Puzzled by David Astle

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Puzzled by David Astle

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Buy Puzzled by David Astle at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Trivia
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Do you do the Sunday crossword in pen, or just dream of being that person? Then look no further than this, surely the definitive guide on all clues cryptic and hints hidden.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Profile
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846685422

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Words are wonderful enough when they’re just telling you things straight up, but who can resist them when they’re really being playful? Not David Astle, the author of this new title that blows the lid on it all with what he calls secrets and clues from a life in words.

But first, a test. How do you fair with these?

1. Monk in oxygen mask’ (6) [our tip…think popular game your Nanna might play – mine did!]
2. Doctor binds a fracture (3) [our tip…think British not American MD)
3. Drug blow (5) [our tip…two possible options]
4. Country album (5) [our tip…think beyond Taylor Swift)
5. Decrease anaemia remedy (4) [our tip….nah, this one’s easy enough]


If they leave your head hurting (or you baffled at the very least) then this is the book you need because as well as giving the actual answers to these brain teasers (also at the bottom if you scroll down, in case you just can’t wait) it teaches you how to figure them out for yourself. From anagrams to double entendre, codes to my old favourite, the Spoonerism, this is an astonishingly in-depth book that aims to demystify the dark art of word games, and in particular crosswords. Each chapter is themed and combines suggestions and key things to look out for with a series of tests or puzzles to see if your brain has got the hang of it yet.

I found this book fascinating in a things-I-never-knew-I-never-knew kind of way. There are some oddities of language you study as a linguistics scholar, but for the large part the key to these puzzles comes from having a certain type of brain, which is something you can’t always learn. I read the descriptions and came to understand the ‘science’ of it all, but when it came to the quizzes at the end of each chapter I still found some impossible and even where I was in the correct mindset and managed to figure out the answers, I was soon stumped again by the full crosswords towards the end of the book when, a bit like in an exam, you have to work out which bit of knowledge you’re supposed to be recalling and apply it, without the helpful hints that come from themed modules or lectures (or, in this case, chapters).

If it was being picky about the book, I could say it’s a bit wordy, pardon the pun. I was expecting something a bit snappier with easy access tips and tricks for better puzzle solving, but while those tips and tricks are there, they are buried among stodgy chunks of text that make this a much less accessible read than I had anticipated. That’s not to say I didn’t find it interesting, because I undoubtedly did, and I very much enjoyed the way the author weaved together personal anecdotes and puzzle ‘theory.’ But, it’s certainly not a quick pick up and put down book, and it does require effort on the reader’s part. Great if you like such things, but it could be a disappointment for strict puzzle aficionados who have less interest in reading and more in doing. Still, any book which quotes the quintessential cheerleader flick Bring It On and then goes on to do draw parallels between puzzles and the world of Cheer can’t be too bad.

I was a little concerned this book might have quite a niche audience, which might not include me, but I needn’t have worried. I don’t often do crosswords (well, cryptic ones – I’m quite good at those in People magazine) but the general principles here are applicable to other word-based games as well.

I think you have to be the right kind of person, and then in the right kind of mood to enjoy this book. I often read out snippets of my latest review projects over lunch at work, but from this one, aside from the nice how many sides has a circle? I didn’t get much response. It’s just not a casual quiz book you can flick through in that kind of way because the entries aren’t so much brain teasers as brain attackers which require a detailed thought out response and not a bit of banter back and forth. This again is not automatically a criticism, it just means that there is a time and a place for this book, and lunchtime in our staff room in between discussing patients’ prescriptions is neither. This book would, however, make a wonderful gift for the kind of person who does the Sunday crossword in pen (or dreams of doing so) because no matter how skilled you are, there’s bound to be more to learn here.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book. And, if you’re still struggling with the openers, allow me to enlighten you: Domino / Gap /Crack or Smack / Atlas / Iron

You're welcome.

There's more word fun about in The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth while The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth features a girl who could be a young Mr Astle (both Australian, both liking crosswords...the gender thing hardly matters at that point, does it?)

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Buy Puzzled by David Astle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Puzzled by David Astle at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Puzzled by David Astle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Puzzled by David Astle at Amazon.com.

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