Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review of "Think Tank: 36 Unusual Puzzles," by Don Rubin

Review of
Think Tank: 36 Unusual Puzzles, by Don Rubin ISBN 0060909811

Five out of five stars
 The 36 puzzles in this collection are difficult, largely because they are unusual. Many are based on visual identification and rearrangements, so it is possible for nearly all people to solve them given time, determination and a significant amount of scratch paper. In some cases, the best tactic would be to make a copy of the puzzle, cut out the pieces and then rearrange them until the solution is found.
 For example, puzzle 19 has a series of 12 squares containing pieces of curved railroad tracks. The goal is to rearrange them to make a path from the start position in the lower left to the end position in the upper right.
 Other puzzles rely on knowledge of pop culture. For example, number 14 has an image of dialog balloons taken from popular comic strips. If you are unfamiliar with the comics, then there is little hope of solving it. Of course, in the modern world of search engines, all you need to do is type the right text in the search window. Solutions to all puzzles are given at the end.
 This is a fun book to look through, all the puzzles can be done with time, effort and persistent use of a search engine.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review of "Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays," by Stephen Hawking

Review of
Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, by Stephen Hawking ISBN 0553095234

Four out of five stars
 When he writes about physics, Stephen Hawking is superb at taking extremely complex natural phenomena and making it understandable to those without a background in cosmology. However, when he tries to interject humor, it doesn’t play well to the scientifically knowledgeable. Although I am sure many readers find it amusing.
 This book is a collection of essays by Hawking, generally derived from lectures that he made. The one exception is the last entry, which is an interview that was conducted on Christmas Day in 1992. The subject matter ranges from the autobiographical to a discussion of Hawking’s work on the radiation emitted by black holes. It is interesting to read Hawking as he puts forward an understandable explanation of the principles of quantum mechanics that allow black holes to leak matter and energy. Hawking rivals the great Isaac Asimov in his ability to explain complicated scientific matters. If you are interested in black holes, this book will help you, although more of an explanation of imaginary time would have strengthened the book.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review of "Lessons in Camouflage," by Martin Ott

Review of
Lessons in Camouflage, by Martin Ott ISBN 9781936196678

Four out of five stars
 To the extent that there is one, the theme of this collection of prose deals with some of the incongruities of human activity. A short one on page 43 is about the reality that one cannot consummate a kiss while wearing a spacesuit.
 My favorite opening line appears in ”Riddle” on page 38. “A retired interrogator walks into a bar with himself and asks for bold spirits, untraceable in the lineage of favored fermentation.” Many of the poems have a military reference, yet my favorite deals with five now rarely used punctuation marks. The title is “Why I Worry My Mom is Dying, Explained  By Five Extinct Punctuation Marks.” The five are the manicule, percontation mark, pilcrow, interrobang and the virgule. Great originally of thought went into this poem.
 There are no tear-forming sections of prose in this book. Just some well-crafted and surprisingly original statements about what humans do, sometimes not so well.