Little grey cells spark and crackle when Ralph Penglis teaches how to solve cryptic crosswords.
For 20 years Ralph, 87, has been travelling around Sydney libraries and community halls showing beginners - many of them seniors - how to tackle the puzzles.
The retired hairdresser does it entirely for free, saying he enjoys teaching what for him is a 60-year passion.
"I love 'turning on lights'," he said. "There's a great buzz at the class."
Ralph, from Sydney's east, has also started clubs in Waverley Library and Randwick Library where cruciverbalists gather once a month to solve crosswords.
Ralph enjoys teaching seniors because research tells us learning new skills such as cryptic crosswords, dancing, drawing or learning a new language or instrument has been shown to help delay dementia.
"Mostly I get good feedback for my classes. There is much mirth and satisfaction as participants solve the clues," Ralph said.
"It's a cerebral communication between the compiler, who sets the puzzle, and the solver (which is an anagram of lovers, by the way).
"Sometimes people in the class are so keen that we send each other clues on our mobiles. It's very sociable. That's another aspect of when you get older; it's important to have contact with others."
In the first class, Ralph teaches the difference between a cryptic crossword and an ordinary crossword.
"In a cryptic, you've got two aspects to get to the answer," he said. "You've got the definition, which is usually at the beginning or end of the clue.
"The other part is the instruction - words that point you to different ways of looking at the clue.
"It could be an anagram, it could be a homophone, it could be a hidden word."
He gives a simple example:
"Book a park (7). Think of it in terms of 'book' as a verb. That will lead you to 'reserve', which is the answer."
But they get much trickier. Ralph said he was with his partner one day when they met Australia's doyen of cryptic crosswords, David Astle.
"He asked how she spelled her name. She replied 'Jeanette'. And immediately he said, 'Oh, that's a trap inside a French ballet step'. Because a trap is a net inside a step, which is a jette."
Such is the grip words have on Ralph that he says he's "starting to make up clues that keep me awake sometimes".
Ralph arrived in Australia with his family in 1938 and he began his working life as an apprentice hairdresser at the old Australia Hotel on Castlereagh Street in Sydney.
For many years he owned a salon at Sydney University inside the Wentworth Building, where he had a ball keeping up with the hippie hairstyles beloved by students and academics. He also taught yoga on campus.
For anyone interested in learning more about cryptics, call Ralph on 0407-018-645.
Bookings are essential for the event at Erina Library (ground level at Erina Fair), 620-658 Terrigal Drive, Erina NSW.
Call 02-4304-7650 or click here for more information.