07 August 2023

Review: The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs

The Puzzler - One Man's Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life by A.J. Jacobs audiobook cover

This audiobook was a sheer delight! With a smooth and uniquely distinctive voice, author and puzzler A.J. Jacobs takes us on a tour of puzzles and the people who love them in The Puzzler - One Man's Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life. The author's first love is crosswords, but he succeeds in taking us on a balanced and thoroughly satisfying tour through the world of puzzles.

A solver is a person who does puzzles, and in the book Jacobs interviews many who dedicate their lives to creating or solving a variety of puzzles. He covers a broad range of puzzles, including: anagrams; ciphers and codes; crosswords and cryptic crosswords; chess; jigsaw puzzles; riddles; Rubik's cube; logic problems, sudoku and more.

Jacobs shares his experiences with each of the puzzle types and I especially enjoyed his story about entering an international jigsaw puzzle competition with his family. This led me down a jigsaw rabbit hole, watching a short documentary about the mind blowing jigsaw competition that sees solvers given a series of brand new previously unreleased puzzles from Ravensburger as they compete to solve them. There are solo events, pairs and team events and it's a fascinating sub-culture.

When defining what a puzzle is, Jacobs declares a puzzle will almost always:
"... cause the solver to experience a period of difficulty and struggle, followed by relief. They provide an a-ha moment, tension leading to, an almost, well, orgasmic ending." Chapter 2: The Puzzle of Puzzles.
Jacobs involves the reader at every opportunity, creating a bonus puzzle time for audio listeners, and providing a PDF with 100+ pages of puzzle examples and supporting material for the book. Some of the puzzles mentioned sent me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, or inspired me to seek out more info. Did you know the world's largest puzzle is from Ravensburger and contains 40,320 pieces? It's estimated that if a solver spends 2 hours per day working on the puzzle, it will take an entire year to complete it!

The author is serious about his puzzling, checking every night without fail for the online release of his favourite puzzles, and volunteering to tackle some of the hardest puzzles in the world. The Japanese puzzle box desk sounded incredible and I longed to see it in person.

Jacobs explores why so many of us love puzzles, concluding that the art of puzzling is 'bafflement, wrestling and solution'. Some of us become bored or frustrated and give up at the bafflement or wrestling stage, but Jacobs discusses the pleasure to be had from the mental and intellectual effort and the sense of accomplishment that follows when a puzzle has been solved. His enthusiasm for the topic is infectious and I enjoyed this tantalising look into the puzzle world.

I enjoy a puzzle myself, and am still doing the daily Wordle and - thanks to this book - occasionally taking on the Spelling Bee by The New York Times. I've asked myself how I can give an audiobook about puzzles my top rating of 5 stars, because that's what I'm about to do.

All I can say is that I had such a great time reading this. I was inspired to share some of the riddles and puzzles with my husband and we had a good laugh solving them (or not) together. As I said, The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs was an absolute delight. I looked forward to listening to a chapter or so each day and was sorry when I 'solved' the last one.

Highly recommended!

(For more like this, check out my review of It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan).

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I absolutely love indulging in adult jigsaw puzzles during my downtime! There's something so therapeutic about laying out all those intricate pieces and slowly watching the image come to life. It's like a perfect escape from the digital world, allowing me to unwind and engage my mind in a different way. Plus, the sense of accomplishment when that last piece clicks into place is incredibly satisfying. It's not just a hobby; it's a mindful journey that I can't get enough of. Adult jigsaw puzzles

    1. Thanks John, perhaps this book will encourage more first timers to give adult jigsaws a chance. Great to hear how much you enjoy your hobby.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your love of jigsaw puzzles John, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!

  3. Jigsaw puzzles are my ultimate escape from the digital chaos of our modern lives. In a world dominated by screens, there's something refreshingly tactile about running your fingers through puzzle pieces, sorting them by shape and color, and gradually bringing a picture to life. It's a therapeutic exercise that engages your mind without the constant distractions of notifications and social media. And the best part? Once that final piece snaps into place, it's a triumphant moment that reminds me of the joy in completing a real-world challenge.

    1. You're so right Ethan, that sense of elation when you finally complete a puzzle is a satisfying accomplishment. I think more people would benefit from being online less, and making time for tactile hobbies and mentally stimulating activities like puzzles. Would love to know how many puzzles you do a year, or have done in a lifetime!

  4. That is indeed a nice puzzle article. Thanks for posting Here you can check out some of the most unique online jigsaw puzzles for adults. You can get here the best deal in terms of the price level.


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