While many of us lay a lot of emphasis on physical work-outs and staying fit, we forget that keeping the mind alert and challenged is equally, if not more important. Marcel Danesi’s book titled Extreme Brain Workout provides us with ample scope to exercise those grey cells. I must confess Mr. Danesi has converted a non-believer like me, into a believer. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy solving the puzzles in the book I am also now seeking similar puzzles to workout.


marcel-danesi1In an e-mail conversation I had with the author – Mr. Marcel Danesi’s, he told me about his family, the influence his mother had on his upbringing and passion for puzzles, the success of his book given the prominence of the internet in our lives, and ofcourse about puzzles. Here below is an extract of the conversation I had with the author.


1. Give us a brief background about yourself. Tell us about your family, educational qualification, and what you currently do.

I was born in 1946 in Lucca, Italy and was brought to Toronto by my mother in 1948, as my father had already emigrated here after the war. I was an only child. I married Lucia in 1968 and I am still madly in love with her. We had one daughter, Danila, and from her three grandchildren, Alexander who is 19, Sarah who is 15, and Charlotte who is 1 year old. I went to elementary, high school, and university all in Toronto. I received a BA in 1969, MA in 1971, and Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Toronto. I started teaching in 1972 and am currently Full Professor of Anthropology and Semiotics at the University of Toronto.

2. What about anthropology and semiotics drew you to it?

Growing up speaking Italian in the home and having to cope with English outside the home for learning and practical purposes, I became keenly aware of the role of language played in the development of personality and character. So, I was drawn to linguistics as an anthropological enterprise and, by extension, to semiotics as a discipline studying both verbal and nonverbal communication as they unfold in tandem.

3. How did you first begin your journey into solving and creating puzzles?

I recall my mother doing crossword puzzles (in Italian) as a boy and not letting a puzzle go until she had completed it. When I was invited to Indiana University at Bloomington as a scholar in their Institute for Advanced Studies in the late 1990s, I was supposed to give public lectures on a topic that would interest both academics and the general public. The memory of my mother's addiction to crosswords came to me and I decided to explore why the human species has always created puzzles, from riddles to current sudoku logic puzzles. Actually, to conquer my own frustration and fear of puzzles I decided to penetrate their structure and (a) write a historical survey of them in my book "The Puzzle Instinct" and (b) actually compose them, so that I would grasp their essence and what they revealed about the creative mind.

4. What is the most challenging part of creating puzzles?

Making them understandable even to those who say they dislike them. Once people know how a specific puzzle "works" and its intrinsic properties are understood, solving them becomes less and less challenging. But we like challenges and puzzles provide us constantly with them. What would life be without challenges? In their own miniscule ways, puzzles tap into this innate need to solve things. So, when I create collections of puzzles I start with explaining how they are solved, what their properties are, and then gradually make them more complex.

5. What has today's internet savvy generations response to your books been like?

As a pre-Internet person, who once actually wrote his books on a typewriter, I find that the Internet has actually made people today more interested in what I do. I used to believe that the only people who read my books were myself, my wife, and my editor. Now, I can see that if you are creating something that is meaningful or useful the reaction is instantaneous and global. The response to my own books seems to have been very positive, far exceeding my own expectations. Everyone is interested in what a puzzle is, where it comes from, and how to solve it. The Internet has made a vast array of information available, but it is not organized. Hopefully, in organizing it sequentially and interestingly the information becomes insightful and meaningful for those who read my books.

6. Is there a puzzle or a type of puzzle that inspires you?

That is hard to answer. All puzzles have their particular charm and pose their own kind of challenge. Like music, it depends on the time of day, the situation one is in, and the mood one has—these dictate what genre of puzzle suits me best. 

7. Words of wisdom on how to keep our mind alert and sharp.

What else? Do puzzles daily, just as you would do other things to keep fit physically and mentally. Once someone gets a solution they will feel a sense of accomplishment and get on with the rest of life.

 Grab your copy here