Mathematical Mind

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BragdonbookAmong Allen Bragdon’s many accomplishments are these: the founding editor of Games magazine, the author of dozens of books, and director of The BrainWaves Center (www.brainwaves.com – fun website).  I met him about a dozen years ago and found him charming, although he is far more drawn to mathematical and logical puzzles than I will ever be. No ivory tower scientist, he races sailboats on Cape Cod in the summer and works in winter from his 14th century villa in Tuscany – a lifestyle I could envy if I were less content where I am.

Many of his books have been co-written with his California-based colleague David Gamon, PhD., whose background in linguistics serves him well as both a science writer and translator.

Their book that I most often recommend to people who love logical and mathematical puzzles is Brain Building Games. Although it came out a dozen years ago, it is visually and physically appealing – clear illustrations and directions and an easy to hold size that can be slipped into a purse or briefcase to take anywhere. It is also a welcome alternative to ubiquitous Sudoku, which just creates ruts in the brain after a while.

Most of the puzzles are two pages long with the main graphic on the right hand page and the directions and clues on the left hand side. Many also contain a “Didjaknow” box with little known brain facts, such as Einstein’s right-brained genius, rather than what most people think of as his logical left strengths. “. . . His extraordinary right brain abilities equipped him to visualize concepts into space-time configurations. He labored to translate his insights into mathematics.”

While the puzzles themselves cover a broad range, the majority have to do with numbers. They are clever, but not necessarily easy to solve. For example, there are more than a dozen crossword puzzles of 25 squares or less using numbers instead of words. Clues include:

·         The square of a square (odd)grid

·         A trombone number

The answers to those clues are:

·         81 (3X3 = 9, 9X9 = 81)

·         76 (as in the song, “76 Trombones Led the Big Parade”)

You may be able to figure 81 relatively easily because the answer must fit into two spaces, and we’re told it’s an odd number. 1 X 1X 1 is just 1, so that won’t work. 5 X 5 = 25 and 25 X 25 = 625, which is three spaces, so that won’t work. If you know the musical, the second clue is also easy.

Other answers to “across” clues are dependent on the answers to the “downward” clues, just as in a real crossword puzzle, and that can get trickier.

beachumbrellaPersonally, I prefer the non-mathematical puzzles. One called “Possible Pairings” is a simpler variation of the idea behind Ja-Link! from Mental Floss that was reviewed here previously. You are beanieshown a page with 14 objects and asked to create 7 pairs combining the objects in any way that you can justify. For example, there are two styles of hats shown which could be an easy pair, but one hat is also a beanie with the shape and coloring similar to a beach umbrella. Or the beach umbrella could be paired with the sun because it provides shade from the sun. Or the sun could be paired with the rain cloud as two kinds of weather. The idea is to come out even (no leftovers) with both as many pairs as possible and no unlikely pairs, such as three crickets and an igloo.

Though heavy on the mathematical side, Brain Building Games has a great variety of stimulating exercises and solid information on how to keep your brain healthy and active. To learn more or order it from Amazon, click here.


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