Listening to words by
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Prompted By Brain Games

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Like many Retrospecters, I have been an enthusiastic crossword puzzle and Scrabble fan since grade school. I started doing crossword puzzles in a friendly competition with my dad, and by the time I got to high school, was doing reasonably well with the New York Times puzzles. I tried jigsaw puzzles as well and quickly found the limitations of my spatial abilities. This in contrast to my jigsaw puzzle wizard mom, an artist who still does them at age 92.

Every Sunday I listen to this amazing, funny, and very challenging game show that involves words ...

In my household now, I am the sole crossword puzzle fanatic, which is just fine. With Dick’s children at holiday times, I play the occasional Scrabble game (will have to check out the online world), while his in-laws do jigsaw puzzles. We also do other board games, which I enjoy. However, about seven years ago I added a new brain game to my repertoire that involves both words and listening.

During a conversation, an editor friend mentioned (off-handedly) a radio program called “Says You” that she thought I’d like. I filed it in the back of my mind, until a few months later, when I got my first pair of hearing aids. I learned that people with hearing loss benefit by keeping up their listening skills because our brains have to work harder to understand speech. After a few tries, I found the program on my local NPR station and was immediately hooked.

Every Sunday I listen to this amazing, funny, and very challenging game show that involves words, featuring off-the-scale clever panelists. Instead of looking at a screen or page, the audience plays along with its ears, although some people like to use a pen and paper. There are bluffing rounds when one team of three people tries to fool the other team with three definitions of obscure words, two made up and one real. And the words are obscure. In the seven years I’ve been listening, I’ve known only two words without the teams supplying definitions, although I do guess the right definition from time to time.

Other Says You categories are “Definitions and Derivations,” “What’s the Difference,” “Odd Man Out,” and several with witty puns. Also wicked-hard geographic questions, which are my least favorite. All test your logic, memory, and “pun quotient.” I find I’ve enjoyed the different pathway to fun with words by listening instead of seeing, and if Says You keeps me sharp, so much the better.

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I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Sounds like a wonderful program, Marian, thanks for telling us about it. I will have to look for it on my local NPR station. And I agree with you about jigsaw puzzles, they are definitely not my thing either.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Marian. I will have to try it.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    I have listened when I remember to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…” (great title, by the way) on NPR for years and regret not listening more. But “Says You” is a new one for me. So thanks very much for that, Marian. It really does sound terrific. And, as an occasional hearing aid wearer (I’ve found very little need for them during the pandemic), it might even be of health benefit to me to start listening to “Says You.” Of course, one of the things I love about NPR generally is how very rational and intelligent it is. It gives me hope that not everyone is listening to Rush and those other monsters on AM radio talk shows.

    • Marian says:

      Definitely no ranting on Says You, John. Just extremely witty and fun. I like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” a lot as well. I find I really need my hearing aids for Zoom meetings, both with clients and socially, because the sound quality can be so spotty. I also use the video instead of just calling in so that I can see people’s faces. It’s surprising how much speech comprehension is derived visually.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, Mare…can’t wait to give it a listen!

    I just realized no one has mentioned Luminosity. I wonder if anyone here has tried it.

  5. Wow Marian, we also love Says You!
    Arnie Reisman and Paula Lyons, two of the clever wordsmiths on the show are friends of ours, Arnie a college classmate of my husband.

    In fact I wrote about the show in my blog:

    Small world!

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Like John, I catch “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” as often as I can, but never “Says You”, though I actually know two of the panelists (as Dana mentioned above; Arnie is a Brandeis classmate of her husband’s, I know him through reunions – they are older, but we are in the same reunion cycle, but also because he is a full-time Martha’s Vineyard resident and very active in the theater down here. His wife Paula Lyons used to be the consumer affairs reporter for one of the local networks, back when that was a thing). Arnie frequently writes a column for our local newspaper and is a wonderful wordsmith.

  7. Risa Nye says:

    Marian, thanks for the reminder about this show! I’m going to find the podcast and listen while I follow the RBG workout book I bought months ago. I find having something clever to listen to (like “Wait, Wait…) helps me keep at it. I recommend checking out Only Connect (you can find it on YouTube). Some of the questions are very inside Britain (tube stop suffixes, for example), but some of them rely on pictures or music. I never know the answers, but enjoy watching it anyway.

    • Marian says:

      Cool about Only Connect. There’s an RBG workout book? Sounds great. I do a video series called Bone Boot Camp for women with osteopenia (now I don’t need most of the videos), and, like you, need something to watch while doing it because I don’t like weights and squats, although they seem to work. My sweetheart’s daughter is sending me one of the RBG face masks she just made. They are black COVID masks with a white lacy trim on the top!

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