Patty Crane: Non-Fiction Book Highlights Famous Riddles, From Crosswords to Puzzles | Lifestyles
In a New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle, the clue “AJ ___________, author of ‘The Know-It-All’ was the answer’s greatest moment in life. That’s until having his brother-in-law point out to him that it was Saturday puzzle – the hardest of the week with the most obscure clues. So maybe it was not the greatest moment of AJ JACOBS‘ life, but it was still pretty cool and it rekindled his love of crossword puzzles.
This love turned into passion, not just for crosswords but all kinds of puzzles, and for the book THE PUZZLER: ONE MAN’S QUEST TO SOLVE THE MOST CONFLICT PUZZLES EVER, FROM CROSSWORDS TO JIGSAWS TO THE MEANING OF LIFE.
The author explores all kinds of puzzles starting with crosswords. From interviewing New York Times puzzle creator Peter Gordon to the surprisingly recent history of the form, Jacobs not only informs you but challenges you with crossword puzzles you can solve. The first wordcross (crossword), published in the New York World in 1913, is included. The puzzle quickly gained popularity and was picked up by numerous publications. However, the New York Times, now famous for its puzzles, considered the form too unscrupulous and frivolous to be published.
As with most puzzle forms explored, an appendix is included in the chapter with puzzles to try; the solutions are in the last part of the book. Also included are puzzles created for this title by Greg Pliska, founder of puzzle company Exaltation of Larks. Twenty puzzles are included and if you find the secret password in the introduction, you can unlock more puzzles at thepuzzlebook.com.
The Rubik’s Cube and its 43 trillion possible arrangements appeared much later than the crossword, in 1974. Jacobs’ parents bought him one, but he didn’t make more than one face. Determined to fill that gap in his puzzle resume, he spends a Saturday determined to finish and 41 years after his first attempt he completes the cube. Of course, Yusheng Du, who can complete the puzzle in 3.47 seconds, wouldn’t be impressed with Jacobs’ time.
Anagrams, rebuses and all sorts of puns are explored. Then, place to the puzzles. Jacobs admits he wasn’t a fan of this particular puzzle. During his research, he discovered that puzzle fans included Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, and Hugh Jackman. He also found the World Puzzle Championship. It was to be held in Spain with 40 countries represented, one of which was not the United States Thinking it would surely be turned down, Jacobs filled out the entry form. Alas, a day later he was confirmed in the American team. Now he just needs three teammates and complete a puzzle.
He recruits his family and they start training. It’s satisfying to put pieces together and get that aha moment where things fit together – when chaos becomes order. On the day of the competition, they find themselves directed to one of the 86 tables containing four unique puzzles of 1,000 to 2,000 pieces. They have eight hours to complete the four puzzles. Goal of the United States team? Don’t finish last!
Mazes, math and logic puzzles force the author to solve puzzles that require you to think outside the box and sometimes reverse your thinking to find a solution. Then come ciphers and secret codes. Jacobs was allowed into CIA headquarters to see a famous unsolved puzzle – Kryptos. Jim Sanborn was commissioned to create a sculpture for the expanded headquarters in 1988. The corrugated copper wall contains a secret message. It’s been over 30 years, and Sanborn is still the only one with the solution.
Jacobs also covers visual puzzles (“Where’s Waldo”), Sudokus, KenKen and chess problems, which includes an entertaining interview with chess master Garry Kasparov. Its cover of Riddles begins with “Alice in Wonderland” as author Lewis Carroll was a huge fan. It tackles historical riddles and riddles in other works of literature, including the Exeter Book. Created by monks, the book is famous for having really naughty puzzles and having no answer keys.
Boxes of Japanese puzzles, riddles, treasure hunts – including the MIT Mystery Hunt – and endless puzzles complete Jacobs’ puzzle journey. With these aha! moments when a solution has been found or two pieces fit together, Jacobs discovered that we can all learn from solving puzzles.
This is a fun and informative read that you’ll find on the new non-fiction shelves in the lobby. Just a caveat – if you want to try to solve any of the puzzles, please make copies. We’re not one to deprive the next reader of their own aha! moment.
Patty Crane is the Joplin Public Library Reference Librarian.