Thoughts on “The Great Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Book”

I’ve read a few of those logic puzzle books that I’ve mentioned before, but this one — by Dr. Gareth Moore — is the first one that I want to briefly talk about. It contains a series of short — one to two page — puzzles structured like a Sherlock Holmes mystery: Watson recording what happened in the first person while Holmes outlines the problem and the facts. The puzzles range from coded messages to mathematical puzzles to logic puzzles to simple riddles to rebuses. I, obviously, liked the logic puzzles best and eventually managed to grasp what a rebus was and so was able to solve some of them.

The main issue with the work is that the framing device doesn’t work. They aren’t (usually) examples of Holmes solving a case, but most often are Holmes presenting some kind of puzzle for Watson to solve. Since some of them are simple trick-question riddles — one is the standard “try to prove to someone that they aren’t that smart” puzzle of “On what side would the survivors be buried” — it often makes Holmes look like a bit of a jerk. This is especially true in those cases where Holmes presents a puzzle that annoys Watson, like the couple of occasions where Holmes restricts Watson’s dinner or biscuits if he can’t solve an appropriate puzzle, and one type of puzzle — I think it was the sequences — that Watson despises. The book tries to set it up as Holmes trying to test and develop Watson’s reasoning abilities, but the riddles work against that. It’s then jarring, since Holmes’ in-story jerkiness was more related to his sense of intellectual superiority, not deliberate antagonization. It would have worked better to insert these into cases, and not as distractions from them but as key facts in them, even if the book never tries to explain exactly why the facts were important to the case, or even gives the details of the case.

Still, it has a pretty good mix of puzzles, and so if there’s one sort of puzzle you don’t like or aren’t good at you can easily move on to the next one. That helps to keep it entertaining. It just doesn’t make as good a use of its framing device as it could have, and in fact makes me more interested in reading real Sherlock Holmes mysteries than I was in reading the book.

4 Responses to “Thoughts on “The Great Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Book””

  1. natewinchester Says:

    Funny, because I was just reading up on the “clueless mystery” tropes the other day:

    And Holmes’ stories apparently fell under that style back in the day. Apparently the “fair play” type of mystery stories didn’t become popular until after his era.

    • malcolmthecynic Says:

      The Holmes stories are less mysteries and more adventure stories, for the most part.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Still, their appeal really does come from the deduction part and Holmes’ summations, which is why that’s what people remember about Holmes. That we can’t figure it out ourselves doesn’t make the long summations of details any less interesting, and since for the most part Watson COULD have noticed those things if he’d tried but isn’t capable of doing so supports Holmes’ frustration at times. And, of course, as the TV tropes page itself mentioned narratively it makes sense for there to be details missing because Watson is the one recording them, and so will only record what he himself sees and what Holmes deigns to tell him.

        Of course, as the page notes Holmes himself supports your comment by chiding Watson for turning his stories into adventure stories instead of deduction stories [grin].

  2. Thoughts on “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] So, yesterday, I commented that I had finished reading “The Complete Sherlock Holmes”. I had read that collection at least once and probably twice before, but as part of reading classic works I wanted to read it again. It was also interesting because of a couple of other things that had been going on around that time, including reading a puzzle book themed on Sherlock Holmes. […]

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