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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Puzzle Contest and Review of The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin

All right you crazy kids. We’re stopping everything today (even our Top 100 Picture Book Countdown) to be part of the Eric Berlin crazy puzzle contest. For those of you who already solved Puzzle #1 (if you didn’t, there’s still time), here is the link to Puzzle #2:

http://www.winstonbreen.com/Winston’s Puzzle Party – 2 – Bouncing Around The Room.pdf

Remember the rules:

- Answers should be sent to puzzleparty@gmail.com

- One random correct solver will win a signed copy of "The Potato Chip Puzzles."

- Hang on to your answers, because you’ll need all of them to solve the final puzzle. One random solver of that last puzzle will win every children’s and YA book in G.P. Putnam’s Sons Spring 2009 lineup, and a few Fall 2009 advance reading copies, too.

- More details can be found here: http://www.winstonbreen.com/puzzleparty.html.

For those of you following along, here are the other stops on the tour for the next few days:

I don’t think I could claim that I was ever actually bad at puzzles. To be bad at puzzles you need to do enough of them to know how you stack up. And in the long run, I’d say I’ve never really encountered that many puzzles. As a child I certainly didn’t, and who could blame me? How many works of fiction were out there with the puzzle-loving child in mind? Aside from the odd Encyclopedia Brown novel (which doesn’t really count since that’s more crime solving than anything else) you were out of lu…more April 18th: Shelf Elf
April 19th: Books Together
April 20th: Bookshelves of Doom
April 21st: Chicken Spaghetti
April 22nd: Oz and Ends

And now, of course, a review of the book that inspired it all.

 Puzzle Contest and Review of The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin The Potato Chip Puzzles
By Eric Berlin
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (a division of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-25198-6
Ages 8-12
On shelves now

I don’t think I could claim that I was ever actually bad at puzzles. To be bad at puzzles you need to do enough of them to know how you stack up. And in the long run, I’d say I’ve never really encountered that many puzzles. As a child I certainly didn’t, and who could blame me? How many works of fiction were out there with the puzzle-loving child in mind? Aside from the odd Encyclopedia Brown novel (which doesn’t really count since that’s more crime solving than anything else) you were out of luck. Ah, to be a child in the new millennium. Because if you know a kid that loves puzzles, or better yet a child that doesn’t even know if they love puzzles or not, Eric Berlin has your number. His first book The Puzzling World of Winston Breen tested the waters for young puzzlers everywhere. He scouted out how keen they were. How willing they might be to solve a mystery. Now he returns with the follow up, The Potato Chip Puzzles where everything hinges on our hero and his team to outsmart dastardly villains, solve key mysteries and save the day.

When Winston Breen is called into the principal’s office on practically the last day of school he is baffled. What did he do now? Is someone hurt at home? As it turns out, the principal merely needs Winston’s help in solving a puzzle he received in the mail. As the school’s crack puzzle solver, Winston does exactly that, allowing his principal and his school to be entered in a crazy contest by a cheery millionaire. If Winston and two of his friends (plus a chaperone) enter the Dimitri Simon potato chip puzzle contest, they will have a chance to earn much needed money for their school. This would be perfect, if there weren’t one flaw. Winston and his buddies Jake and Mal have been paired with the nasty teacher Mr. Garvey. And if that weren’t enough, one of the teams in the puzzle contest is willing to do anything . . . ANYTHING, to win. Someone’s gonna get hurt, and the only question is if Winston can solve this biggest puzzle, who the culprint is, before time runs out.

Basically Eric Berlin’s books would dissolve on contact with child hands if the stories really did rely on his readers figuring out each and every puzzle by themselves. That’s what’s so keen about the series. As I may have mentioned before, I’m not the most puzzle-minded individual I know. I find them difficult. I found even the easiest puzzle in this book to be more than I could bear, and these are things that eight-year-olds can solve! So I skipped the puzzles, went straight to reading their solutions, and you know what? It wasn’t different in the least from the days when I couldn’t solve Encyclopedia Brown’s mysteries either. Basically, whether you choose to solve or not solve, the story and its plot will continue unabated at a brisk pace, and the reading doesn’t rely on one’s own puzzle-mania (or lack thereof).

There are plenty of books out there where kids have to run around solving puzzles in a big contest of some sort. Heck, not too long ago The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman went and did exactly that. The Potato Chip Puzzles is very much along the same lines, but there were things about the book that I found particularly nice. For one thing, our heroes are not infallible. There are normal blokes. They need a little help sometimes, and as often as not they’ll end up at an incorrect conclusion before they are able to find their way to a correct one. Yet even though they mess up, the pace doesn’t drag. I mean, it’s very difficult to create tension in a novel where you remain certain from page one that your hero is going to win. There is nothing in this particular contest that ever makes you feel like the conclusion is a done deal.

On a certain level, I rate the effectiveness of a contemporary children’s middle grade novel on how well it names its fake video games. For whatever reason, children’s authors love making up fake video game monikers. I don’t know why this is. What’s the harm in giving a small shout out to MarioCart or Crash Bandicoot (and yes, I know that I’m dating myself when I say that)? In the case of this particular Winston Breen affair, the fake video game name is 10,000 Swords which I honestly don’t think is bad at all. I’ve heard enough faux computer games to last me well until the end of my days so kudos to Mr. Berlin for coming up with one I can believe in. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but when you see a pet peeve addressed, it’s always good to give it proper credit.

The only loose end I found in the novel involved mousetraps. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a point in the story where our heroes find a bag that contains firecrackers, twine, bottles filled with glass, and mousetraps. One of the characters wonders why mousetraps are in the bag and the reader is left wondering the same thing. Everything else in the bad seemed to make sense. So why that? The answer never comes, and that’s too bad. Or maybe it’s a puzzle left for the reader to untangle. But since I’ve already stated that I’m bad at puzzles, you’ll have to work this one out for yourself.

I should note that as an adult I got very snarky around page 110 and was convinced that I’d sniffed out the real cheater behind all the nasty shenanigans. I was wrong. I trust that the kids who read this book will be smarter than I was. Basically if you’re looking for a great mystery, but one that has enough high stakes and wacky puzzles to keep the interest high, this is your best choice. Love puzzles or hate `em, Winston Breen delivers the goods. This is one mystery you’ll be dying to solve on your own. A book that more than fills a need, and a worthy sequel.

Other Blog Reviews:
A Patchwork of Books

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Mrs. FB's Books Blog says:

    This puzzle contest is great fun, but it is not for the faint of heart! Will Shorts may have met his match in Eric Berlin!