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In their lively and entertaining weekly discussion of issues related to higher education, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton and Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger explore the topics of higher education, lifelong learning, and exercising the brain. Ed and Jennifer practice what they preach, too, by introducing math puzzlers and brain teasers to keep listeners on their toes.

Higher Ed: Better Problem Solving Through Puzzles

Southwestern UniversityPresident Dr. Ed Burger calls his "Effective Thinking and Creative Puzzle-Solving" class at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, the "Seinfeld" of classes. Why? Burger claims that class is about nothing. In this episode of KUT'spodcast "Higher Ed," Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton discuss why that kind of class is actually about something pretty profound.

Ed has a new book out called "Making Up Your Own Mind: Thinking Effectively through Creative Puzzle Solving." The book is based on a class that Ed teaches at Southwestern University. And yeah, he says the class is about nothing.

Ed calls the class "the Seinfeld of the curriculum because it's about nothing and tries to teach everything. There's no short term content," Ed says. "It is all based on long-term pratices of thinking and living. The puzzles themselves are irrevelant. They're not important; they're just a playground to practice these ways of thinking."

Ed maintains that working through puzzlers and riddles practices our brains for being able to handle bigger-ticket questions in the real world.

"There are puzzles in our everyday lives. There are puzzles in our professional lives, in our personal lives," says Ed. "A lot of times, people cast them in a negative light and call them problems. But the truth is, life is just one puzzle after another, and the more we practice puzzle-solving on these whimsical ones, the more we can apply those exact same practices to the more serious and important ones."

Listen to the full episode to hear more about Ed's journey in writing the book, and to the solution to the puzzler about time pieces and moving parts. Did you figure it out? If not, you are in good company; Ed and Jennifer did not get it, either!

This episode was recorded on Sept. 28, 2018.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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