The Puzzler

One Man's Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life

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I've become a mild fan of author Alan Jacobs, very much enjoying his books How to Think, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and Breaking Bread with the Dead. I'm a reader of his blog at ''.

So when I noticed this book's availability at Portsmouth Public Library, I put it on my "get it" list. And I eagerly listened to Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast with the author.

And then I started reading the book…

Reader, it turns out "A. J. Jacobs" and "Alan Jacobs" are two different people. The "A" initial here stands for Arnold, not Alan.

Duh. This might be the most embarrassing story I'll ever tell about myself.

But never mind that: this is an excellent book by a very good author.

In my retirement, I've been diligently solving the Wall Street Journal Monday-Saturday crosswords. The local Sunday paper reprinted the Sunday NYTimes and LATimes crosswords, and I did those until I let my subscription lapse. I started doing Wordle months ago, and back in June, my wonderful daughter gave me a New York Times Games subscription for Fathers Day. So, yes, I like doing puzzles.

The book provides a number of posers. There's even a book website containing additional material. (There was a $10,000 contest, but that's over.)

The book explores all kinds of puzzles, with lots of humor, great stories, and numerous solve-it-yourself examples. (Fortunately, no library patron has yet scribbled in it.) In addition to crosswords, there are chapters devoted to Rubik's Cube (and associated gadgets); anagrams; rebuses; jigsaws; mazes and labyrinths (they're different!); math and logic; ciphers and codes; visuals; sudoku and the like; chess; riddles; japanese boxes; "controversial" puzzles; cryptics (I stay away from these myself); scavenger/puzzle hunts; and (finally) "infinite" puzzles, those that would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to solve.

But nothing about acrostics. Like Isaac Asimov, I like those a lot. But I can imagine there's not much to say about them besides "Here's how they work."