Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries
“the most fun-filled math puzzle book this reviewer has ever reviewed—a mathematical puzzle book that is sure to hold a puzzle enthusiast‘s attention for hours.”
Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries is the latest in a series of mathematics themed puzzle books authored by Ian Stewart. If you are already familiar with the series then there’s nothing more to say other than you won’t be disappointed. If however you are not familiar with the series, then read on.
To say that many of the puzzles contained within are presented in a humorous and punning style would be an understatement as the common thread across the puzzles are the adventures of a particular Edwardian detective and his sidekick, not Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but Sherlock’s competitors, Soames and Dr. Watsup. Soames is referred to as the “not-so-famous detective,” and Dr. John Watsup is identified as the “originator of the well-known phrase, ‘Watsup, doc?’”
Given this setup, many of the logic puzzles are also expressed in Edwardian English, and readers are encouraged to work the arithmetic puzzles out by hand instead of using a calculator, “modern readers may do likewise if they can remember how.”
In one puzzle, the reader is presented with Dr. Watsup’s four cats named after medical conditions: Aneurysm, Borborygmi, Cirrhosis, and Dysplasia. To solve this logic puzzle, it’s not the names of the cats that matter but the first letter of their names. The author also provides references and footnotes, where some are real and others are fake. For example two of Sherlock Holmes’ cases, “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” are transmuted into Soames’ “The Giant Bat of St. Albans” and “The Hound of the Basketballs.”
As Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries is a puzzle book, it would not be proper to identify and solve (or even comment on) each individual puzzle, but another will be made explicit as an example. In the following puzzle, detective Soames offers this problem to Dr. Watsup to test his mental acumen: Given the number sequence below, Dr. Watsup is told to add a standard arithmetical symbol to produce a whole number between 1 and 9:
Yes, this puzzle is simple to solve, but not all puzzles in Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries are that simple.
Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries contains more than a hundred chapters though not every chapter contains a puzzle, and not all puzzles are truly puzzles as some chapters introduce curiosities, while others are explanations of past puzzles, and some are lead-ins to puzzles. In one such lead up, Dr. Watsup offers the reader an aside on the state of Soames’ mind: “. . . after some reflection I recalled that a few days ago I had come upon him assembling a small arsenal of pistols, rifles, and hand grenades. Now it struck me that perhaps all was not well.”
Within the first 60 pages of this 300-plus page puzzle book, the reader will find puzzles in the form of mazes, geometry, logic, magic squares, mathematical dates, mnemonics for pi, Sudoku and Sudoku variants, card tricks, the Tower of Hanoi (remade as pancake flips!), food-themed puzzles, and mathematically themed Haiku.
Not all puzzles are expressed in Victorian English; some are presented in Ian Stewart’s own voice, and with these, Stewart’s own personality comes through: bright, personable, and charming. For the more serious-minded as well there appear to be valid references at the back (at least one hopes the references at the back are valid), along with puzzle solutions.
Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries is the most fun-filled math puzzle book this reviewer has ever reviewed—a mathematical puzzle book that is sure to hold a puzzle enthusiast‘s attention for hours.