Crossword Scores: Did I Get Dumber Because of Covid?

My experience having covid wasn’t bad at all and I feel like I have no lasting effects, but all of the recent articles about how covid affects one’s brain long-term made me wonder whether or not it affected me. Maybe I had become dumber, but didn’t realize it!

As I thought about ways that I could verify this, it occured to me that my cousin and I send each other our crossword scores nearly every single day. Because of how much sleep affects my ability to complete crosswords, I figured it might be a good proxy for mental ability.

First, I downloaded a program to extract all of my text messages into a readable data format. I then made a simple program to go through every message and extract the time (mm:ss) if there was one in the message. Using the timestamp of when it was sent, I tried to guess which day the crossword was for (the next day’s crosswords come out at 7pm on most days and 5pm on Sundays and Mondays), and I created a csv with that series.

I had data from October 2019 until April 2022. I’m not sure what happened to the older text messages, but I figured that would be good enough data.

I got covid on 9/10/2021, and as you can see from the graph above, it seems that my crossword performance did not suffer. In fact, my best average times ever were about 3 months later.

My time trends have been going up recently, which could mean that there was some sort of delayed effect, but I think it coincides pretty exactly with when I became more interested in Wordle, Quordle, Octordle, and Sedecordle. That led to me doing crosswords much later in the day, rather than when they first come out.

If I were better at data analysis, I would adjust scores based on time of day and might also break them down by day of week. Monday through Wednesday are probably more about mental quickness, Thursday through Sunday are more about reasoning.

When we first started doing crosswords, I would beat my cousin almost every day. After a few months she began to beat me on the monday through wednesdays, but I still won on the later days. Now she wins almost every single day. I probably haven’t won in months, and when I do win it’s by some tiny amount of time. She routinely beats me by several minutes!

I couldn’t help but also analyze her times, and sure enough her average time is 6:53 seconds and mine is 9:14. She’s beating me by over two minutes a day, which is pretty amazing when you consider than an average Monday time is about 3 minutes.

While I couldn’t detect any covid related brain damage, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. One paper said that people who had covid had lost brain matter in the areas related to taste and smell. I believe I can taste and smell as well as ever, but it’s possible that I just can’t remember what it used to be like. I also wouldn’t be surprised if drinking tea mindfully every day has helped me preserve those senses.

Either way, it was fun to realize I had a way to figure out if I had become dumber due to covid and to go down the rabbit hole to actually analyze the data. If my brain was damaged, I’m glad it’s not the crossword part. I’m already too far behind my cousin!


Photo is from Munich, where I laid over for a day on the way to Budapest. I came here for a couple days to fix some banking issues… only to realize that they celebrate Easter on Monday (my last day here), so I may have come for nothing. At least I’ll get to go to an opera!






6 responses to “Crossword Scores: Did I Get Dumber Because of Covid?”

  1. Ben Avatar

    Are you referring to the NYT crosswords or a different one?

  2. Konstantinos Avatar

    Hi! New reader here. Just today found out about your blog from Owen Cook and I really enjoy the posts! Is there any way to subscribe and receive updates in my email? Would be great to have that.
    Greetings from Athens, Greece.

  3. Larry Avatar

    Long time reader, first time poster. I had similar concerns, but used Sudoku.

    As long as you are doing a good number of puzzles on a regular basis, your personal results can yield good trend data. You can try averaging the result of every 5 scores to creat a sample set. Helps smooth out and normalize the data. See Statistical Control Charts for more ways to look at the data.

    Comparison to your cousin probably won’t mean much, as it sounds like your on two different learning curves (your consistent performance versus their improvement). If you had scores from others to factor in as well, that would make your performance compared to the group a more valid measure.

    It’s nice to have the data to go back to. I don’t think crossword, or sudoku really means much to how well your brain performs, but believe that a change in the trend of you performance would point to some cognitive decline. Crossword, Sudoku, reading, even paint is a good way to track cognitive ability. Saw a series of self portraits by an artist William Utermohlen done after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We focus a lot on physical ability as we age as you feel it with every movement, but mental performance changes are a lot more subtle.

  4. Ferdinand Samsa Avatar
    Ferdinand Samsa

    Lorem ipsum 123 789

  5. Mike Avatar

    Sorry bro, the fact that you even think about this issue is the proof that Covid has affected your brain.

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