F is for Figure It Out

I have a guest today: Camille Minichino, AKA Ada Madison! She’s talking about puzzles and her latest mystery. Take it away, Camille!

“It’s a Puzzlement,” Yul Brynner, c. 1956

Lucky me, being hosted on a blog site with puzzle pieces as a banner!

I’ve been a puzzler (some say, I’ve been “puzzling,” and that may also be true!) all my life. It started with math, where every day’s homework was a puzzle. For algebra: If one train leaves a station in Chicago going 30 miles an hour . . . For geometry: Given two sides of a triangle . . .

I loved those problems, which to me were just games and puzzles. My newest protagonist, Professor Sophie Knowles, feels the same way. She teaches math at a small New England college, creates puzzles for magazines, and, by the way, solves one or two murders per book.

We often hear that mysteries are like jigsaw puzzles, that writers and readers enjoy putting the pieces together, ending up with a satisfying solution, much like turning 1500 jagged pieces into a reproduction of Monet’s Water Lilies.

In a way. But mysteries have to be like challenging puzzles, not the easy kind where all the pieces are piled before us with one brisk dump from the box, and what’s required is simply to sort them by color or shape and fit them together to match the picture on the cover of the box.

Are mysteries like crossword puzzles? Sort of. In a regular crossword, all the clues are there in a couple of columns. In most cases, there are black squares that are cues to word length. We fill in the blanks and enjoy a sense of accomplishment when every square is filled in.

Again, good mysteries are more challenging than that. 

In a good “whodunit” mystery, there are many sets of clues that unfold: some are hidden in plain sight, some are subtly presented, some not; some are within the character profiles and arcs, the setting, or the plot. These mysteries are solved not by simply putting a given number of known pieces together, but by first sorting out the pieces that matter from the ones that don’t. Maybe there are a couple of red herrings; maybe there are no herrings of any color. 

I’ve seen jigsaw puzzles where the manufacturer has deliberately included extra pieces that don’t belong in the scene. Similarly, there are the crossword puzzles that are diagramless. No black squares give us the word length; we have to figure that out ourselves.

Those puzzles are more like the great mysteries, where the clue is that the dog did not bark or the answer has been in the letter on the mantel all along.

Sometimes I worry that I’m wasting time with the morning acrostic, or the Sunday NY Times crossword, or the countless word games I find in print and online.
Is it enriching my life that today I located 40 Beatles songs in a word search grid?

I take my answer from no less a puzzle figure than Erno Rubik (b. 1944), sculptor, architect, and inventor of the Rubik’s cube (patent, 1975). He has this to say: “The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles.”

Some of us get more practice than others.

Camille Minichino is a retired physicist turned writer. 

As Camille Minichino, she’s the author of the Periodic Table Mysteries. As Margaret Grace, she writes the Miniature Mysteries, based on her lifelong hobby.  As Ada Madison, she writes the academic mysteries featuring Professor Sophie Knowles, college math teacher. “The Probability of Murder” was released March 6; “Mix-up in Miniature” was released April 2.

Soon, every aspect of her life will be a mystery series. 

LOL! Thanks, Camille! Math was never my strong subject, but I think I would have done well, with a sleuth as a teacher. 🙂

You can find out more about Camille and her works and her ways at her blog, Camille Minichino. There, you will also find links to the other stops on her blog book tour. You can find buy links and a discussion of THE PROBABILITY OF MURDER at Goodreads.

WRITING PROMPT: Make a list of all the occupations you’ve had and think of how those occupations involve knowledge and abilities of detection.

MA

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About

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “F is for Figure It Out

  1. Ruby Young

    April 6, 2012 at 8:44am

    Hi, I, too, have been writing and making up stories ever since I was in Middle school (only then it was called Junior High school). I also am a crafter and artist. It just seems to be a part of my makeup, I gotta create. It’s all in there and gotta come out. 🙂
    Thank you for the very interesting post. Gotta run and visit more blogs. Already posted mine early this morning. Bye now..Ruby
    Ruby Young would love to share..FriendMy Profile

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  2. Liz Brownlee
    Twitter:

    April 6, 2012 at 9:03am

    Great post, very interesting. I used to do a lot of puzzles, I used to quite enjoy the MENSA ones – but not the maths ones! I certainly enjoy crime fiction, I’ll be looking out for some Ada Madisons… thank you.

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  3. Camille Minichino

    April 6, 2012 at 11:48am

    Thanks for having me here today, Marian. It’s always great to meet new readers and creators!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen
      Twitter:

      April 6, 2012 at 12:32pm

      Great to have you here, Camille! My favorite puzzles are the cryptic crosswords. I think they’re so much easier than regular crosswords! With regular crosswords, you either know the answer or you don’t. Cryptic clues give you two chances to get the answer: the straight definition or the puzzle.

      MA

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  4. Camille Minichino

    April 6, 2012 at 11:51am

    I think my next blog will be “Blame the Teachers” — I believe that anyone who feels she can’t “do math” was cursed with a teacher who hated it. Makes me sad!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen
      Twitter:

      April 6, 2012 at 12:34pm

      I couldn’t “do math” until I got to plane geometry and algebra. LOVED THEM! Solid geometry and Algebra II, I was back to no good. :/ Being numerically dyslexic (which nobody knew about then) didn’t help.

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  5. Camille Minichino

    April 6, 2012 at 12:38pm

    I’m not sure what you mean, Marian — are they also called Acrostics or Double Crostics. I’m familiar with those — where the answers form a quote — and I love them. Are cryptic crosswords different? Is there a new kind of puzzle out there for me?

    @Marian Allen

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  6. Liz

    April 6, 2012 at 2:49pm

    My great-nieces introduced me to sudoku, with gales of laughter. All I could mutter was “where are the words”. Sigh. One puzzle too many.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen
      Twitter:

      April 6, 2012 at 4:25pm

      I did enjoy working in accounting. I think Forensic Accounting would have been right up my alley. Those entries come from somewhere and they mean something, you just have to be creative about tracking them down, sometimes!

      MA

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  7. Camille Minichino

    April 6, 2012 at 6:10pm

    @Marian Allen

    As much as I love numbers and puzzles, I haven’t clicked with Sudoku — yet!

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  8. Jane

    April 7, 2012 at 11:02am

    Hi. I like Kakuro, a fancy name for a game also known as Sums. It is wicked hard in its “Difficult” category, but I love the challenge of the, er, somewhat easier ones. I got tired of sudoku after a while until I found ones with a different layout, i.e., no little squares. The 1-10 units are spread all over the big square. Fun.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen
      Twitter:

      April 7, 2012 at 11:40am

      Jane, you are making my head hurt. This part right here, see? See this part? This part hurts. This part where the mathiness is supposed to live. My mathiness moved out when I left the Accounting Department and left no forwarding address. 😉

      MA

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  9. Camille Minichino

    April 7, 2012 at 11:11am

    @Jane

    Thanks, Jane. I’m going to look up those Kakuro. Sounds like one might last for a whole plane trip!

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  10. Camille Minichino

    April 7, 2012 at 12:13pm

    Marian, you have the most interesting group of readers!

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  11. Michael

    April 9, 2012 at 6:51am

    Will check out Kakuro too. Sounds interesting! I love reading mystery novels too and I love playing Hidden Chronicles on facebook, it’s much like a mystery game too.

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