Thursday, December 20, 2012

Meet the PuzzleMeister: The Puzzler's Mansion by Eric Berlin

Winston Breen had never been in trouble before–-not this much trouble.

His lab partner was a girl named Pamela Cassetti. She was absent the day Winston landed in the principal’s office, and that was probably half the problem right there. If Pamela had been around, Winston might have paid more attention to today’s experiment.

But no. Winston’s eyes settled on some glass beakers, drying by the sink. They reminded him of a puzzle he had seen, and he wondered if he could recreate it. There was plenty of time left to get his experiment done, so he took the three beakers to his table and examined them.

It’s an intriguing puzzle, involving one water-filled 8-ounce beaker, one empty 5-ounce and one empty 3-ounce beaker from which the solver has to produce one with exactly 4 ounces in one without discarding any liquid. Winston is soon totally zoned out, and Mrs. Haider notices he’s totally off-task. And when she calls him down on it, Winston is so befuddled that he manages to break all three beakers in his haste to put them away. Mrs. Haider goes ballistic.

Winston’s parents lower the boom on him. This is not the first problem Winston has been having during the first weeks of seventh grade, all because of his tendency to lose himself in  puzzles when classes gets boring. Faced with a grounding and moratorium on puzzles, even Winston wonders if his penchant for puzzles is turning into a mal-adaptive compulsion.

Will Winston be compelled to give up puzzling?

But just as Winston finishes his puzzle-free punishment, he gets an amazing opportunity: his mentor, curio-shop proprietor Mr. Penrose, invites him and his friends Mal and Jake to a puzzle weekend at the mansion of Richard Overton, virtuoso pianist and dedicated puzzlemaster.

The mansion is everything the boys imagine, and the guests and their ‘tweener children, mostly celebrities of music and show business, turn out to be skillful puzzle-solvers, too. Winston is in near nirvana.

But there is trouble in puzzle paradise. Overton’s valuable puzzle prizes are stolen, one at a time, the first one from a locked room, and Winston and his buddies are soon deep into a puzzling crime mystery. The other young guests, the sulky Zook, a shoplifter by his dad’s own admission, is the first suspect, but then the supercilious Amanda is caught snooping around in the many nooks and crannies of the huge house, and it seems that almost everyone is both a suspect and a sleuth.

Between solving Richard’s puzzles, the kids find themselves turning into a team of detectives in a case which eventually leads them into secret passageways beneath the mansion and its grounds and a completely unlikely suspect, in Eric Berlin’s third puzzler novel, The Puzzler's Mansion: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012). As always, Berlin builds in lots of brainteasing puzzles along with a a mystery plot which accelerates, slowly at first, to culminate in a (literally) smashing climax. Along the way Winston learns more than new puzzling skills as he sees how Overton, a world-famous concert pianist, and his other accomplished guests have managed to integrate their careers and puzzle mania into successful lives. As Overton tells him,

“Whatever your passion is–even if you’re great at it–it can’t be the only thing you do. If you do, you’ll be great at that one thing...and bad at everything else.”

Eric Berlin not only fills his narrative with engaging puzzles to please his readers, but includes an extensive appendix of  even more brain twisters (with answers) . The puzzles from the story can also be downloaded and printed at

The previous puzzle-themed books in this series include The Puzzling World of Winston Breen and The Potato Chip Puzzles: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

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