The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life by Marcel DanesiThe Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life by Marcel Danesi

The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life

byMarcel Danesi

Paperback | February 20, 2004

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 154 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


One of the most famous anagrams of all time was constructed in the Middle Ages. The unknown author contrived it as a Latin dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. Jesus' answer to Pilate's question "What is truth" is phrased as an ingenious anagram of the letters of that very question: Pilate: Quid est veritas? ("What is truth?") Jesus: Est virqui adest. ("It is the man before you.")

The origin of anagrams is shrouded in mystery. One thing is clear, however-in the ancient world, they were thought to contain hidden messages from the gods. Legend has it that even Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c.) believed in their prophetic power.
-from Chapter Two

The most obvious explanation for the popularity of puzzles is that they provide a form of constructive entertainment. But in The Puzzle Instinct Marcel Danesi contends that the fascination with puzzles throughout the ages suggests something much more profound. Puzzles serve a deeply embedded need in people to make sense of things. Emerging at the same time in human history as myth, magic, and the occult arts, the puzzle instinct, he claims, led to discoveries in mathematics and science, as well as revolutions in philosophical thought.

Puzzles fill an existential void by providing "small-scale experiences of the large-scale questions that Life poses. The puzzle instinct is, arguably, as intrinsic to human nature as is humor, language, art, music, and all the other creative faculties that distinguish humanity from all other species."

Marcel Danesi is Professor of Semiotics and Anthropology at the University of Toronto and Director of the Program in Semiotics and Communication Theory. His books include Increase Your Puzzle IQ and Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things: An Introduction to Semiotics. He lives in Toronto.
Title:The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human LifeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:February 20, 2004Publisher:Indiana University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0253217083

ISBN - 13:9780253217080


Table of Contents

1. Why Puzzles?
2. Puzzling Language: Riddles, Anagrams, and Other Verbal Perplexities
3. Puzzling Pictures: Optical Illusions, Mazes, and Other Visual Mind-Bogglers
4. Puzzling Logic: Deductions, Paradoxes, and Other Forms of Mind Play
5. Puzzling Numbers: Magic Squares, Cryptarithms, and Other Mathematical Recreations
6. Puzzling Games: Chess, Checkers, and Other Games
7. The Puzzle of Life
Bibliography and General Reading List

Editorial Reviews

Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology (Univ. of Toronto), explores why puzzles, having arisen in earliest human history at the same time as mystery cults, are an intrinsic part of human life. Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of the New York Times, has suggested enigmatology as the study of the relationship between puzzles and culture. This book, which explores the puzzle genres that have survived over the years, is a contribution to that rubric. After first asking the question Why puzzles? (and developing several possible answers, among which is that they provide comic relief from unanswerable larger questions), Danesi devotes chapters to each of several types of puzzle. These include language puzzles (e.g., riddles and anagrams); pictures (e.g., optical illusions and mazes); logic (e.g., deductions and paradoxes); numbers (e.g., mathematical recreations); and games (e.g., chess). A final chapter synopsizes the discussion. A detailed list of references is included, as are solutions to the specific puzzles posed. The book is well written, has no mathematical prerequisites, and is quite suitable for a general audience as well as lower- and upper-division undergraduates.December 2002