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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.
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Review by Brian Clegg


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