26 September 2023

Games for Your Mind

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Jason Rosenhouse, Princeton University Press, $49.99.

Novelists often describe the experience of having their stories go in directions entirely different from what they had in mind when they sat down to write. This is one such example.

The original intention of Jason Rosenhouse was for a relatively short, light-hearted book about logic puzzles. There are two towering figures in the history of recreational logic – Lewis Carroll (better remembered as the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) and Raymond Smullyan.

“I figured I would present a selection of their puzzles with some historical and mathematical context, and then close with some puzzles based on nonclassical logics that I had devised myself.”

“What I had not anticipated was just how difficult it is to draw a clear line with amusing puzzles on one side, and difficult mathematical and philosophical questions on the other.”

Further explanation notes Lewis Carroll explicitly integrated his puzzles into more serious, scholarly work on logic. He also published two academic papers in logic, but wrote them in the style of short stories with humorous dialog. Smullyan saw his puzzles about knights (who always tell the truth) and knaves (who always lie) as a pedagogical tool for introducing readers to deep questions of mathematical logic, especially those surrounding Gödel’s two famous theorems.

The more Rosenhouse delved into the literature, the more he noticed that the puzzles he was discussing were “a microcosm of the history of logic generally.”

The professor of mathematics cleverly combines the eccentricity of Carrol and the ingenuity of Smullyan. Add that to attainable mathematics, lucidly delivered with humour, and you get to learn about the history and future of logic puzzles in a winning way.

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