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The Puzzling Adventures of Doctor Ecco

Dennis Shasha
Dover Publications
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Megan Patnott
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The Puzzling Adventures of Doctor Ecco is, at heart, a book of puzzles. Its twist is that instead of just stating the puzzles, Shasha has embedded them into a frame story about the rise to fame of Dr. Ecco, an eccentric but brilliant puzzle solver, as told by his good friend Professor Scarlet (it’s clear from the frame story that Shasha is fond of Sherlock Holmes). Each puzzle is presented to the reader by way of a client presenting it to Ecco. Questions for the reader to solve are written in italics, and set out from the rest of the text with a picture of a magnifying glass. The solutions are glossed over in the text, and can be found in the back of the book.

The puzzles are given rough difficulty ratings in the table of contents. This is great, although many of the puzzles have multiple parts and it’s not always clear how each part contributes to the rating. Puzzles of all difficulty levels are interspersed throughout the book, which seems like a good choice for a puzzle book that is meant to be read from start to finish. None of the puzzles require any specialized knowledge to complete, and a nice variety of types of puzzles are included, with enough repetition of general puzzle styles for the reader to be able to apply tricks from earlier puzzles to some of the later ones.

The solutions are well written. Some solutions have a discussion section, which generally points out a connection between the ideas used in the solution and some topic or idea from computer science or mathematics and provide a reference. The references themselves are almost certainly outdated at this point since the book was originally published in 1988 (this is especially true for the computer science references!), but they’re still a nice touch, and at least point the interested reader in the right direction for finding more information.

Although most of the puzzles or similar ones likely appear elsewhere, they are clearly stated here, and accompanied by well written solutions. This, plus the nice variety of puzzle type and difficulty, makes it a good source of activities for math club meetings or similar events. I brought several of these puzzles to one of our recent math club events, and both the students and other faculty enjoyed working on them. This is the first in a series of five puzzle books by Shasha using Dr. Ecco as a theme, and I enjoyed it enough that I might look into the others.

Megan Patnott is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Regis University in Denver, CO. Her training is in algebraic geometry and commutative algebra.


  The Adventures
      Minority Rules
      The Tower of Lego
      Odd Doors Problem
      The Coach's Dilemma
      Maximum Flow
      Critical Paths
    First Spies
      Spies and Acquaintances
      Spies and Double Agents
      Rocket Assembly
      Offshore Oil Well
      The Campers' Problem
      Pebbles and Persuasion
      The Architect's Problem
      Circuits Checking Circuits
      Gossiping Defenders
      Delicate Balances
    "Polluters, Suitors, and Tigers"
      Warehouses and Barrels
      Code Breaking
      Code Invention
      Spacecraft Malfunction
      Escaped Tiger
    Industrialists and Generals
      Railroad Blues
      Flighty Ideas
      The Rotary Problem
      The Contract Problem
      Command and Control
      Wrong Number
      Knowledge Coordination I
      Knowledge Coordination II
      The Couriers Problem
      Road Work
      Country Roads
      Subway Layout
      Puzzle-Mad Kidnapper
  Solutions to Puzzles