Share this article on:

NEUROBICS: Mental Juggling

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000394645.94420.3a
DEPARTMENTS: The Waiting Room

This puzzle exercises your memory and your reasoning ability. Keeping a list in your head is like juggling: It takes effort to keep track of all the items without dropping anything, especially when you have to juggle the order.

Memorize the shopping list below. Practice until you can recite the list perfectly from memory.

  1. Cover the list and recite the items from memory. Check your answer. If you have trouble remembering all the items, try making a humorous mental picture that includes all the items in order. For instance, you might picture a teabag steeping in a spoonful of applesauce that is in a person's open mouth.
  2. Cover the list and recite the items in backwards order. Check your answer. This is harder than reciting the items in their original order, because you have to rearrange the list in your head. Reciting a list backwards from memory exercises your short term or “working” memory.
  3. Cover the list and recite the items in alphabetical order. All items in the list start with different letters. This is harder than reciting the list backwards, because you must keep track of all seven items at once in order to put them in alphabetical order.
  4. Cover the list and recite the list in order from the item with the fewest letters to the item with the most letters. All items have different numbers of letters.
  5. Cover the list and recite the items in an order so the last letter of each item in the list is the first letter of the next item. Hint: the first item is “kiwi.”
  6. Uncover the original list and look at it. The items are in this order for a reason. What is the reason? Hint: All's well that ends well.
  7. Bonus question: Visualize the path you would walk in your local supermarket in order to buy all the items in one efficient circuit.
  8. This puzzle was adapted from the book The Playful Brain: The Surprising Science of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind, by Richard Restak and Scott Kim (Riverhead Books 2010). For more information, visit — Scott Kim,
©2011 American Academy of Neurology