The Best Puzzle Solvers From Fiction for Children and Younger Readers

In the past, we have assembled super-teams of the best puzzle solvers in horror filmstelevision, and literature, both for adults and for teens. The goal was to highlight characters who stand out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re quick-witted, decisive, and immensely capable.

In the latest installment in this delightful series, we turn our attention to books for children and younger readers, seeking out the quickest minds and the deftest problem solvers, many of whom are some of the first puzzlers enthusiastic readers will encounter on the printed page.

So let’s meet (or revisit) some wickedly bright minds from kid-friendly reads.


Winston Breen (The Puzzling World of Winston Breen series)

One of the savviest puzzlers in fiction, Winston isn’t just a master at solving puzzles. He understands that the best part of a puzzle is sharing it with others, watching as they’re stumped, then work their way through it, just as he did.

Across three novels, Winston pits his puzzly brain against shifty characters, decades-old mysteries, and some immensely clever brain teasers, and always making sure that, along the way, people learn how to tackle any problem in a fair, careful, and puzzly way.


Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown and Sally Kimball (Encyclopedia Brown series)

For many younger readers, myself included, Encyclopedia Brown served as the perfect introduction to critical thinking, deduction, and logic puzzles. A gateway drug to Holmes and other methodical inductive detectives, Brown stories showed readers how to examine cause and effect, looking for clues and inconsistencies that could always be assembled like a jigsaw into a picture of the truth.

Plus his friend and bodyguard Sally Kimball was a top-notch puzzler in her own right. Often noticing clues that even escape Brown’s keen gaze, Sally had more than a few solutions to her credit, and nearly stumped the title character herself in her debut.


Harriet M. Welsch (Harriet the Spy)

Less overtly puzzly than the previous names, Harriet uses her attention to detail and immaculate note-taking to document everything around her. Harriet’s spy notebook does come back to bite her when it’s discovered and used against her, but instead of wilting in the face of such obstacles, Harriet learns to apply her knowledge and skills to outwitting those who would mistreat her.

Yes, Harriet does make some mistakes along the way, but her intentions are good, and few puzzles could withstand the determination and laser-like focus of Harriet the Spy.

three investigators

Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews (The Three Investigators series)

When your motto is “We Investigate Anything,” you better be prepared for everything. Thankfully, that’s the case with Jones, Crenshaw, and Andrews, a team of teenage crime solvers who tackled some of the strangest (and seemingly supernatural mysteries) of any young detective team in literature.

Always outwitting their foes and unraveling problems through reason and logic (along with a fair bit of cleverness), the boys rarely needed more than a phone, a tape recorder, and access to the local library to crack any puzzle, no matter how peculiar. Alfred Hitchcock himself was impressed by the ingenuity and dedication of the Three Investigators, and would later point clients in their direction!


Claudia Kincaid (The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)

A 12-year-old girl who feels unappreciated by her family, Claudia sets off with her brother to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Along the way, she manages to outwit the regular guard patrols in the museum, unravel an old woman’s esoteric filing system, and solve the mystery of a statue at the museum that baffled many.

Claudia is resourceful, strong-willed, and a deft researcher, and the questions she cracks in this book only hint at her full puzzle-solving potential.


Theodore Roosevelt Fitzroy (Funjungle series)

When one of the biggest zoos in the world is your home, you’re bound to encounter some strangeness. But for Teddy Fitzroy, that’s just a usual day. The son of two Funjungle employees, Teddy is a curious young man who has solved some devious mysteries and crimes during his time at the zoo.

Employing admirable attention to detail, the brashness to challenge authority, and the bravery to put himself in harm’s way in order to help others, Teddy is part puzzler and part adventurer, often protecting innocent animals from danger along the way. His attention to detail is excellent and his ability to gather information is head-and-shoulders above most of the other characters. He’s the best investigator Funjungle could hope for.

The Great Brain collage

Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, Jr. (The Great Brain series)

Hey, what can I say? Not all puzzlers are totally pure of heart. Tom Fitzgerald, aka T.D., aka The Great Brain, is a ten-year-old master of mischief and enterprise, always engaging in clever schemes to line his own pockets, even as he accomplishes good deeds.

He possesses an impressive intellect, solving bank robberies and finding lost children (and rocking horses) with the same aplomb and sly cunning that he employs to stockpiling cash. There’s more than a little Tom Sawyer here, but with a devious puzzly mind capable of thinking several steps ahead to outwit foes (and siblings) alike.

tales of magic

Jane, Katharine, Mark, and Martha (plus their descendants) (Tales of Magic series)

Puzzles, brain teasers, and riddles can be tough enough on their own, but when you start adding magic to mix, then you’re dealing with something else entirely. Fortunately, this quartet of child conundrum-crackers are immensely capable of tackling any challenge tossed their way, be it a coin that causes “half-magic,” an enchanted lake, malfunctioning wishing wells, and time travel.

In each story, the children must puzzle out how the magic works, and then find a clever way to manipulate or outmaneuver the magical effects to save the day. These cagey kids would be a boon to any team of puzzlers.

Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from famous (or obscure) works of children’s lit? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

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Night at the Museum (with giant crosswords!)


[All images courtesy of Robert Mordzon.]

The National Museum in Warsaw is taking an intriguing approach to introducing children to the value of museum-driven learning.

They’ve launched the “Anything Goes” museum, an educational experiment wherein children select, develop, and curate the museum’s main exhibit for a period of time.


According to the announcement on the National Museum’s website:

A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into six curatorial teams. Over six months, the participants got to know the Museum and worked on the exhibition during weekly 4-hour meetings. The teams of junior-curators prepared the scripts and selected almost 300 works to be displayed….

The exhibition, which is divided into six individual segments, features works from all museum collections: ancient and Oriental artefacts, craft objects, old and contemporary sculptures, photographs, drawings and prints, coins and medals, clothes and paintings created in various periods. Many of these works have never been presented to the public. The children say that they “found and liberated them from the museum’s storeroom”.

And part of the “Anything Goes” museum is a dazzling audiovisual creation of technology pro Robert Mordzon: a giant interactive crossword puzzle.


Clues are placed in front of light-up blocks in the grid which indicate the number of letters in each answer.

When a letter is placed correctly, the space will turn green. If a letter is placed incorrectly, the space turns red. And when a word is completed, an animation related to the word is projected onto the wall.

If all 130 boxes are filled in and the grid is completed, sounds and a celebratory “disco light show” are played.


Not only is this an awesome way to bring puzzling to a newer audience, but it’s an impressive meld of science, technology, and wordplay. The fact that industrious children were behind bringing it to life is just the icing on the cake.

This is accessible puzzling at its most vivid and inspiring. Clearly when “Anything Goes,” anything is possible.

[A big thank you goes out to Kathy Matheson, aka Crossword Kathy, who brought this story to my attention.]

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!