Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems
By Thomas Povey
Review by Krish (Engineering Science)
This is a fun book that I would recommend to anyone interested in problem solving and who enjoys been immersed in abstract Physics and Mathematics. If you are at all inclined towards solving unusual problems with nothing more than what you have already learned in high school then I highly recommend challenging yourself to try a fun and interesting problem.
With such neatly laid out problems it is easy to dip in and out of the book, this isn’t the sort of book you read from start to end but rather pick and choose from depending on individual taste and which parts you become absorbed in. The style of the book definitely lends itself to the idea of “playing” with a problem in much the same way you would with a classic toy or puzzle. Quite a lot of the time I found myself exhausting over all the possible routes the problem could take. For young people new to problem solving in Physics and Maths I think it is this first-time and even unconventional approach to problems that they find most fun and rewarding. There is something rather daring and adventurous about diving into a hard problem!
At the bottom of the occasional page are short footnotes discussing relevant elements involved in the outline of the problem and solution. These are predominantly snippets of history or further explanation where necessary. Some of the notes are really intriguing and will spark you into doing some of your own research in books and on the internet, just as I did.
If I had to choose a favourite problem I would pick the “ice in the desert” problem covered in the section on heat. It was a problem I managed to solve successfully relatively quickly given its difficulty, albeit not as elegantly as the way in which the solution is presented in the book. No matter how you begin to approach the problem the solution is found by realising that the rate of reduction of volume of ice is proportional to the rate of heat flow. A simple concept but not straightforward to describe mathematically unless you have a good understanding of heat transfer and elementary differential equations. By setting up and solving this relationship in terms of the instantaneous radius; the problem is solved by eliminating the constant of proportionality by taking ratios from the known (initial) conditions.
I highly recommend this fun and unusual puzzle book to A Level students who are interested in studying Physics, Maths, Engineering or similar scientific subjects at University. The book may also be used as valuable teaching aid for teachers of A Level students to offer the brightest and most interested students fun and challenging problems in a format they probably have not come across before.
Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems by Thomas Povey