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Math in Books: Math Puzzles

Presh Talwalkar, fellow blogger and founder of the game theory/personal finance website Mind Your Decisions, has recently released an e-book composed of 70 math puzzles previously featured on his blog.  He was kind enough to send a review copy my way, so if you enjoy a good math puzzle, read on!

The book is organized into three sections, divided by general subject.  There are twenty five counting/geometry puzzles, twenty five probability puzzles, and twenty strategy/game theory puzzles.  Some of the puzzles are inspired by discussions Presh has had with his readers over the years, though many are not unique to this book and some are moderately well known.  In fact, the intersection of the puzzles in the book with things I have talked about here is nonempty – some examples of overlap can be found here and here.

William Poundstone’s book on the history of Microsoft and the puzzle-based job interview, How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?, is probably the most commonly cited text in Presh’s collection.  Poundstone’s book, while interesting, already feels a little bit dated, so it’s nice some of these puzzles outside the context of a larger book on how pioneering Microsoft is as a company because of their approach to job interviews.  (Side note: a more timely follow-up to Poundstone’s book may be his more recent Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?)

Thanks to Presh for sending along this cover photo!

Though the puzzles may not all be unique, Presh provides clear and interesting solutions to each of them.  He is at his best when he also ponders extensions to the original puzzle, or discusses several alternative solutions for the same question.  Even with puzzles I had already seen, I was pleasantly surprised by the novelty and variety of Presh’s solutions more than once.  Though the more advanced solutions sometimes skip a few steps (especially solutions involving calculus), Presh at least has the common sense to let you know when he is omitting some of the details.  Having said that, for readers who have not had some background in calculus (or in the case of one puzzle, some linear algebra), some of the solutions may be a bit hard to understand.  The good news is that most of the solutions are completely self-contained.

At a $4.99 price point, if you are a fan of puzzles I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy here.  Yes, the content is already available on Presh’s blog, but the organization is nice, his explanations are clear, and his selection of questions is varied and interesting.  Even if you’ve seen many of these puzzles before, there will still be a few surprises for you.

If you’d like to find out more, I’ve added a link to his book on my Amazon carousel to the right – you can also check out Presh’s blog at the link above if you’d like to learn more about him!