February 01, 2007

(++++) PUZZLE ME THIS....

The Brainiest Insaniest Ultimate Puzzle Book! By Robert Leighton, Mike Shenk, and Amy Goldstein. Workman. $10.95.

      It’s midwinter. It’s dull and grey outside, too cold to do anything, and TV is boring, and video games are the same thing over and over again. Or: this car trip is going to last forever, maybe longer, and everything looks the same outside the windows and in the car and on the DVD screen. Or: it’s hot out, too steamy to go anywhere or do anything. Or: will this rain ever stop?

      These are but a few of the scenarios during which parents should run, not walk, to The Brainiest Insaniest Ultimate Puzzle Book! It contains 192 oversized pages of puzzles – six types in all – plus a Scavenger Hunt that kids can try after they finish solving everything (and by that time, maybe parents will get lucky and there will be a sequel to the book). The puzzles come in six sections, each with its own mascot: Sir Glance-A-Lot presents picture puzzles, Alice in Wanderland offers mazes, Sherlogic Holmes is in charge of logic puzzles, FrankEinstein presents “monster puzzles,” and so on. Some of the puzzles are straightforward, but many are not, and some of the cleverest are actually puzzles-within-puzzles. For example, one of the riddle puzzles (introduced by Riddle Green Men, naturally) is called “Gross-Outs” and consists of 16 pictures on tombstones. There are six clues, such as, “Cross out anything whose name can become the word SCARE by changing one letter.” After finishing the six steps, there are two puzzles left, which together answer the question, “What does Dracula keep in his medicine chest?”

      Not all the puzzles are as many-layered as this one, but all are fun to do and amusingly created. One simple “find the wrong things in this picture,” for instance, is called “Ticket or Leave It,” is set in a theater lobby, and requires kids to know that Babe Ruth played baseball (a “Babe Ruth Story” poster erroneously shows a football player) and that “Attack of the Leotard” would not be a horror flick (well, maybe to some people who have to wear them…). Then there’s the word puzzle section (host: “The Wordman of Alcatraz,” itself a pun that many kids won’t get – on “The Birdman of Alcatraz”). One sample here involves changing the word “solo” to the word “duet” in 10 steps, altering one letter each time – at the start, for instance, “solo” changes to “tall, round structure next to a barn,” or “silo.” The Sherlogic Holmes section is quite varied: a single two-page spread features a puzzle in which you determine whole words by seeing parts of them; a rearrange-the-panels comic; and two logic puzzles in which you have to use five or six statements to (in one case) match people with their dogs and (in the other) help someone choose which practical-joke trick to buy.

      Lest parents worry, be assured that there are answers to all the puzzles at the back of the book. They’re a bit confusingly presented: on the answer pages, there is no cross-reference to the pages where the puzzles appear, and it can be hard to find a specific answer, since there are many on each answer page. But each puzzle does tell you which page has the answer, so kids can find them with a little effort. The effort of solving the puzzles on their own, though, is much more worthwhile – and a lot more fun, in any weather and at any time of year.

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