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Banquets of the Black Widowers Paperback – August 21, 1986

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (August 21, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586065881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586065884
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,127,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on January 10, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
These twelve puzzles are largely without violence and in similar format; the evening begins with drinks and good-natured (?) abuse among the six gentlemen. After dinner, the invited guest is grilled starting with the question "How do you justify your existence". Invariably a mystery presents itself, which the diners probe, and then it is the water Henry who offers the key point of the solution. The fun of these stories is the inventiveness of the problems. Only a writer as broad as Asimov could combine the math of Goldbach's conjecture and the poetry of Milton in a single story. I also enjoyed the self-depredation in "The Phoenician Bauble" where Asimov is referred to as "Asimov? Isn't he Manny's friend, the one even more stuck on himself than Manny?". Two of the stories do not follow the exact format: in "The Good Samaritan", a woman (normally not allowed) presents her case (but is not allowed in for dinner), and in "The Intrusion" a man bursts in uninvited.

I enjoyed Asimov's afterwards in each story, where he talks about editors, titles, and after "the redhead" admits he dreamed the story. So listen to all the clues, try to solve it, but then failing that (I think I only guessed two), listen to Henry the waiter as he solves it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michele L. Worley on November 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Black Widower acting as host for the monthly banquet at the Milano Restaurant traditionally brings a guest for grilling, which begins with the question 'How do you justify your existence?' but ends with ferreting out some mystery to be solved. The seventh Black Widower - Henry, the waiter - always solves the problem after the other six have cleared the ground a bit.

The problem usually isn't a crime - just some little puzzle that's been driving the guest crazy. The puzzles are fair; however, be warned that some are comparable to, say, some Lord Peter Wimsey stories, in that the reader must have a smattering of history, literature, and/or popular science to have enough information to work out the answer.

"Sixty Million Trillion Combinations" (a.k.a. "14 Letters") - Host: Trumbull. Guest: none. Trumbull (who stipulates that he cannot justify his existence) must solve a cryptogram involving two mathematicians working for the U.S. government. The burly Sandino enjoys scoring off Pochik, who, although a brilliant mathematician, is sensitive about not having a well-rounded education. (He had to work his way through school as a waiter). Pochik, in a fit of temper, finally retaliated by yelling that he'd show who was best, when his pet project was ready for publication.

Sandino has trumped Pochik by publishing first, claiming that he reached the same conclusions independently. Pochik maintains that Sandino somehow breached his password-protected account. Trumbull's assignment is to work out what the 14-letter password is, to show how Sandino could have cracked it among the 60 million trillion possible combinations.

"The Woman in the Bar" (originally published in EQMM as "The Man Who Pretended to Like Baseball") - Host: Rubin.
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Format: Hardcover
BANQUETS OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS (1984) is the fourth collection of Isaac Asimov's Fair-Play Puzzle stories involving a men's club that meets monthly at a Manhattan restaurant and considers unusual problems, nearly always provided by a dinner guest of one of their members. The cast of all these stories consists of six diverse professional men (an artist, a chemist, a government cryptography expert, a math teacher, a mystery novelist, a patent attorney) and the restaurant's incomparable waiter, Henry Jackson, who invariably is the only person who can propose a convincing solution to the problem.

Like the questions on the TV game show "Jeopardy," the problems posed in this book's 12 stories vary widely in their subject matter and in their degree of difficulty. A couple of them are easy enough for most readers to solve with common knowledge and a moderate amount of attention; most others can be solved with reference books (such as Henry, the waiter, sometimes uses), poetry books, and/or an Internet search or two; and a few will almost certainly challenge the abilities of champion puzzle solvers.

Of the 66 separate Black Widower mysteries that Asimov wrote before his death in 1992, 36 appeared in the 3 collections before this one, and 18 more appeared in the 2 collections after this. Nine of the stories in this collection were first published in ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and 3 of them were previously unpublished (signified in the next sentence by the date "1984" alone). Following the order they appear in this collection, the dozen Puzzlers are "Sixty Million Trillion Combinations" (EQMM, 5 May 1980); "The Woman in the Bar" (EQMM, 30 June 1980, as "The Man Who Pretended to Like Baseball"); "The Driver" (1984); "The Good Samaritan" (EQMM, 10 Sep.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ananda A. Debnath on October 12, 2009
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
It's typical Asimov... "clever" sums it up. It may be a little unsophisticated compared to current standards, but these are short stories and I really enjoy them.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The black widowers are a group of men that meet for dinner and conversation. They rotate the hosting duties and the host for the meeting is allowed to bring a guest. The primary precondition that the guest must agree to is that they will be subjected to a grilling and all questions must be truthfully answered. Through the course of the grilling a mystery is posed and the black widowers attempt to solve it. Henry, the waiter and also a member of the group, eventually solves the problem after the other members have reached an impasse.
The mysteries are not of great depth, these are short stories, so there is not enough text to develop a very complex problem. However, they are excellent light reading, and the solutions are generally easy to understand. In most cases, they are obvious after you read Henry's explanation. Twelve simple brain teasers that will tickle your brain, each of these stories is a joy to read.
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