June 15, 2013

Wordsmith keeps his mind sharp at age 104

Senior center officials in Great Barrington, Mass., marvel at Joe Tuzzo's mental ability.

By JOE SAKATA The Berkshire Eagle

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — When it comes to a monthly wordsmith competition, the folks at the Claire Teague Senior Center know they're actually competing with Joe Tuzzo, who, at 104, is the man to beat.

click image to enlarge

Joe Tuzzo keeps score while playing bridge at the Claire Teague Senior Center. Tuzzo is considered the man to beat when it comes to the monthly wordsmith competition at the center.

The Associated Press

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Joe Tuzzo, 104, plays bridge at the Claire Teague Senior Center in Great Barrington, Mass. Tuzzo describes himself as a formidable bridge player, but he is known as the man to beat as a wordsmith.

The Associated Press

Senior center officials in Great Barrington promote brain fitness activities, such as the monthly competition that starts with one word and from which players then form new ones using the available letters.

In May, the word was "memorial."

When Tuzzo turned in his list, he had come up with 216 words. With words scribbled on both sides of a sheet of paper, his list included names like "Mira," historical figures like "Mao," and a range of other words from "liar" to "lima."

Tuzzo pointed to the word "Amare" and said, "That's a basketball player," referencing New York Knicks player Amare Stoudemire.

"I've always had a fascination for words," said the former science teacher and Great Barrington resident. "Occasionally I check the dictionary to see a word."

Tuzzo also describes himself as a formidable bridge player.

On Tuesday, he was deep into one of the card games -- so focused, in fact, a reporter couldn't break him away for an interview.

Tuzzo said he's a nonsmoker and he doesn't drink hard liquor. He eats healthy and attributes his health to good genes.

"I don't feel 104; I feel 70," he said.

Polly Mann, director the Claire Teague Senior Center, said, "It's really interesting to keep your mind going that way."

For the wordsmith competitions, senior center officials review the submitted lists of words and make sure the words are familiar.

"Everybody is shocked" when Tuzzo announces how many words he's come up with, Mann said.

"I am pretty sure I couldn't do it," she said.

"He'll get over 200, and I don't think I've ever come up with 200," said fellow competitor Joe Lockwood, of Alford. "I think I've come up with 182."

Tuzzo attributes his wordsmithing to a methodical review of each letter of a word and then pairing it with a neighboring letter to identify potential matches.

Following his win for coming up with 216 words from "memorial," Tuzzo said he received a book of word puzzles.


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