For Seniors : Ex-Businessman Challenges Seniors to Mental Workout

You think you have problems? Leo Evans has 1,050--all of his own creation.

They’re called brain calisthenics, and Evans, 81, has written more than 40 volumes--all in longhand--of puzzles, anagrams, word games, riddles and quirky ideas that wake his mind up at all hours of the day and night.

It started 35 years ago as a project to challenge his teen-age son and now it is a second career as he tours senior residence facilities challenging people whose biggest event of the day is lunch.

“Shakespeare said, ‘I trick into learning with a laugh,’ and that’s what I do,” Evans said.


Evans was originally trained as a lawyer, practiced for six years in Detroit but quit after deciding that he could not put up with what he terms “the immorality of it all.”

“I felt like a parasite. It was during the Depression. People didn’t have money and I was suing them, bringing more misery and grief into their lives, and I didn’t like that,” he said.

Instead, he moved to California and became a successful furniture salesman, eventually owning five stores called Leon’s Interiors. Evans was living in Compton with a wife and two children when he became disenchanted with the public school system and decided to spend one afternoon a week with his son and five of his friends.

“I emphasized imagination and creativity--right brain activity. The boys had no training in logic and problem solving so I taught them that and how to learn, how to speak in public,” he said. “We worked on developing self-esteem and how to be unreasonable, meaning there’s more than one answer to any problem. Two of those boys were juvenile delinquents, but they all grew up to become professionals.”


For a year, Evans schooled himself in the work of Edward De Bono and Alex Osborne--noted, respectively, for their work in problem solving and applied imagination. He learned about the harm of being right, the value of self-control rather than just control and the benefits of failure, and he kept adding material to an already bulging loose-leaf notebook.

“Something in me said collect it and someday it will be useful,” he said.

Long after his son grew up, Evans continued to add more pages and more loose-leaf notebooks to his collection. Four years ago, when a relative was confined to a nursing home and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Evans decided to visit. He remembers wondering if she could think and solve problems. When he entered the home, he saw blank faces. There was little or no conversation going on and what there was concerned complaints about food and health.

“I remember thinking I wanted to rescue them. I saw myself as a knight in armor changing their lives,” he said.

Now Evans has a new career. He is paid to stimulate minds and enrich lives.

“I see results immediately. They laugh. They solve puzzles faster. They’re not afraid to make mistakes. That’s the big one--getting out of the habit of thinking there’s only one answer and not being afraid of appearing silly if you make a mistake,” he said.

Usually, Evans starts every new group with an inane question: “What’s the difference between a chicken?”

“Usually, the first response is, ‘Between a chicken and what?’ When I say I want something else, the people with negative attitudes say that’s ridiculous, then some say you’re crazy--why am I here? I respond that the question is ridiculous, so what kind of an answer does it deserve? Go with it. Come up with something funny.”


Evans admits he gets a lot of kicks from his visits and loves to watch old videos of some of the early sessions. He makes a standard speech in all of them: “You all have a genius inside of you (that) you don’t even think is there and I’ll prove it to you. For some of you it’s your first childhood. If you expect miracles, they will happen. Miracles do not happen to pessimistic people because they are always looking for what is wrong with the world, they’re never alert to the coincidences which go into creating a miracle.”

Evans wants to eventually consolidate his 40 hand-written volumes into a book of brain exercises. But for now he’s playing tennis--he learned to play with his left hand after arthritis hampered his right one--and generally enjoying his Marina del Rey bachelor life. He hikes, hangs out with young people, goes to church and will most likely take his third trip down the Grand Canyon.

He continues to look for the fun in everything and the play on words. No discussion with him is possible without some brain exercise. To wit:

1. A man left a restaurant, didn’t pay and instead gave the cashier a note with 102004180 on it. What does his message mean?

2. What famous childhood song is this? M CE M CE M CE

3. A train, one mile long, going 60 miles per hour, is just entering a tunnel which is one mile long. How long will it take for the train to pass completely through the tunnel?

4. If yesterday was three days before Saturday, what will tomorrow be?



1. I ought to owe nothing for I ate nothing.

2. Three Blind Mice

3. Two minutes. The train is going one mile a minute. In one minute it is completely in the tunnel and in another minute it is out of the tunnel.

4. Friday. Three days before Saturday is Wednesday. That was yesterday, so today is Thursday. Tomorrow is Friday.