefully, use my 65,000 frequent flyer miles. Not only were the available flights at lousy times, but they told me I needed to purchase an additional 200,000 miles at a cost of over $3,000 to get the seats!
That sent me over to Travelocity where I found non-stop flights between Philadelphia and Minneapolis at reasonable times and at an affordable $500 for the round-trip.
Last Friday, we took an Uber to the airport, arriving in plenty of time. After boarding the flight, though, we learned that there was a mechanical problem and we’d have to de-plane while they fixed it. That put us 2 hours behind schedule, so when we arrived in Minneapolis, we took a taxi to the hotel instead of taking the tram as we had originally planned.
We checked in and immediately left for the arena where the 2 semifinal games were being played. UCONN was in the 2nd game and we defeated Stanford. On to the championship game!
The next morning (Saturday), we were having breakfast in the hotel when an older woman approached us and asked if we wanted to buy her tickets for the final. She was a Stanford fan and she and her husband were going back to California instead of going to the game on Sunday. The tickets were in the first row behind the team bench!
Having paid as much as we did for our seats, my first reaction was: “Not interested.” But then I thought about it. First row! So I went over to talk with her and her husband. They wanted half of what they paid for the tickets which they bought directly from Stanford at face value. What the hell…you only live once!
Now we had to figure out how to consummate the transaction. I didn’t have any cash and the tickets were only accessible on a cell phone (apparently they don’t print tickets anymore. Who knew?).
I recalled seeing a ‘transfer tickets’ feature on the app we had to use to buy the tickets, so I knew how she could deliver the tickets to me. Luckily, she had a Venmo account and I was able to make the payment to her that way.
The transaction was completed in less than 5 minutes. It must have been a sight, though, watching these 70+ strangers figure out the technology to make it work.
But I wasn’t done yet. I went back up to the room and went to the TicketMaster site to see if I could sell my original tickets and recoup a little of what I had paid, or at least get back what I just spent to upgrade my seats.
It is possible to sell your tickets there, but apparently you had to register with a bank account to do so, and I hadn’t done that. Damn!
But wait…I recalled seeing a ‘sell tickets’ menu button on the mobile ticket app and so back I went. Yup…there it was!
Placing the tickets up for sale was easy enough, but how to price them was the challenging part. It was only about 32 hours until game time, so I needed to get this right. I figured that a lot of fans of the semifinal losers (Stanford and Louisville) would be trying to sell their tickets just like the couple we had just met. And there wouldn’t be a lot of demand for tickets since only people in or within a few hours drive of Minneapolis were likely buyers. So instead of going for a killing, I took a safer path and offered the pair for $500 (we had paid $300 for the first-row upgrade).
In about 2 hours, I received an email notification that the tickets had been sold!
On Sunday afternoon, we took a bus to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It’s a beautiful facility and we spent our time in the Impressionism and Modern Art galleries. Directionally challenged as we are, finding the exit was an adventure, but we kept meandering until we got there…to discover that it was snowing outside! So instead of walking back to the bus stop, we called an Uber.
That night at the arena, the seats were great! The UCONN pep band was to our right, the cheerleaders directly in front of us and the team bench was on our left. It would have been perfect if we hadn’t gotten clobbered by South Carolina 64-49. 😦
The next day we took the tram from downtown to the airport. The connections were a little tricky, but we muddled our way through it. The flight was on time and we got an Uber from the airport. We were home by 7:30pm.
Once I finished licking my wounds from the defeat, I got around to thinking about all the cognitive challenges that this adventure entailed. Going to new places, orienting yourself, and figuring out how to get from point A to point B were at the top of the list. Then there was the task of mastering new technologies. And most of all, you have to react to a lot of unique decision-making inflection points. These are the things that are generalizable and help you preserve and grow vital brain circuits.
And best of all, when all is said and done (and unlike doing Wordle, jigsaw puzzles and crosswords), you have a great story to tell when it’s over!