In this book, Clifford Pickover creates a collection of substitution ciphers where the characters to be replaced are original to Pickover, appeared in literature or are from ancient languages. Runes are stick like figures used in Northern European countries into the sixteenth or seventeenth century. More than just characters in an alphabet, they were also used for magic and divination. Many of the problems are expressed using runes, which makes them appear more difficult than they are.
The core of the book is a series of 100 quotations or expressions encoded via a substitution cipher. While some are challenging, after you do a few, many become rather easy. An unencrypted, explanatory message appears with most of them, and in the case of quotations, the message reveals who the author is. Since that persons name is coded at the bottom, once you know the name and how the attribution appears, the problem is half solved.
Nevertheless, the book did keep my interest, although in many cases, I found myself converting the given characters into the English alphabet before attempting to solve the problem. There is also a chapter containing seventeen puzzles that together make up a contest. The first five who solve all seventeen will earn a set of small prizes.
If you are a fan of puzzles, you are always on the lookout for new ones. While most are not true stumpers, the use of the unusual characters does make them more difficult and it held my interest throughout. Solving these problems will keep everyone but experts involved for some time. If you find yourself overwhelmed, solutions to all but the contest problems are in the back of the book.
Clifford Pickover truly seems to be a Renissance man. His previous forays into conundrums and puzzles have ranged from time travel to hyperspace to infinity.
This time, its cryptography. While some of the aspects of these puzzles might be hard for some novices, and I could wish for room and space to more easily work on the puzzles, the puzzles themselves are a joy to play with.
If you like cryptographic analysis, enjoyed Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, or want to try a brain teaser of a different sort, then you might want to delve into Cryptorunes.