The Puzzler’s Dilemma by Derrick Niederman (book review).

December 29, 2012 | By | Reply More

One thing I’m not particularly good at is complex puzzles. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do standard crosswords, although I stop at the point where I don’t know the answers than look them up, or even Sudoku, although I won’t do massive erasures and start again if I get lost. I calculated the odds for each square in Sudoku back in the autumn based off factorial 9, reduced by the number of known squares in the same row or column purely as a mental exercise. Most of the puzzles I create myself are more to do with solutions to problems that turn into articles or stories I write. That’s part of my own form of lateral thinking.

Looking at ‘The Puzzler’s Dilemma’ by Derrick Niederman is to look at the understanding behind puzzles in all their forms. Niederman both explains and demonstrates many of them. If anything, once you know the answers, if they come up in employment tests, which he says happens, then you go in with a distinct advantage unless they come up with a new test. Saying that, if you can grasp the solutions, then you should be able to think outside of the box and look for more than one solution to any problem. Never forget the obvious and see if the answer is in the question itself. I found as I got to understand Nierderman as I read, I ended up being more prepared to look at his tests in different ways.


Having said that about lateral thinking, I can’t help but wonder on some of his puzzles for not providing enough information for an answer that depends on something coming out of the left field because if I did that in a Science Fiction story, I would be cheating on the reader.

One puzzle where a spider has to find the quickest route to a fly and told only to use the walls had Niederman using the floor as part of the route, which is clearly not in the question. If he can do that, then why can’t the spider spin a web-line from half-way and swing across? That would only require fifteen feet of actual walking and even easier if the spider thought the ceiling was a wall. Oddly, Niederman neglects the fact that both the spider and fly respectively are a foot down and up from ceiling and floor which would alter the distance somewhat even if the spider walked all the way. Then again, the spider could just wait for the fly to come to him and have a zero feet answer. If you’re going to play games with a lateral thinker and not give all viable choices, expect even stronger lateral solutions back.

A lot of this book is about puzzle theory, looking at the odds in your choice. Some of the things I’ve seen before. Hardly surprising as it appears we’ve both read and indeed, I’ve reviewed the late Martin Gardiner’s books here. Having it all in a smaller book should make it easier for those with a desire to learn more about game theory.

If anything, I wish there had been more puzzles discussed. However, once I got what Niederman was getting at, I was figuring out the solutions a lot quicker with the latter puzzles. This book might not make you better at answering puzzle dilemmas but I think you would be less inclined to fall into their traps of going for the obvious answer which is wrong. Don’t be puzzled.

GF Willmetts

December 2012

(pub: Duckworth. 213 page small hardback. Price: £14.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-71564-294-8)

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Category: Books, Science


About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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