New Puzzle Book Roundup!

It’s been a while since we’ve done a roundup of new puzzle books and packets available from top constructors, so I reached out to the puzzle community on Twitter and asked for recommendations for my fellow PuzzleNationers! Let’s see what we’ve got!


First off, Patrick Blindauer has a new PuzzleFest available, and this one is Broadway-themed!

Now, if you’re not theater-savvy, don’t worry. You’re not required to know anything about Broadway, it’s simply the unifying link between all the themed puzzles. So there’s some theatrical wordplay afoot!

Click here for more information. Patrick is charging $20 for a downloadable and easily printable PDF, and based on his track record of terrific PuzzleFests, this should be another great one!

Along a similar line, the puzzles from both this year’s Bryant Park puzzle tournament and last year’s tournament are available for download as a package deal for only $10! You can’t go wrong with two year’s worth of puzzles for such a low price!

Turning our attention to puzzle books, Foggy Brume has a collection of One-Word Word Searches available.

It sounds simple. All you have to do is find one word in a field of letters. How hard could that be? Well, it’s more challenging than you might expect!

This puzzle book is priced to move at $7.50 on Amazon.

Friend of the blog Cynthia Morris has a new edition in her long-running American Acrostics puzzle book series, and Volume 5 is all about American holidays and celebrations!

Did you know there’s a special day set aside each year to be in a bad mood? Or a day to do everything in reverse? There’s even a day to celebrate ice cream…

This puzzle book will run you $9.95 on Amazon.

And finally, puzzle book master Pierre Berloquin has a collection of puzzles centered around the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Victorian London. Based on the classic novels and short stories, the world of Holmes comes alive with all sorts of puzzly fun wrapped in Sherlockian trappings.

This puzzle book and walk down Memory Lane for mystery fans is available on Amazon for $14.95.

Hopefully one of these puzzle books or puzzle sets piques your interest, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Let us know if you snap any of them up!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Murder Mystery edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And in today’s post, I’d like to follow up on last week’s murder mystery post.

In the previous post, I gave you some of the backstory and logistics of our in-office murder-mystery event, and today, I wanted to discuss the event itself.

Our murder happened Monday night — the fictional J. Augustus Milverton Puzzlenationo would breathe his last breath near the photocopier — so Tuesday morning marked the official start of the game.

And since we’re an office full of puzzlers, the morning began with something of a logic puzzle, as the players were given a list of passcodes used to enter the building, but they needed to figure out who had used them and at what time.

You see, someone’s passcode being used at a certain time didn’t necessary mean that person was actually entering the building at that time. Someone could’ve used another player’s code. (Information involving times and identities was scattered throughout emails to all 10 participants, so it would take a fair amount of cooperation to unravel this.)

But since all of the players were suspicious of each other — which was wise, given that several “solvers” were actually following my orders throughout the event to fulfill certain tasks — the first day didn’t involve as much cooperative solving as I’d hoped. (That would come the next day out of necessity, as alliances began to form and more information was shared.)

As I fielded questions from players asking for further details — and several clues were discovered and analyzed — the first of several complications for the players was revealed: a fellow player was “killed.”

This not only upped the stakes for the players, but led to one of my favorite moments in the game. You see, when a fellow player stumbled upon the body, he wasn’t sad that his coworker was dead…he was sad because he couldn’t ask him any questions. (Though, intrepid solver that he was, he asked if a Ouija board was out of the question.)

For the rest of the day, I was fielding all sorts of instant messages and emails from players, asking for information, cashing in Holmes Tickets, clarifying things, and trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle into place. Early theories emerged. Some were wild guesses, and some were surprisingly close to the truth.

Our event played out in real time, so the players were aware that things could happen outside the workday that would impact the game. People seemed reluctant to leave, just in case they missed a clue.

Day Two opened with another red herring — punny threats sent to three of the players, delivered in envelopes that pointed to another player (a gambit by the killer to put the spotlight on someone else) — and a few secrets had already come out.

Players openly offered information to each other in a group email, which helped resolve some red herrings and put other pieces into place. More clues were uncovered, but the murder weapon remained elusive.

Lunchtime was orchestrated to be a tipping point. Not only would another murder occur, but other plans and clues would come together. I gave one of my collaborators two missions to accomplish while the players were away from their desks. Hopefully, she’d be able to accomplish both, but at the very least, she had to accomplish one of the tasks.

There were a few of these open-ended narrative moments written into the story where the players had the chance to surprise me with what happened and what didn’t. Not only did those moments make the game more fun for me to run, but it gave other players chances to really inhabit their characters and get into the performance side of the gameplay.

Lunchtime allowed for more group theorizing — something that the workday hampered, as you might expect — but the real fireworks awaited players upon their return.

A trap was sprung, and another player died unexpectedly. Although some chaos did ensue, most of the players realized this latest death was the work of another party, and several of the players solved it quickly before returning their attention to the first two murders.

In the midst of all this, two real-world complications arose on Day Two.

The first involved a player dropping out due to a mix of time constraints (she felt the game was distracting her too much from work) and general frustration with the format of the game (which, for someone unfamiliar with immersive storytelling like this, is totally understandable). I was sad to see her go, and adjusted the story accordingly, recovering a clue from her and redistributing it to an active player.

The second involved the pace of the game itself. I’d hoped to run it over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday and have it wrapped up that second day. But between the elaborate unfolding plot and the difficulty in balancing gameplay with, you know, actually getting our work done, things were progressing more slowly than expected.

That darn workday. Such a nuisance.

So the game rolled into Day Three, and players could sense the end was near. Most of the puzzle pieces were there for the taking, and several compelling theories emerged. (Honestly, one of them was better than the story I’d actually written, which was both funny and a little humbling.)

To add a bit of drama, I set a deadline of mid-afternoon. If the murders hadn’t been solved by then, the killer would escape scot-free.

Things finally steamrolled to their conclusion when the murder weapon was revealed — in the hands of a thief who had been woven into the plot — and one of the players came close enough to cracking all three murders that I declared the mystery solved. (And our ace detective did so before the deadline, so no escape for our dastardly murderer.)

It was different from any murder-mystery event I’d run before, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. There were certainly flaws in execution, as there are in any first attempt, but I learned some valuable lessons in this play-through that will make other such events in the future smoother, more satisfying, and more engaging.

Although…I hadn’t considered the potential consequences of the event on workdays going forward; everyone seems a bit more wary of each other. (And there are a few vengeful “spirits” lurking about, hoping to avenge themselves in future games.)


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Square One TV

Puzzles in Pop Culture is all about chronicling those moments in TV, film, literature, art, and elsewhere in which puzzles play a key role. In previous installments, we’ve tackled everything from The West Wing, The Simpsons, and M*A*S*H to MacGyver, Gilmore Girls, and various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

And in today’s edition, we’re jumping into the Wayback Machine and looking back at the math-fueled equivalent of Sesame Street: Square One TV!

[The intro to Square One TV, looking more than a little dated these days.]

This PBS show ran from 1987 to 1994 (although reruns took over in 1992), airing five days a week and featuring all sorts of math-themed programming. Armed with a small recurring group of actors, the writers and producers of Square One TV offered many clever (if slightly cheesy) ideas for presenting different mathematical concepts to its intended audience.

Whether they were explaining pie charts and percentages with a game show parody or employing math-related magic tricks with the aid of magician Harry Blackstone, Jr., the sketches were simple enough for younger viewers, but funny enough for older viewers.

In addition to musical parodies performed by the cast, several famous musicians contributed to the show as well. “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bobby McFerrin, The Fat Boys, and Kid ‘n’ Play were among the guests helped explain fractions, tessellations, and other topics.

[One of the many math-themed songs featured on the show.]

Two of the most famous recurring segments on Square One TV were Mathman and Mathcourt. (Sensing a theme here?)

Mathman was a Pac-Man ripoff who would eat his way around an arcade grid until he reached a number or a question mark (depending on this particular segment’s subject).

For instance, if he came to a question mark and it revealed “3 > 2”, he could eat the ratio, because it’s mathematically correct, and then move onward. But if he ate the ratio “3 < 2”, he would be pursued by Mr. Glitch, the tornado antagonist of the game. (The announcer would always introduce Mr. Glitch with an unflattering adjective like contemptible, inconsiderate, devious, reckless, insidious, inflated, ill-tempered, shallow, or surreptitious.)

Mathcourt, on the other hand, gave us a word problem in the form of a court case, leaving the less-than-impressed district attorney and judge to establish whether the accused (usually someone much savvier at math than them) was correct or incorrect. As a sucker for The People’s Court-style shenanigans, this recurring segment was a personal favorite of mine.

But from a puzzle-solving standpoint, MathNet was easily the puzzliest part of the program. Detectives George Frankly and Kate Tuesday would use math to solve baffling crimes. Whether it was a missing house, a parrot theft, or a Broadway performer’s kidnapping, George and Kate could rely on math to help them save the day.

These segments were told in five parts (one per day for a full week), using the Dragnet formula to tackle all sorts of mathematical concepts, from the Fibonacci sequence to calculating angles of reflection and refraction.

These were essentially word problems, logic problems, and other puzzles involving logic or deduction, but with a criminal twist. Think more Law & Order: LCD than Law & Order: SVU.

Granted, given all the robberies and kidnappings the MathNet team faced, these segments weren’t aiming as young or as silly as much of Square One TV‘s usual fare, but they are easily the most fondly remembered aspect of the show for fans and casual viewers alike.

Given the topic of Tuesday’s post — the value of recreational math — it seemed only fitting to use today’s post to discuss one of the best examples of math-made-fun in television history.

Square One TV may not have been nearly as successful or as long-lasting as its Muppet-friendly counterpart, but its legacy lives on in the hearts and memories of many puzzlers these days.


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(More Than) 5 Questions: Escape the Room edition!

Welcome to a very special edition of 5 Questions!

Usually, 5 Questions is simply that: five individual questions answered by our guest. But this time around, we’ve ditched the 5 Q format in lieu of a more relaxed, conversational interview. I hope you enjoy!


Escape the Room games started as a video-game phenomenon, but have since moved into the real world with great success as teams are tasked with physically finding clues and solving puzzles in order to escape!

[Darcy, right, poses with another solver, complete with
deerstalker and Meerschaum pipe a la Sherlock Holmes.]

Penny Dell Puzzles social media coordinator (and friend of the blog) Darcy recently tackled the challenge posed by Mission Escape Games, and she was gracious enough to take the time out to answer some questions about this intriguing puzzle-solving experience.

So without further ado, let’s get to it in a very special edition of 5 Questions!


So, Darcy, correct me if I’m wrong, but your friend invited you to be locked in a room with her, with only your wits and cunning to help you both escape within a certain amount of time? How did this come about?

As unfavorable as it may seem, it was actually a birthday gift. My husband bought me tickets to Mission Escape Games in NYC, and we went with a group of friends.

Oh, so how many of you could be in a given escape room? (I’m assuming there is more than one.)

There are a few rooms. We had 9 people in our room. Our group was teamed up with another group to find out what happened to Dr. Jekyll before Mr. Hyde showed up.

All the other rooms have other themes, and the owners try to change up the challenges frequently. That’s so people can keep coming back and playing something fresh, but also so others who have played won’t give away the secrets of how to escape

So your group and another team are all in a room together. What does the room look like? Is there someone there to guide you and answer questions, or are you on your own?

You’re on your own! We were told that we had an hour to escape and to look everywhere — and they mean everywhere — for clues. We walked into a small Victorian-era room with a fireplace and other period props and just started searching. We upended tables, took out drawers, you name it.

Many clues didn’t make sense at first, but as the game progressed, we realized every clue was there for a reason. There was also a small TV screen in the corner of the room that very ominously counted down your time.

But as we found out, the TV screen served a dual purpose. We had someone watching us the entire time who would provide clues, if necessary, through the screen.

Can you give us an example of some of the clues you found, and how they made more sense as the game progressed?

Not to give too much away, but we found a key that seemed to have no relevance at first, since it didn’t open the only door in the room. We soon discovered our little room was not as small as it seemed.

Most clues turned out to be more than they seemed at first. There were a lot of puzzles solved by trying to find out what was missing, rather than where something was hiding.

You said that the people running the game could give you clues through the television. Could you elaborate on that?

If we got stuck, we could ask for a hint. At one point, we were all standing over a chess board, befuddled because we knew it needed to come into play, we just didn’t know how. After discussing chess moves for a while, the TV screen showed us a poem using the words “King,” “Queen,” and “Knight.”

This reminded us that much earlier, we had found a deck of cards, so we knew that the deck of cards and the chess board were both necessary to solving that part of the puzzle.

How long did you have to escape?

One hour.

And did you?

Technically, no. But we came so close, our “handler” gave us an extra two minutes to finish.

Do you feel like a bigger or smaller group would have helped more?

You know, at first I wasn’t so sure about working with complete strangers, but by the end of the mission, I felt that every single person contributed in some way.

In my case, the more people present, the more knowledge brought to the table. For instance, I’m terrible with numbers, but others in the group used their very strong math skills to keep us afloat. My strength is in brain teasers and optical illusions, so I could help identify some of the riddles and visual tricks.

So you would definitely go again?

Absolutely! We had such a good time! We made new friends and, despite not escaping in time, we still felt very proud of ourselves.


Many thanks to Darcy for her time and her story about Mission Escape Games! You can check out her social media skills on the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Penny Dell Puzzles!

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A ten-digit brain teaser to melt your mind!

I’ve started to develop a reputation as something of a brain-teaser pro, given some of the beastly brain teasers we’ve featured on the blog over the last few months.

And, as such, I’ve started to receive brain teasers from friends and fellow puzzlers, challenging me to unravel them AND explain my methods to the PuzzleNation audience.

I’ve never been one to shirk a challenge, so here we go! This puzzle is entitled Mystery Number, and a little googling after solving it reveals it most likely came from this Business Insider link. (Although their solution is slightly flawed.)

Enjoy!


There is a ten-digit mystery number (not starting with zero) represented by ABCDEFGHIJ, where each numeral, 0 through 9, is used once. Given the following clues, what is the number?

1. A + B + C + D + E = a multiple of 6.
2. F + G + H + I + J = a multiple of 5.
3. A + C + E + G + I = a multiple of 9.
4. B + D + F + H + J = a multiple of 2.
5. AB = a multiple of 3.
6. CD = a multiple of 4.
7. EF = a multiple of 7.
8. GH = a multiple of 8.
9. IJ = a multiple of 10.
10. FE, HC, and JA are all prime numbers.

(And to clarify here for clues 5 through 9, AB is a two-digit number reading out, NOT A times B.)


[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Now, anyone who has solved Kakuro or Cross Sums puzzles will have a leg up on other solvers, because they’re accustomed to dealing with multiple digits adding up to certain sums without repeating numbers. If they see three boxes (which would essentially be A + B + C) and a total of 24, they know that A, B, and C will be 7, 8, and 9 in some order.

[For those unfamiliar with Cross Sums or Kakuro solving, feel free to refer to this solving aid from our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles, which includes a terrific listing of possible number-combinations that will definitely prove useful with this brain teaser.]

And since the digits 0 through 9 add up to 45, that provides a valuable starting hint for clues 1 and 2 (in which all 10 digits appear exactly once). A multiple of 6 (6, 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42) plus a multiple of 5 (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45) will equal 45. And there’s only one combination that works.

So A + B + C + D + E must equal 30, and F + G + H + I + J must equal 15.

The same logic applies to clues 3 and 4 (in which all 10 digits appear exactly once). A multiple of 9 (9, 18, 27, 36, 45) plus a multiple of 2 (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc.) will equal 45. And there’s only one combination that works.

So A + C + E + G + I must equal 27, and B + D + F + H + J must equal 18.

And now, we jump to clue 9. Since IJ is a multiple of 10, and all multiples of 10 end in 0, we know J = 0.

This tells us something about JA in clue 10. J is 0, which means A can only be 2, 3, 5, or 7.

There may a quicker, more deductive manner of solving this puzzle, but I couldn’t come up with it. I went for a brute force, attrition-style solve.

So I wrote out all of the possibilities for clues 5 through 9, and began crossing them off according to what I already knew. Here’s what we start with:

AB = 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 33, 36, 39, 42, 45, 48, 51, 54, 57, 60, 63, 66, 69, 72, 75, 78, 81, 84, 87, 90, 93, 96, 99
CD = 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 96
EF = 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 70, 77, 84, 91, 98
GH = 16, 24, 32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 72, 80, 88, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

Now, we can remove any double numbers like 33 because we know each letter represents a different number.

AB = 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 36, 39, 42, 45, 48, 51, 54, 57, 60, 63, 69, 72, 75, 78, 81, 84, 87, 90, 93, 96
CD = 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72, 76, 80, 84, 92, 96
EF = 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 70, 84, 91, 98
GH = 16, 24, 32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 72, 80, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

[Sorry guys, you’re out.]

And we know that J = 0, so we can remove any numbers that end in zero for AB, CD, EF, and GH.

AB = 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 36, 39, 42, 45, 48, 51, 54, 57, 63, 69, 72, 75, 78, 81, 84, 87, 93, 96
CD = 12, 16, 24, 28, 32, 36, 48, 52, 56, 64, 68, 72, 76, 84, 92, 96
EF = 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 84, 91, 98
GH = 16, 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

And for AB, we know that A can only be 2, 3, 5, or 7, so we can delete any numbers that don’t start with one of those four digits.

AB = 21, 24, 27, 36, 39, 51, 54, 57, 72, 75, 78
CD = 12, 16, 24, 28, 32, 36, 48, 52, 56, 64, 68, 72, 76, 84, 92, 96
EF = 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 84, 91, 98
GH = 16, 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

Hmmm, that’s still a LOT of options. What else do we know?

Well, we know from clue 10 that FE and HC are prime numbers. So they can’t be even numbers OR end in a 5. So we can eliminate any options from CD and EF that begin with an even number or a 5.

AB = 21, 24, 27, 36, 39, 51, 54, 57, 72, 75, 78
CD = 12, 16, 32, 36, 72, 76, 92, 96
EF = 14, 35, 91, 98
GH = 16, 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

Alright, now we need to look at those big addition formulas again. Specifically, we need to look at B + D + F + H + J = 18.

We know J = 0, so the formula becomes B + D + F + H = 18. Now, take a look at our lists of multiples for AB, CD, EF, and GH. Look at the second digit for each. There’s a little nugget of information hiding inside there.

Every D and H digit is an even number. Which means that B and F must either both also be even, or both be odd in order to make an even number and add up to 18.

But, wait, if they were both even, then they would use all of our even numbers, and some combination of B, D, F and H would be 2 + 4 + 6 + 8, which equals 20. That can’t be right!

So let’s delete any even numbered options from AB and EF.

AB = 21, 27, 39, 51, 57, 75
CD = 12, 16, 32, 36, 72, 76, 92, 96
EF = 35, 91
GH = 16, 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72, 96
IJ = 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90

Okay, we’ve whittled down EF to 2 possibilities: 35 and 91. [Here is where the Business Insider solution goes awry, because they never eliminate one of these two options.]

Clue 10 tells us that FE is a prime number, but that doesn’t help, because both 53 and 19 are prime. So now what?

Let’s return to those starting formulas.

We know that A + B + C + D + E = 30, and our handy-dandy number-combination listing tells us there are six possible ways that five digits can add up to 30: 1-5-7-8-9; 2-4-7-8-9; 2-5-6-8-9; 3-4-6-8-9; 3-5-6-7-9; and 4-5-6-7-8.

Look at the possibilities for A, B, C, D, and E according to our work thus far:

AB = 21, 27, 39, 51, 57, 75
CD = 12, 16, 32, 36, 72, 76, 92, 96
EF = 35, 91

There’s not a single 8 in any of those pairings! And five of our six possible answers for A + B + C + D + E = 30 include an 8 as one of the five digits.

Therefore, 3-5-6-7-9 and A-B-C-D-E match up in some order.

EF is either 35 or 91, but with both 3 and 5 counted among the letters in A-B-C-D-E, EF cannot be 35, so EF is 91. Let’s eliminate any option for AB, CD, GH, or IJ that include 9 or 1.

AB = 27, 57, 75
CD = 32, 36, 72, 76
EF = 91
GH = 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72
IJ = 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80

Because E = 9, that leaves 3, 5, 6, and 7 as the only possible digits available for A, B, C, and D. So let’s eliminate any combinations that use numbers other than those four.

AB = 57, 75
CD = 36, 76
EF = 91
GH = 24, 32, 48, 56, 64, 72
IJ = 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80

We can also eliminate any combinations for GH and IJ that include those four numbers.

AB = 57, 75
CD = 36, 76
EF = 91
GH = 24, 48
IJ = 20, 40, 80

Since our only possibilities for AB use 5 and 7 in some order, CD cannot be 76, so it must be 36.

AB = 57, 75
CD = 36
EF = 91
GH = 24, 48
IJ = 20, 40, 80

So, here are our options at this point:

AB = 57, 75
CD = 36
EF = 91
GH = 24, 48
IJ = 20, 40, 80

All possible solutions for GH include the number 4, so we can delete 40 as a possibility for IJ.

AB = 57, 75
CD = 36
EF = 91
GH = 24, 48
IJ = 20, 80

Let’s look at those formulas one more time. We know A + C + E + G + I = 27.

We also know C = 3 and E = 9, so A + G + I = 15. And the only combination of available digits that allows for that is 5, 2, and 8, meaning AB = 57, GH = 24, and IJ = 80.

So ABCDEFGHIJ = 5736912480.


I don’t think I’ve tackled a puzzle this tough since the seesaw brain teaser!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Puzzles in Pop Culture: Sherlock Holmes (a.k.a. The puzzle is afoot!)

Mystery novels and stories are catnip to puzzlers, because they’re an entertaining way to exercise our deductive skills and enjoy puzzling outside our usual fare of apps, games, and paper puzzles.

And surely there’s no greater boon to the mystery-loving puzzler than the ongoing adventures of Sherlock Holmes in all his forms. Not only is there are series of feature films starring the Great Detective, but there are two television programs focusing on his singular brand of puzzling: Sherlock and Elementary.

[Note: I will be discussing both seasons of Elementary, seasons 1 and 2 of Sherlock, and the season 3 premiere. So consider this your spoiler alert.]

Beyond the normal whodunnit storytelling that frames both shows — a staple of the genre that traces back to the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and novels — there are smaller puzzles to unravel.

Perhaps the most famous from the Doyle canon is “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” where Holmes solves a curious pictographic code in the hopes of preventing a heinous crime.

And both Sherlock and Elementary frequently return to this cryptographic trope, for both dramatic tension and storytelling twists and turns.

Episode 2 of Sherlock, “The Blind Banker,” has a cryptographic mystery at the heart of the story, one that echoes “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” and its similarly perilous stakes.

Codebreaking is also at the core of the season 2 premiere, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” as Sherlock attempts increasingly complex ways of cracking the code of Irene Adler’s phone. (There’s a marvelous scene where he introduces a dummy phone in order to copy her keystrokes is foiled when Irene realizes the dummy phone is a fake, and in turn types in a fake passcode. It’s a terrific exchange of gamesmanship.)

The cipher used in the season 3 premiere, “The Empty Hearse,” is another prime example, and one that quick-witted viewers could solve alongside Sherlock, as he and Mary decipher the message and pursue Watson’s kidnappers.

Elementary has had its fair share of codes as well. The season 2 episode “The Diabolical Kind” featured numerous techniques for coding information — from hidden spaces in seemingly innocuous drawings to elaborate letter-shifting codes akin to the Caesar cipher — all of which Holmes unraveled with ease. (Sadly, the puzzlers in the audience aren’t given much opportunity to crack the codes themselves.)

But each show has also played on the natural human ability to find meaningless patterns in chaos and interpret them as hidden messages. Sherlock‘s season 2 episode “The Hounds of Baskerville” had Watson chasing down a Morse Code message that turned out to be nothing more than flashes of light.

And Elementary‘s most recent episode had an excellent sequence where Watson read too much into a former mobster’s statement about “a mutt” who would be “in the ground tomorrow.” (Watson suspected the “mutt” referenced a suspect’s mixed ancestry, while “in the ground tomorrow” would point toward the suspect’s Jewish heritage and burial traditions.) Holmes correctly dismissed both as red herrings.

Both Sherlock and Elementary had a bit of fun exploring characters fixating on small clues, only to be misled. It’s an intriguing path to take when the main character of each show bases so many conclusions on similarly minuscule bits of data.

With such a richness of Sherlockian material on television these days, both mystery fans and puzzlers have plenty to sate their appetites.

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