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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 28, 2011

National Brain Game Challenge Winner Breaks Crossword Code in 43 Minutes
Other Winners Named in Unique Contest to Benefit Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

NEW YORK, NEW YORK--With an eye on a $5,000 top prize in a unique crossword contest to benefit the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Jeffrey Harris of Norwalk, CT today was named the first place winner in the National Brain Game Challenge.

After racing with intense speed and precision accuracy, it took Harris just 43 minutes to crack the intricate code—which turned out to be tied to the classic Gulliver’s Travels.

Michael Sylvia of Seattle grabbed second place, completing the puzzle just 10 minutes later, and Andrew Feist of Newport News, VA ranked third with his submission that came in 65 minutes after the contest began at 3 p.m. ET on September 25.

Ace crossword constructor Merl Reagle, whose Sunday crossroads appear in more than 50 newspapers nationwide, had promised players a “full-body mental workout,” with clues that were buried three levels deep. As soon as participants downloaded the four crosswords in the contest, they were faced with puzzles of unusual shapes and word twists.

Excited to hear the news of his win, Harris, a 26-year-old crossword buff and tournament competitor, said, “I really enjoyed [the puzzles]! Very entertaining, and full of great wordplay, as one would expect from Merl.”

AFA sponsored the National Brain Game Challenge to creatively call attention to the rising incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and to promote successful aging, while raising funds to supports its vital programs and services nationwide. The contest aligns with research that suggests that crossword puzzles and other mental activities are good for brain health.

Reagle, who spent months crafting the puzzles, chose Gulliver’s Travels as the theme because of author Jonathan Swift’s ties to dementia. He noted that when Swift died in 1745, he left the bulk of his estate, 12,000 pounds, to found a hospital for people with mental illness

Providing a look behind the crosswords, Reagle explained that his main chore in creating the puzzles was to “first, slow everyone down with a complex series of things to find, and second, to try to keep everyone on the same racetrack.”

“I knew going in that there were some very fast people playing, but I wanted to make sure that if there were ways to leap ahead, that the slower solvers could see them, too,” he said.

The puzzles ultimately led to four key answers that had a secret link in common. With the secret link turning out to be “Gulliver’s Travels,” the four key answers corresponded to the four parts of the book -- Randy Newman’s “Short People” indicated the Lilliputians; San Francisco’s “Giants” indicated the Brobdingnagians; “Scientists” indicated the impractical inhabitants of a floating island; and “Houyhnhnms” (pronounced “winnums”) were the intelligent horses of Part 4. Players sent their responses to a secret e-mail address revealed in one of the puzzles:

Contestants called the National Brain Game Challenge “fun,” “exciting,” and “a blast.” Noted one participant: “Wow, what a great time that was. Took me five hours but I got there! Thanks for the crazy journey…or should I say ‘travels’?”

For Reagle, the contest fulfills a dream to both do an online puzzle contest and acknowledge the heroic role of caregivers. He and his wife, Marie Haley, of Tampa, FL were caregivers for “1,000 days” for Marie’s mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and CEO, said AFA couldn’t have asked for a better master behind the magic of the contest.

“Merl really delivered, showing off not only his genius, but also his passion for our cause—and really helped us raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and a place to turn for help,” Hall said.

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease, which results in loss of memory and other intellectual functions, affects as many as 5.1 million Americans. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and its incidence is rising in line with the nation’s aging population. Advanced age is the biggest risk factor.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling and referrals by licensed social workers via a toll-free helpline, e-mail, Skype, and live chat; educational materials; a free quarterly magazine for caregivers; and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit

Contact: Carol Steinberg
Phone: 866-AFA-8484


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