Solve puzzles for Parkinson’s
- Published: June 15, 2023
Imagine a Saturday morning spent roaming downtown with friends solving crosswords, decoding ciphers, spotting hidden differences and unlocking keywords — as if Yellow Springs had been turned into the brain teasers page of a newspaper.
Part challenge, part fundraiser, the Parkinson’s Puzzle Hunt aims to bring villagers together to solve puzzles in support of those with Parkinson’s Disease, a chronic progressive illness of the central nervous system.
Though there will be trophies, prizes and participation awards in the offing, for organizer Nancy Mellon, the primary point is a simple one.
“The whole purpose is to have fun,” she said.
A good time for a good cause, the puzzle hunt is Saturday, June 17, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting and ending at the Yellow Springs Senior Center. Teams of 1 to 4 people cost $25 before June 10 and $30 after, with single online participants paying $10. The event is open to all ages. To register, visit: ysseniors.org/pdph.
Money raised from participants and local sponsors will go to Parkinson Support and Wellness, a Southwest Ohio nonprofit that empowers those with the disease by educating them, connecting them to resources and funding Parkinson’s-specific activities. For years the nonprofit has paid for Parkinson’s dance classes at the local senior center.
The event is the brainchild of Mellon, a local artist with a penchant for quirky, community-centric projects. Once the gallery and arts event coordinator for the Yellow Springs Arts Council and curator of its permanent collection, Mellon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2021. Since then, she has focused her creative energy on a blog about the experience, “Snarky Parky and Me.” In one blog she explored the benefits of games for the Parkinson’s brain, after which the idea of a local puzzle hunt congealed.
“It’s really good for those with a degenerative disease,” Mellon said of such games.
With the hunt, Mellon also wanted to raise awareness of Parkinson’s, which she calls a “multidimensional disease.”
“People think it causes you to shake and that’s it,” Mellon said. “It affects everything, including brain activity.”
Idea in hand, Mellon went on to enlist the help of a fellow creative, Holly Underwood, who she dubbed the “Puzzle Queen.” Underwood, an artist who works mostly in textiles, is a puzzle enthusiast — both player and creator. Having played various word games since childhood, in recent years she has moved into creating geocache hides and devising portable escape rooms.
“I love to do puzzles, and I love to make puzzles,” Underwood said.
Underwood also knows the challenges of living with the disease, as her mother has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Jumping at the chance to help her friend, Underwood set about creating location-specific games and puzzles for the event, which Mellon said are hard, but not too hard.
“It should be a challenge, but it won’t hurt every brain cell,” Mellon said. The puzzles, she added, were tested on youth as young as 10 and seniors into their 70s.
It will work like this: Teams will check in at the Senior Center between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. to get their game booklet. They’ll have between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to visit the various downtown locations, in no particular order, for clues to complete a variety of word and image-based puzzles — no higher math is required. Each puzzle answer will yield a keyword for a final challenge. Then, everyone will meet back at the Senior Center for prizes, awards and ice cream.
“Everyone will get something,” Underwood said.
Mellon shared how grateful she is to those supporting the undertaking. Underwood’s puzzle-making genius, for one, was essential.
“The only way I thought the idea could work is if I talked Holly into it,” she said.
Downtown businesses and the Yellow Springs Community Foundation also stepped up to support with donations or gifts for the prize drawing. And offering to host was the Yellow Springs Senior Center, which already provides many resources for those living with Parkinson’s.
In addition to the longstanding Dancing with Parkinson’s class taught by Jill Becker, a new class called Rock Steady Boxing was added at the local senior center, also paid for by the Parkinson Support and Wellness nonprofit. The class uses boxing techniques to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Mellon said she appreciates such wellness opportunities as she navigates the challenges of Parkinson’s, which she documents faithfully on her blog each week. Her symptoms range from the physical to the emotional, she said, noting that anxiety and depression are common with the disease. Fatigue and insomnia are frequent, and as the disease progresses, she is noticing more mental impacts. Blogging helps, but it’s been harder to concentrate, she said. Another challenge is staying on the bright side.
“I like to keep it authentic, but I like to keep it positive,” she said of her blog. “I don’t want to be a negative Nancy. But it’s been harder, because it’s getting a lot harder.”
The blog serves as an update to friends and family, a guide to those also struggling with Parkinson’s and an artist’s document of the disease. Recently, Mellon has written about self-efficacy as a way of self-care, a bad hospital experience, a hypnosis session for insomnia and skin care regimens for Parkinson’s. She is joined in the project by her longtime art partner Corrine Bayraktaroglu, who handles the technical side of the blog and occasionally adds her thoughts. Villagers may remember them as the JafaGirls; their artistic collaborations included yarnbombing — the Knit Knot Tree — and other unconventional public and gallery art projects that mixed social commentary with offbeat humor.
Mellon also recently blogged about the Parkinson’s Puzzle Hunt, wondering what ways villagers will show up to compete.
“Are you ready to pit yourself against the puzzles? Have you got a team? And even more important what is your team’s name? Just how creative can you get? Will you wear costumes?”
Mellon’s blog is at: https://nancymellonparkinsons.blogspot.com/.
*Bachman is a former Yellow Springs News reporter and editor.