Published On: Fri, Nov 17th, 2017

Bletchley Park Brainteasers review: A bit puzzling


As might have been expected, these were in general outrageously difficult but utterly fascinating.

In light of The GCHQ Puzzle Book becoming one of the publisher’s bestselling titles of last year, a range of copycat titles are hitting the shelves in time for Christmas.

Sinclair McKay is the author of The Secret Life Of Bletchley Park and in Bletchley Park Brainteasers he includes some entertaining anecdotes of Enigma-cracking in the code-breaking hub which laid the foundations for the later formation of GCHQ.

I never knew, for example, that the head of Bletchley’s Japanese section, Hugh Foss, was a kilt-wearing Highland dancer despite the fact that he wasn’t Scottish.

The nation’s best crossword solvers, chess players, mathematicians, poets and musicians were recruited to Bletchley in the belief that they were most likely to solve the puzzle of the German Enigma machine.

Some of the puzzles could be loosely said to be inspired by the work at Bletchley but they are far less challenging, consisting mainly of standard and routine types of crossword, simple codes, language and logic puzzles.

The Penguin Book Of Puzzles states at the start that “the majority of puzzles in this book are reproduced from early 20th-century books”.

This lazy reproduction of old puzzles is liable to lead to a certain degree of irritation in the modern reader with the convoluted language of the puzzles often posing more of a problem than the puzzles themselves.

After a chapter of rather tedious riddles dating back to the 18th century, the first genuine puzzle in the book concerns a cheque made out in pounds and shillings of which half-a-crown is subsequently spent.

A table of pre-decimal coinage is included in the book, as are rods, fathoms, grains, ounces and drachms, but one really does not want to be bothered by ancient weights, measures and money when tackling puzzles.

Surely logically equivalent puzzles could have been devised to make comprehension easier.

If you are desperate for something to do, either of the new books might suffice, but if you want a good excuse to hide away from the family over the Christmas period, you’d do much better with last year’s GCHQ Puzzle Book.


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