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Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Fifty Tantalizing Problems of Chess Detection Paperback – September 6, 1994


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Paperback, September 6, 1994
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Puzzles & Games (September 6, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812923898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812923896
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,162,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The dazzlingly clever and always entertaining Raymond Smullyan takes an unorthodox approach to chess puzzles by treating them as mysteries--with Sherlock Holmes as guide and mentor. The key concept is retrograde analysis. Rather than figuring out how to achieve some end from a given arrangement of chess pieces, the game is to examine the board and deduce what has happened in the past: Which side is white? What were the previous moves? Prove that a promotion did or did not occur. Which piece has been replaced by a coin? These are just a few of the challenges Smullyan presents through the eyes of Holmes and Watson. He even manages about as passable an imitation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's style as can be expected from a tongue-in-cheek presentation. To enjoy these problems you need only know how chess pieces move. The first puzzles in the book teach all the concepts you need to know to decipher the later ones; the process prepares you to join Holmes in solving a baffling double murder--they keys to which reside in a series of devilishly clever puzzles. The chess game is afoot, and it's almost too much fun!

From the Inside Flap

Here -- from philosopher/logician/puzzlemaker Raymond Smullyan -- are fifty elegant, witty, and altogether unique "chess mysteries." In each problem the solver has to deduce certain events in a game's past. For example: On what square was the White queen captured? or, Is the White queen promoted or original?

Since these problems involve the same sort of logical reasoning that lies at the core of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Raymond Smullyan has aptly set each one within its own Holmes-Watson dialogue. In each case Holmes, by his remarkable powers of deduction, is able to demonstrate to his awed admirers precisely what must have happened, move by move, at the "scene of the crime" -- the chess table. For example: what the missing piece is; what square it should be on; whether or not either side can castle.

In the second half, through a series of progressively more difficult (self-contained) chess problems, Holmes, with the reader's help, solves a mystery and a double murder -- perpetrated, of course, by Moriarty. And at the end of the book are ten bonus problems from Moriarty himself (four of them composed before the age of nine!).

Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes is Smullyan's challenging and witty romp through the royal game.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Chow on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Those who enjoy puzzles that require logical thinking but are bored by standard "logic puzzles" and chess problems will find this book a sheer delight. Each puzzle presents an innocuous-looking chess position and a seemingly impossible-to-answer question about it, such as, "What was White's previous move?" or "Is it legal for Black to castle now?" or "On which square must the White pawn be located?" The questions can all be answered by pure deduction; although some of the problems are in some sense "trick questions," there are no silly answers involving outright cheating of the kind commonly found in inferior puzzle books. The puzzles are fresh, original, entertaining, and deep. My only complaint is that in the first half of the book, there is no clear demarcation between the statement of the puzzle and the solution, so that the reader who likes tackling puzzles without any hints has to guess the point at which he should stop reading. This flaw does not occur in the second half of the book, however. Readers who enjoy this book may also want to buy the companion volume, "Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights," although as of this writing (July 2000) it is out of print.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
I am not a chess player, but I found this set of problems in "chess logic" thoroughly entertaining. To understand (and possibly to solve) these requires only an understanding of the rules of chess. "Sherlock Holmes" provides very thorough solutions and explanations for the early problems within the text. Later problems are merely stated with solutions provided at the end of the book. The problems range from relatively easy to quite challenging. The presentation is entertaining throughout. I hope that the publisher intends to keep this book in print -- and to consider re-publication of the companion volume on "Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights" (which I found equally enjoyable).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on April 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a book I return to every year or two. The chess problems are presented in a thoroughly engaging fashion--the Sherlock Holmes aspect gives a bit of continuity, but it isn't a crucial part of this book. Some of the problems are not too difficult, others are very complex. The book explains the solutions and the reasoning well.

There are several kinds of problems in the book. Some of these--especially the earliest--ask the question "what was the previous move?" At first (and second and maybe third) glance you might conclude the position is impossible. Then you find (or look up) the solution: the ingenuity whether you solved the problem or not is always enjoyable. Other kinds of problems include questions such as "Can black castle?" There's plenty of variety in these retrograde analysis positions.

Smullyan's sequel, "Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights", is equally worthwhile. An additional book dealing with retrograde analysis that is well worth reading is Perez-Reverte's Flanders Panel (which pays some homage to Smullyan). This is a mystery within a mystery, involving a centuries-old murder and a painting of a chess game. The art restorer finds a hidden message "Who took the knight?"--although an acceptable translation would be also "Who slew the knight?" One of the chess players was a knight, and was the murder victim. Retrograde analysis is needed to figure out which piece captured the knight, and that's just the beginning. Retrograde analysis makes for a very different kind of chess problem, and with Smullyan you know that you're reading the work of a master!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bill Smythe on May 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you don't know the rules of chess, this book will go over your head. If you're a chess grandmaster with no appreciation of Sherlock Holmes, you will miss the point. For those of us with some interest in both topics, it doesn't get any better than this. The chess puzzles are not the standard mate-in-two variety. Rather, they concern retrograde analysis -- how did we get here, what happened 2 moves ago, etc. You don't need to be good at chess, but you need a puzzle mentality. The Holmes/Watson dialog is entertaining, as well.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Schollar on September 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
The other reviews given below cover the contents comprehensively - I wholeheartedly agree that it is a wonderful book for those that enjoy puzzles and have a knowledge of chess. However, lest anyone believe otherwise - this book will in no way improve your chess playing skills. The puzzles are all about what happened (ie the history of moves) to bring about the current chess position (given in a diagram) on the assumption that the laws of chess have been strictly observed. There is no assumption that either side played plausibly or well to bring about the current position. Thus, the puzzles do not concern a future sequence(s) of moves that would, for example, lead to mate for black/white. This is what sets it apart from most chess puzzle books.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I think the 2-star reviewer misses the point of this book: it's supposed to be fun. And it is. The puzzles are pretty challenging, and it definitely helps if you play chess. You tend to notice positional abnormalities that are the bases of the problems. From there, it's just detective work.
But the real treat to this book is the world the author creates. Smullyan's characters can't play chess for nuts. You should see the bizarre positions they come up with - it's as though they're making random moves. Yet this doesn't diminish their love of the game one bit. They're such gentlemen too. No one minds when Dr. Holmes interrupts to ask questions. His new friends are always polite and like nothing more than a good demostration of deductive reasoning. I wish I lived in their world.
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