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Do video games trump brain training for cognitive boosts?

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We've all heard how we should be keeping our brains active, and there are no end of services dedicated to helping you accomplish that, promising to make you smarter or improve your memory by training your brain.

But instead of making 15 minutes of "brain training" part of your normal routine, what if you could get that mental boost from games that are meant for fun rather than exercise?

A recent study pit Portal 2, Valve's critically acclaimed puzzle game, against Lumosity, one of the top-selling brain training programs.

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Participants were assigned to spend eight hours playing one of the games over two weeks. They were given cognitive tests both before and after their gaming homework.

And the researchers say Portal 2 is king. While the Lumosity group saw no changes in their scores, the Portal 2 group saw gains in problem solving, spatial skill and persistence tests.

Of course, saying Portal 2 is the new brain training champion is a bit of a stretch. Lumosity advertises itself as helping your brain improve over time, not just with the handful of sessions described in the study.

But this does highlight something interesting: Lots of recent studies have shown that video games do affect the brain in some positive ways.

One study found that gamers who were assigned to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day saw gray matter increases in parts of the brain related to spatial reasoning, problem solving and fine motor skills.

Another found that having older adults play Blizzard's popular World of Warcraft online game boosted cognitive abilities — particularly in those seniors who scored the lowest on the initial tests. One of the researchers said, "The people who needed it most ... saw the most improvement."

Video games seem particularly good at strengthening areas of the brain related to spatial reasoning and problem solving — not surprising, since so many games focus on navigating virtual worlds and solving puzzles. 

But, oddly enough, the jury is still out on those games meant specifically to train your brain. While some studies have shown they can improve brain function, most have found either no benefit or mixed results.

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing: studies have also shown that spending too much time on video games can influence mood and social skills. For the moment, most experts recommend limiting gaming to around an hour a day.

See more at newsy.com.

Scrabble dictionary's new words include 'selfie,' 'hashtag'

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Scrabble fans are about to get a lot more choices when mixing and matching those lettered blocks: 5,000 new words have been added to the official dictionary, including "selfie," "bromance" and "buzzkill." (Via mydalliance / CC BY NC ND 2.0

It's been 10 years since the classic word game updated its vocabulary, and the new additions — including "hashtag," "dubstep" even "schmutz" — inject some 21st-century lingo into the 76-year-old game. (Via KTNV)

So far, Merriam-Webster, the company that publishes "The Official Scrabble Player Dictionary," has released only 30 of the 5,000 new words it will add to its expansive 100,000-word archive. So we really only got a small sample.

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One powerhouse of a new word is "quinzhee." 

ABC: "This is apparently a shelter made from digging in a pile of snow. ... There's a potential of a 401-point play."

Some two-letter words have been added, as well: "da" (short for dad), "gi" (a white garment worn in martial arts) and "po" (a chamber pot). (Via Jonathon Colman / CC BY NC ND 2.0)

John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association, said the updates will "go a long way toward bringing us closer to the language as it is currently spoken." (Via CNN)

As nice as the modernized vocabulary is for the word game, some Scrabble enthusiasts have shrugged off the new additions.

Forbes contributor and Scrabble enthusiast Jeremy Greenfield says most die-hard Scrabble players don't even use the official dictionary due to some questionable entries. He cites the book "Word Freak," which says some players are offended by the inclusion of "'jew' (a verb meaning 'bargained in a miserly way') and others, like 'fart' and 'fatso.'"

Greenfield said players instead use competing dictionaries like "The Official Tournament and Club Word List" or, for international players, the extensive word list called "SOWPODS." (Via Howcast)

The new fifth edition of "The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary" goes on sale Wednesday, but the new words will be sidelined for the upcoming 2014 National Scrabble Championship in Buffalo, New York, on Aug. 9, as the updated official dictionary goes into effect Dec. 1.

News quiz: Soccer shockers; Daytime Emmy winners

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Think you're a news junkie? Test your knowledge of national and international headlines with these five questions. Don't forget to tell us how you did in the comments below!

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News quiz: World Cup thriller; twin twisters

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News quiz: Triple Crown upset; Tracy Morgan crash

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News quiz: 'Maleficent' melee, Kasem video go viral

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News quiz: Kimye's wedding, hidden cash and a no-hitter

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News quiz: Rockin' hologram, fearless feline

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