2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #9
The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


When puzzle addict Winston Breen and his best friends head to an all-day puzzle hunt with a $50,000 grand prize, they're pumped. But the day is not all fun and games: not only do they have a highstrung and highly competitive teacher along for the ride, but the puzzles are hard even for Winston, the other schools' teams are no joke, and someone in the contest is playing dirty in order to win. Trying to stop this mystery cheater before it's too late takes an already tough challenge to a whole other level. . . .

Packed with a variety of fun puzzles to solve, this fast-paced sequel will pull readers right into the action from start to finish. (Publisher's Summary from Goodreads)

Sometimes people ask me how I came up with Winston Breen's name, and the truth is, I don't remember. (Honestly, I wish I knew.) Or people will ask me how I came up with all the puzzles for my books, and the answer is, it's just something I know how to do -- probably as a result of solving a million puzzles over the span of my life.

But then people ask me how I came to write books with puzzles in them, and THAT question I can answer.

I'm friends with a lot of people who, like me, love puzzles. We're all scattered around the country, and so we get to see each other only a few times a year. So when we do get together, large groups of us go out to dinner and catch up. It was at one such dinner, perhaps in 2000 or 2001, that we got to talking about all the things in our childhood that made us realize we would be lifelong puzzle people. We had all played the same video games, and we all loved patter songs like Tom Lehrer's "Elements." We were all madly addicted to Games magazine. We were all a little on the nerdy side. Or maybe more than a little.

And everybody at the table, as a child, had read the same book: "The Westing Game," by Ellen Raskin. It won the Newbery medal in 1979. It's still read and beloved by children today. And somehow -- impossibly -- I had never heard of it. This book that all my puzzle-loving friends had read, I had missed it entirely.

Well. Obviously I wasn't going to let THAT stand. So I ordered a copy the very next day, and read it as soon as it arrived.

It's a fine book. There's a reason it's considered a classic.

BUT... I was expecting something a little different. Because this book had come to me via all my puzzle friends, I thought it was going to be a mystery filled with different kinds of puzzles -- things you could solve as you read along. It's not. There's only one real puzzle in "The Westing Game." It's a doozy of a puzzle, to be sure. But it's only one.

And soon I thought: Well, I could write a mystery with lots of puzzles in it, can't I? I could write the book I had expected "Westing Game" to be! I could write the sort of book that if I had found it on a library bookshelf when I was a kid, I would have grabbed it immediately. Out of another person's hands if necessary.

That was the spark behind Winston Breen, and I'm happy to say that today's puzzle-loving kids ARE discovering him. That's why I was able to write the second book, "The Potato Chip Puzzles," and that's why a third book, "The Puzzler's Mansion," comes out in May 2012. You don't have to solve any of the puzzles as you read, of course -- if you want to skip the puzzles and enjoy the story, that's fine with me. But I'm hoping that even kids who don't like puzzles will stare at one of Winston's challenges... and have that"aha!" moment of solving satisfaction. The same kind of moment that turned me into a puzzle addict a long time ago.


Eric Berlin creates puzzles for all ages, from kids to adults (his crosswords appear often in the New York Times). He is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and enjoys creating puzzle events for schools and other groups. He lives in Milford, Connecticut, with his wife and two children. (Author bio from The Puzzling World of Winston Breen web site)
Thanks so much to Eric from participating in this year's Feature Book of the Week. Make sure you leave your comments about his guest post and about his book.

3 Delicious Comments:

Rockwood South Middle School said...

Sounds like a fun book! We're looking forward to reading it and maybe solving the puzzles too!

Rockwood South Middle School

cross keys middle school said...

Awsome book. Suprising twist at the end

Anonymous said...

North Middle!
I really admire the author's ability to wite the puzzles in this book! I only figured out at least 1, so I'm no match for Winston!

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