Skip to main content

The Astounding Science Puzzle Book - Matt Brown ****

It's that time of year again when many of us are searching for good presents for difficult-to-buy-for people: the latest title from science writer and London expert Matt Brown seems an ideal stocking filler for scientifically-minded types. It's not that many purchasers are likely to run a quiz from the book (although you certainly could), but there's plenty of entertainment to be had from having a go at the 101 themed rounds, which range from questions on the science of alcohol to science on TV and the IgNobel prize.

The blurb on the back reads 'Do you know what item of clothing Einstein refused to wear or what embarrassing mishap cost NASA a $125 million Mars orbiter', and I was feeling rather smug that I knew the answers to both - but although for those who know their science there will be some familiar questions, there was plenty inside that was new to me and that gave that fun frisson of surprise. It's the kind of book where you end up irritating anyone sitting near to you by asking them 'Do you know what hot drink Hans Sloane, whose collection formed the foundation of the British Museum introduced to the UK?' or 'Which Beatles song includes a chemical element and the surname of a famous physicist?'

As the book's name suggests, Brown's collection is not all quiz questions, but includes a range of science-oriented puzzles from a little crossword to strange abbreviations combining a number and a string of letters which spell out a particular phrase, such as 42 ITMOLTUAE (think humorous science fiction). The Astounding Science Puzzle Book is not the only option for science quizzers. How Many Moons Does the Earth Have? and What Colour is the Sun?, for example, are both in a quiz format. But where they have around 100 questions with a page of detail in the answer of each, so can be used more as an end-to-end read, here the questions are far more numerous (typically between 5 and 10 per section), with only very short answers, so it's more a matter of hurtling through, testing yourself as you go. The book compliments what's already out there, rather than competing with it.

Pitched just right, entertaining without being heavy handed, The Astounding Science Puzzle Book is ideal to fill in time on a boring train journey... or to stuff a stocking.
Paperback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Patricia Fara - Four Way Interview

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She was the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (OUP, 2009), has been translated into nine languages. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes. She also contributes articles and reviews to many popular magazines and journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary SupplementHer new book is Erasmus Darwin.

Why history of science?
I read physics at university, but half-way through the course I realised that had been a big mistake. Although I relished the intellectual challenge, I was bored by the long hours spent lining up recalcitrant instruments in dusty laboratories. Why was nobody encouraging us to think about the big questions – What is gravity? Does quantum mechani…

The Idea of the Brain: Matthew Cobb *****

Matthew Cobb is one of those people that you can’t help but admire but also secretly hate just a little bit for being so awesome. He is professor for zoology at the University of Manchester with a sizable teaching load that he apparently masters with consummate skill. He’s a scientific researcher, who researches the sense of smell of fruit fly maggots; I kid you not!  He’s also an attentive and loving family father but he still finds time and energy to write brilliant history of science books, three to date. His first, The Egg and Sperm Race, describes the search for the secret of human reproduction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is one of my favourite history of science books, on the period. His second, Life’s Greatest Secret is a monster, both in scope and detail, description of the hunt to decipher the structure and function of DNA that along the way demolishes a whole boatload of modern history of science myths. The most recent, and the subject of this review, is

The Big Ideas in Science - Jon Evans ***

The starting point of a review like this has to be to congratulate the author on his achievement, Jon Evans, because getting all of science into one relatively short book is a massive (and thankless) task. Although inevitably the result is a fairly hectic dash through the material, with limited space for subtleness, Evans manages to make the experience readable and has a light touch that is effective without becoming too simplistic.

There is only one reason this book doesn't get four stars - it's not the quality of the writing but rather the selection of the contents. Of course, there is bound to be plenty of stuff missed out - how else could you get all of science into 269 pages? But the balance is strangely skewed. Chemistry is pretty much omitted, though aspects of chemistry occur under other headings. But for me, the real problem is that physics is really under-represented. It's interesting to use Jim Al-Khalili's recent excellent physics summary title The World Acc…