The Puzzler’s Dilemma, by Derrick Niederman

The Puzzler's DilemmaIt always comes as a surprise to me when I’m one of the first people to acknowledge the existence of a book on GoodReads, because I so often don’t read things until years after they’re published, and even when I pick books off the cataloging/processing line, like this one, they tend to be things that are, like, popular and stuff. But I guess a book about puzzles isn’t exactly book club fare…

Anyway, it’s a book! About puzzles! So I had to have it! And I was excited to read it! Until I started reading it! Sigh.

It’s super interesting on the surface; it’s meant to be a “fresh look at classic conundrums of logic, mathematics, and life.” It starts off with the story of the guy what designed the Lighthouse at Alexandria, and how he managed to dedicate the thing to himself while at the same time dedicating it only to Ptolemy II, which is TOTALLY AWESOME even if it’s really only apocryphal because, you know, can’t go check on that one.

The book also introduces conundrums I had never heard of, like one where there’s an island and the people on it have blue eyes or brown eyes but aren’t allowed to know the color of their own eyes or they have to leave the island. And there are, say, 100 people with blue eyes, but of course no one talks about that, except one day this explorer fellow shows up and is giving a speech and is all, “You guys are awesome, and it’s nice to see blue-eyed people like me this far from home!” And then 100 days later every person with blue eyes packs up and leaves the island, which makes no sense but then it kind of does once it’s explained to me.

And Niederman also talks about puzzles I have heard of but gives me more and interesting information about them, like the Monty Hall problem which I had no idea never actually happened on TV, and the island full of people who either lie or tell the truth and you can only ask them one question to get the answer you need, and those crazy puzzles where you get a bunch of letters like EOEREXNTEN and you’re supposed to figure out the next letter in the sequence and how sometimes these puzzles have more than one answer.

So this is good, right? Puzzles! Answers to puzzles! Strategies for solving puzzles! I really did enjoy this book, for the most part. The problem was that interspersed with all the good stuff was a bunch of problematic writing. Sometimes Niederman would explain something and it would still make absolutely no sense, or he’d give an answer to a problem that didn’t actually answer the problem as given, or he’d go off on a tangent about politics that had really nothing to do with the cool puzzles (he even ends the book on one, which is just uggggh). Even worse, there were a couple of illustrations in the book that had… typos? Whatever the image equivalent of a typo is, these illustrations had them and I spent too long being absolutely baffled by what I was looking at versus what I was reading. It was rough going, and it was only the promise of more puzzles that kept me from just tossing the book off to the side and moving on with my life.

Overall, I would recommend the concept of the book, but I might try to find something more polished and focused were I to do it again.

Rating: 6/10

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan (15 September — 16 September)

Well. I picked this book up from the library yesterday because I’m thinking about buying it for my brother for Christmas and I haven’t heard too much about it. And then last night I started reading the first pages, thinking if they were okay I’d get it. And then I read three quarters of it and finished it this morning. So… it’s good.

Amy and Dan Cahill, aged 14 and 11, attend their grandmother’s funeral, sad that she is gone and intimidated by the several hundred people who are also there, most of them family. They aren’t exactly expecting an inheritance, what with all those other family members, but they certainly get one! They are invited to take on a quest comprised of 39 clues, a quest that will allegedly change the fate of the world as we know it. And one that might also kill them, because the other people who take on this quest are ruthless. But they take it, because it would make their grandmother (and their dead parents) proud of them, and they end up hunting down information about Ben Franklin and jumping on a plane to France. And then, in the end [spoiler alert?], they find a second clue!

This, like yesterday’s book, is meant for younger kids, so the plot is pretty much implausible and the pacing is quick. The clues — because the first clue only leads to more clues to find the second clue, like, come on, puzzle makers! — are all National Treasure-style hidden messages and such (and they’re about Ben Franklin!), and of course Amy and Dan are the ones figuring them out first or best and being chased around by the other, allegedly older and wiser teams. But whatever. It’s fun! I don’t think I’ll read the next book, but I think my little brother will.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008)

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