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Newsletter issue 1.4

This month's issue:

  1. Puzzles and Teasers
  2. Article: Nutrition and the Brain
  3. Quotes and trivia
  4. Book Review - Match Wits with Mensa
  5. Word of the month
  6. Latest news and developments

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Mathematical Brain Teaser

Let's say some primitive organisms divide themselves every minute in two equals which also divide the next minute and so on. The saucer in which we started observing this process was full at 12.00. When was it full to the half?

Logic Brain Teaser

Why is it better to have round manhole covers than square ones?

Lateral Brain Teaser

A table tennis ball fell into a tight deep pipe. The pipe was only a bit wider than the ball, so you can not use your hand. How would you take it out, with no damage?

Verbal IQ

What word looks the same upside down and backwards?


Forward I am heavy, but backward I am not. What am I?

Brain Concussions in Sports. What's the Fuss?

by Gary E Cordingley, MD, PhD

"Gosh, coach, it was just a 'ding.' I can still play, can't I?"

If you're having difficulty understanding what a brain concussion is, and how your son or daughter's head-injury affects their further participation in sports, then you're in good company. The nature and effects of concussions are still poorly understood by many athletes, parents, coaches, news reporters and, to a certain extent, even the medical community. But because the brain is a treasured organ -- one that athletes should want to keep in good working order for the rest of their lives -- a good understanding of concussions is crucial.

Neurologists and neurosurgeons cringe when they hear sports-reporters make comments like, "Johnny had a CAT scan and it showed that he didn't have a concussion." The truth is that CAT scans don't show concussions. They do show other serious consequences of head injuries, like bleeding within the brain, or hemorrhages that compress the brain. But concussions -- while no less real -- are invisible to brain-imaging tests like CAT scans and MRIs.

So what is a concussion? If a blow to the head caused unconsciousness, a concussion occurred. Most people know this. But a concussion can occur even when there is no loss of consciousness. Other symptoms after a head-injury indicating a concussion include:

  1. impaired attention, e.g. vacant stare, slowness to respond, easy distractibility
  2. slurred speech, or speech that doesn't make sense
  3. clumsiness or unsteadiness
  4. disorientation, e.g. walking in the wrong direction, forgetting the day of the week
  5. excessive emotional reaction, e.g. easy tears, overly upset
  6. memory impairment, e.g. asking same question repeatedly, can't memorize new facts

Other symptoms can develop hours or even weeks after the injury, including headache, dizziness, poor concentration, irritability, impaired memory, fatigue, disrupted sleep, anxiety, depression, and a lack of good judgment or insight.

You'll notice that all these symptoms share a common feature -- an alteration in brain function. The normal brain processes, which depend on proper signaling among the brain's 20 billion brain cells, are out of whack.

There can also be physical damage to the brain's cells. Because brain-cells are so tiny, brain scans don't detect them. Injuries causing more severe concussions can tear apart the cells' axons (the long filaments that carry coded messages over long distances within the brain). As you can imagine, these rips in the very fabric of the brain can cause lasting impairments in brain function or require long periods of time for recovery.

One certainty about sports-related concussions is that they are very frequent. The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are at least 300,000 of them in the U.S. per year and they comprise about 20% of all head injuries. Research also indicates that the brains of high school athletes are more vulnerable to concussion than those of older athletes, and require longer periods of time to fully recover.

Individuals who have had one concussion are at greater risk for another. For example, in one study of high school and college football players, concussions occurred about six times more frequently in student-athletes who had experienced prior concussions than in those who had not. Moreover, repeated concussions can have more severe outcomes than first concussions.

A rare but particularly scary phenomenon has been called the "second impact syndrome" in which a second concussion occurring within days or weeks of an earlier concussion can produce catastrophic consequences -- including death -- way out of proportion to the apparent severity of the re-injury.

Because of the potentially serious consequences, athletes, coaching staffs and parents need to have a heightened awareness of head-injuries and their need for proper evaluation, including by medical personnel. Various guidelines have been created for decisions about when it is safe to resume participation in contact sports. These guidelines, while based more on expert opinion than on medical evidence, are still the best benchmarks we have until more studies are done.

All guidelines agree that an athlete needs to become symptom-free in all areas -- thinking, memory, emotions, coordination, balance, etc. -- before resuming play. After a first concussion, the athlete should have been normal for at least a week, and after a second concussion, for probably two weeks.

When should an athlete hang up his or her cleats and retire from the sport? How many concussions are too many? No one has a definite answer to either question. As Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" might ask, "Are you feeling lucky?" Three concussions in the same season -- or even in an entire sports career -- should certainly raise concern about long-term damage to the brain.

Of course, student-athletes often pressure their parents to allow them to return to play sooner than might be wise. In these circumstances it is useful to recall that many professional athletes in football, hockey, boxing and other sports have retired from their lucrative careers rather than suffer additional concussions. If these high- profile individuals were willing to give up their big paydays in order to protect their brains, then perhaps your son or daughter will be able to follow their examples when less money is at stake. However, if you are the parent and are being pressured to allow an early return to play, you just might have to stand tall, do the right thing, and say no.

(C) 2005 by Gary Cordingley. Gary Cordingley, MD, PhD, is a clinical neurologist, teacher and researcher who works in Athens, Ohio.

Quotes and Trivia

Genius ain't anything more than elegant common sense. - Josh Billings

Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence. - Ambrose Bierce

We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. - Albert Einstein

There is nobody so irritating as somebody with less intelligence and more sense than we have. - Don Herold

Unconsciousness will occur after 8-10 seconds after loss of blood supply to the brain.

Schizophrenia affects about 1 out of every 100 people.

Your brain is full of nerve cells, but it has no pain receptors. Doctors can operate on your brain while you're awake and you won't feel a thing.

Word of the month


Adjective: Lacking social polish; tactless; awkward; clumsy.

He was by nature intellectual, shy, even gauche and he always believed he lacked the common touch. -- "Editor whose legacy was diversity", Irish Times, October 9, 1999

Memory tip

Generally if short term memory tries to acquire more items than it can handle, the middle items will often be displaced.

Chunking of information can lead to an increase in short term memory capacity. This is the reason why a hyphenated phone number is easier to remember than a single long number. Storage also seems to increase if we pronounce the names of the items out loud especially if they are grouped rhythmically.

Try reading this sequence and then recall it: y g d b t d n o n u c a.

Next, try the same exercise on these letters: c o u n t b a d d y n g

Chunking it into a word you can pronounce made the difference.

Try the same process with this list of numbers: 2 8 3 4 9 6

Next, try remembering this: 28 34 96

Instead of six numbers, you only need to recall three. Exercises such as these help to test and improve your short term memory.

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