Skip to main content

The Puzzler’s Dilemma – Derrick Niederman ****

For me, the best popular science books are those that get you actively involved and thinking about what’s being looked at, rather than merely allowing you to take in the information passively. Whether it’s through exercises to get stuck into, little experiments to try out for yourself, or puzzles which challenge you to think things through – it just makes a book more enjoyable and memorable, and allows you to get more from it.
I really enjoyed this book from Derrick Niederman, then – it’s jam packed full of puzzles and logic problems which really get you thinking, and which get across well the themes covered. The puzzles slot in around what the book fundamentally is – a collection of short reflections on all kinds of aspects of puzzles and puzzle solving. We look at, for instance, how puzzles can be categorised, strategies for solving puzzles, and what puzzles can reveal about the mind and human reasoning.
One thing I found fascinating was the way we often unnecessarily complicate problems by failing to see the simple solutions to them. Asked, for example, to work out the area of a triangle with sides of 6, 8, and 14 inches, many of us would at first massively overestimate the amount of calculations and thinking we’re going to need to do to solve the problem. Whereas, in fact, the answer is simple and no difficult calculations are required. 6 and 8 equal 14, so what we essentially have is the two smaller sides lying flat on top of the longest side – the area is 0.
I found it incredibly difficult to put this book down – I either wanted to keep reading to find out the solutions to the puzzles, or was totally immersed in one of the many interesting stories the author tells about particular puzzles and their history. Add to this the author’s sense of humour, and this is one the most fun little books I have read in a long time.
Paperback:  
Also in Hardback:  
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…