My Husband’s Game by
(211 Stories)

Prompted By Brain Games

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I know the perception is that I have excellent recall of events long-past, but trust me when I tell you, this is a mere shadow of how I used to be. I already know I am losing it. Part of this is due to a migraine prevention medication I’ve long taken called Topamax. It is known to cause word-loss and a bit of confusion. I’ve taken it for at least 18 years and know that I am not as sharp as I once was. Some wags refer to the drug as “Dope-amax”, but if it helps me (which I know it does, as I had to go off it for a while and I was miserable), I’m willing to pay that price.

I’ve never been good with brain-teasers, crosswords or the like. I find writing these weekly stories to be enormously gratifying, if time-consuming. They do help me with word and memory issues better than any game I could devise. I have to genuinely THINK, use vocabulary, memory, be creative. One of the reasons I write ahead is because I like to get my thoughts down, let the story marinate, then go back and see if I can do better; come up with a better word, turn of phrase, of course look for typos or missing words that are so easy to miss no matter how many times one proof-reads. Part of my lack of enthusiasm for games has to do with spatial relations (I have none; why I don’t golf or play tennis). Others in my family are fantastic at it. Vicki is truly gifted.

I believe my continued singing with my choral group is another way to keep my brain in tune (pun intended). Continuing to learn new music (we were working on a Stravinsky Mass when COVID shut us down last March; I have no idea when it will be safe to resume) is challenging, as both the notes and the time signature can be difficult to learn. Our director goes over each choral part during rehearsal time, but is pleased that, as a group, we have become better at sight-reading. We had drills on it in our top high school choir, of which I was a member in 11th and 12th grades. It is a learned skill, but, like most other skills, use it or lose it. As I creep toward the age of 70, that is a muscle that needs flexing as much as any other in my body.

High School Choir

Dan, in retirement (18 years and counting), looks for ways to keep busy. For a while he was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sundays (we only get the Sunday print edition). Then he discovered the online version. He really enjoys that, as he can come back to it, get hints, never has to worry about erasures, can always get a new one easily, can even travel with it.

Then he discovered the “spelling bee”.

This is some sort of letter jumble or anagram. You are supposed to make as many words as possible out of the letters given. He would play this ad naseum on the house computer (in the very public den, which is the computer I use all the time too) at Christmas time when we had all the family home. Vicki always spotted new possibilities, Anna would add another word. It was a group effort and lots of fun to engage when was everyone around. Sort of an on-line Scrabble, something else I am not very good at. I just don’t “see” the patterns in the letters. My brain doesn’t work that way.

Vicki, as a youngster, liked to play “Hangman” with our neighbor on the Vineyard (we were back and forth in each other’s homes all day). Mara still talks about being beaten by the word “sphynx”; a fiendishly good word on my child’s part.


Dan also enjoys jigsaw puzzles. These days, he’s working on the 1,000 piece variety, usually covers of New Yorker Magazine. They are very difficult, with lots of white space. He pines for help from Vicki (who is 3,000 miles away). Again, she has that knack for just walking by, picking up a piece and just KNOWING exactly where it belongs. Incredible! The one pictured above was a recently completed project on my Vineyard dining room table. Now what to do with it? So Dan does all these games to try and remain sharp.

When it first came out, we used to love playing “Trivial Pursuit”, particularly with our friends Roger and Francine. That was a blood sport. Now we watch “Jeopardy” at night after the network news. Each of us can run certain categories, but again, I can’t access the names as quickly as I used to. Many years ago I tried out for Jeopardy when they held auditions in Boston. Out of about 100 people in the room, I was one of a dozen who scored highly on the written test to make it into the pool of people who might get called during that taping season and got a little trial audition so the producers could see how I’d perform live. I confess, I wasn’t great “on my feet”. The buzzer timing is very difficult, even if you know the correct answer. I was nervous and not as vibrant as I usually am. The twelve of us remained in the potential applicant pool for a year, but I was never called to Hollywood to tape a show. That’s OK. At least I made it as far as I did. Now I know my recall isn’t fast enough to even do that.

So I write these stories (constantly looking up the spelling of words), searching my memory for good stories from my past. That’s what keeps me going.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Topamax, word loss, puzzles, Jeopardy
Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    I really enjoyed the perspective of a “non-puzzler,” Betsy. And you certainly keep your brain sharp in so many other ways. Proof that we can all subscribe to a “use it or lose it” philosophy and yet not “use it” the same way.

    But, of course, I can particularly relate to Dan because of the puzzles and other word games he plays. Indeed, I’m not sure why I don’t do “Spelling Bee” because I also enjoy anagrams. (My favorite one these days — which I, sadly, did not invent — is “Lord Dampnut” for “Donald Trump.”)

    And, like Dan, I’ve gotten back into jigsaw puzzles, which I was very much into as a kid. And, indeed, I just finished my own 1,000-piece New Yorker cover; it showed dogs panting in apartment windows on a summer day and is entitled “Hot Dogs.) Not only did I finish it in a marathon session over 4th of July weekend, but I then laminated it and had it framed.

    Do keep writing your great Retro stories — both for our enjoyment and your mental acuity.

  2. Brava Betsy, as usual you’ve covered so much!
    I never thought of the mental challenges of singing, of learning the words and music. And so interesting to hear what other families enjoy. My husband, to my great dismay, doesn’t like cards or board games, but when my son was young we played all the kids‘ games, somehow I remember loving PickUpStix altho not a brain game!

    So sorry about the migraines, but glad you’ve found helpful meds. I have a neighbor who suffers with no relief, will tell him about Topomax altho he’s tried everything, so surely that too.

    And a risqué tale – another friend suffered monthly migraines so badly her husband often had to take her to the hospital for treatment.
    Once she was lying on a gurney in excruciating pain when the doctor suggested next time she had an attack to try sex, that orgasm would cure the headache.

    Her husband said, Want to try It now honey?
    Through her pain she muttered, I’ll take a raincheck.

    Stay safe Betsy, keep that brain busy!

  3. Our stories have something in common, Betsy…I, too, find writing for Retrospect very gratifying in a brain-game kind of way.

    And, since Dana contributed a risqué comment and John brought up his favorite anagram for you-know-who, I feel safe in sharing mine: Truck Fump.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    As I noted before, Betsy, we have some things in common. My husband is also great with all sorts of puzzles, including jigsaws. Like you, I think writing is the main thing that keeps my brain somewhat alert these days.

  5. Suzy says:

    I agree that singing is good for the brain, especially sightreading music, but you’re probably not surprised to hear that. Sadly, it may be a long time before any choirs are able to get together again. And thank heavens that writing for Retrospect is a good brain activity for you – I don’t know where we would be without you!

    I used to love Trivial Pursuit too, but haven’t played it in years. That would be fun to do again after covid. Good for you for trying out for Jeopardy, I think I would have been too intimidated. It’s easy to come up with the answers (or should I say questions) when you’re sitting at home watching, but actually being on the show would be another thing entirely.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I really miss singing, as I’m sure you do. Trivial Pursuit was fun, but I wonder if we’d find the questions dated now (which is sort of a funny thought about trivia). I confess, Dan signed me up for the Jeopardy audition, but of course, I did go through with it. You’re right, Suzy, it is much easier to come up with “questions” from the comfort of our couch. Auditions are online now. A young cousin from Detroit did well enough that got called up for a live audition, which was here in Boston, so she flew in, stayed overnight with us, then had to be at the Convention Center early the next morning and flew right home after. Must have been a LOT of people auditioning. I don’t think she was ever called to be on the show either.

  6. Marian says:

    Writing is always a good brain game, Betsy, and I enjoyed all the puzzle descriptions you have here. Dick is very much into bridge, which also turns out to be a great brain game. The oldest person he plays with (now online only) is 99! Alas, I don’t have a great mind for cards, and his colleagues are at tournament level, so I’ve decided not to do bridge.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I played bridge in college, Marian, but certainly not at championship level. It was fun. Dan was a very good player (those math majors, you know) and we enjoyed playing as a couple, but once married, it became hard to find other couples who played and gave it up. Someone in my neighborhood got a group together some time ago, and we hired a teacher. I found that the bidding conventions had changed somewhat over the years and we all had more fun chatting with each other than learning from the teacher, so we gave it up. Ah well…

  7. Risa Nye says:

    This was fascinating, Betsy. We each have to find our own way to stay sharp, don’t we? My husband doesn’t like to play games or do puzzles! I wish he did, but then he’d be all competitive about it, so I guess I should be careful what I wish for. Writing is great exercise for the brain, so keep it up!

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