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Going Mental

Get your cerebral juices flowing with online brain games.

In the past, GOM has concentrated more on physically-based skill games like pinball, pool and shove ha’penny. This month, we’re getting a bit more heady, as skill is also a major mental discipline. So leave the hand-ball-stick-racquet-eye coordination alone for now and get the mental juices flowing with the GOM overview of online head games.

You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone tackle a Sudoku grid or agonise over a crossword puzzle. But it’s no flavour of the month—these brain workouts have been around for centuries and are certainly widespread over the internet. The Mind Sports Organisation (MSO), in fact, is a bonifide group established to promote mental-skill games like chess, Mastermind and Scrabble. It has also organised annual Mind Sports Olympiads in the UK, and has been involved in supporting a number of similar events elsewhere in Europe. The first Mind Sports Olympiad was held in London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1997 and was a smash success. London was also the venue for the next four years in other London locations, with the largest at Alexandra Palace in 2000. The event then moved to Loughborough, Manchester and then returned to London in 2006.
But aside from showing off in front of a crowd of thousands, here are some of the best places online to sharpen your skills.

Chess (www.letsplaychess.com)
This is a friendly and vibrant online chess club where up to 2,000 players log on every hour. Obviously, that entails a lot of high-calibre international competition. With a fully customisable interface, you can customise the look of the game like playing with seasonal colours. Plus, there’s no pressure to make a move as games are played in multiple sittings and time limits range from one to 15 days to make a move. That can sound pretty slow, given you might forget what’s going on when your last move was weeks ago, but you can play several games at the same time to increase the excitement. It’s not a problem as the server keeps all your positions. Beginners are welcome too as you can sit in on chess tutorials from the experts. Best of all, there are no downloads required, so you can make your first move right away and although full membership will cost, you can still play an unlimited number of games for free.

Hangman (www.theproblemsite.com)
Got some free time on a lazy Sunday? Play hangman with over 16,000 vocabulary words ranging from easy to insanely difficult. It’s not the hangman you grew up with. Set your hangman game options, or just start playing right away.

Sudoku (www.websudoku.com)
For the uninitiated, each Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically without guessing. Enter digits from 1 to 9 into the blank spaces. Every row must contain one of each digit. So must every column, as must every 3x3 square. This numbers game has been around forever, although the West really seems to be getting the hang of it lately. On the train, subway or stuck in traffic, people realise that Sudoku is time well spent. Online, the options are everywhere but at websudoku.com, you can really test your deft number skills with not just difficult versions, but flat-out ‘evil’ ones that will certainly keep you up at night and your laptop fan working overtime.

Crossword puzzles (www.onlinecrosswords.net)
OnlineCrosswords.net should be your online resource for free crossword puzzles. Hands down. It provides a wide range of crossword puzzles for lovers of words (or if you’re tired of the Sudoku numbers). A variety of online and printable crossword puzzles with different layouts are suitable for all levels of expertise. Multiple languages are also available, as crossword puzzles are an excellent way to pick up a new language. Very handy if you’re headed to the beaches of Rio. Over 8,500 crossword puzzles, 106,930 words and more than 508,216 clues are already in the database and more are added every day. Hard to imagine all of these features are available totally free—but they are!

Mastermind (www.cyberbee.com)
Mastermind is that mind-bending peg game of deduction and code breaking. The object is to guess the sequence of four coloured pegs the computer has selected at random from the circled colours in the field (on the right at cyberbee.com).
Start filling the holes at the bottom row with pegs, and each time you complete a guess, the computer responds by giving you one peg for each correct colour: black if your guess was correct in the right peg slot, or white if you’re off the mark. However, to add complexity and difficulty to the game, you won’t be informed about which colours were correct. That part you have to figure out for yourself.
If by your eighth guess you haven't managed to guess the sequence, the computer will reveal the hidden sequence to you and the game ends, and the next one, if you’re so inclined, begins.

Scrabble (www.scrabulous.com)
The verb ‘to scrabble’ means to scratch or scrape about. The board game can certainly attest to that considering the mental exhaustion demanded of a quality game. Sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions, Scrabble is one of the most successful games world wide. One hundred million sets have been sold, and statistics say that sets are found in one out of every three American homes. Speaking about online versions, and as far as we’re concerned, Scrabulous is the best place to play Scrabble. This time-tested vocabulary game certainly made the transition to the web quite effectively, being one of the most popular in the world. Being the wordsmiths we are here at GOM, we’re glad we came across this online version. Totally free, you can get involved with playing with people from all over the world.
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