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Enigmatic Variations - Puzzles for Musicians
Originally devised by Jenny Setchell
48 Pages
ISBN 978-0-473-54075-3
Published 2020
Retail price 13.95

Those familiar with the works of Sir Edward Elgar will be aware of his Variations on an Original Theme Op.36, better known as The ‘Enigma’ Variations. Aside from its intrinsic qualities as an outstanding composition, it contains a ‘dark saying left unguessed, expressing the nothingness from which it came’. While Elgar may not have originally intended it be seen as a riddle to be solved, he did later elaborate on the puzzle he had incorporated within the music. Endless conjecture has ensued, and books have been written on the obscure component of the music.

It may have been Elgar’s Op.36 that inspired the title of the review book: Enigmatic Variations, Puzzles for Musicians. This volume is A4 size, has plasticised pages for protection during extensive re-referencing, and spiral wire binding The forty eight pages are divided into the following categories of puzzles: Alphabet Soup, Crosswords, Letter ladders, Logic Problems, Plain Difficult, Ring the Changes, Spot the Difference, Sudoku, Tricky Passages and Word Search. Plain Difficult contains only four puzzles, while Logic Problems has the most with ten items.

Without knowing anything about the author, and nothing is provided in the text, one quickly comes to the conclusion that she is an organ player and aficionado. Some aspect of the organ appears in more than forty percent of the forty eight pages. Jenny Setchell was born in New Zealand and completed a BA at the University of Otago, and is imminently to complete a MusB at the University of Canterbury, majoring in organ performance; she has played the instrument in churches of various denominations for more than forty years. Her principal career was as a journalist.

The book is described as having been ‘created to amuse and confuse’ and it capably achieves both objectives. While there is a good degree of creativity demonstrated, it seems to be more of an adaptability nature rather than of originality. The key recognized modes of puzzles, such as cross- words, word searches, Sudoku, hidden items/spot the difference, and maze puzzles are all employed with a music theme commonality. There will be few readers who can complete the entire book without a ‘sneak reference’ to the answers.

As one would anticipate, the degree of challenge in each puzzle ranges from easy to downright frustrating. As with the old Coles Funny Books, one may stare at a page containing hidden items and differences without success, only to find them conspicuous when independently identified (pages 12,13). The book has a definite Western Art Music flavour until we arrive at page 29 wherein one must identify among a list of 38 instruments, which five are false. Readers who have had a long association with music and musical instruments may be able to quickly identify such instruments as Yabahar(sic), Phorminx, Surdo, Pipa, Sneng (sic), Bak, Boobam, Nyatiti, Zurla and Zufolo ; I can’t. To appease my wounded pride, I quickly searched again for the well-known Bandura, but it was not in the list. If your pride is also wounded, quickly progress to pages 38 and 39 - Plain Difficult, Organ Crawl - for some restitution. Here you will find very small photographs of thirty different pipe organs located in the British Isles. The map on the opposite page gives the geographical locations of these thirty instruments. Doubtless, readers, unlike me, will be able to quickly match the organs with where they are located. My ineptness may be due, in part, to the fact that I am not an organist from the British Isles?

Fortunately for readers, the answers to any insoluble puzzles can be found via a website provided in the book. Be informed that to access the answers you must first provide an email address, nominate a password, and agree to receive promotional material in the future. You will then be notified that permission from the owner is required, and this will be granted by a subsequent email. My email took an hour to receive, and may have been influenced by many variables. This apparently is designed to prevent site hacking. The answers to the quizzes are listed by category, not page number. To find the answer to the quiz on page 29, you must go to page five of the book and then search for the relevant page number among the ten categories of puzzles, e.g. page 29 is found in Tricky Passages, and will be located after scanning 47 lines of data.

For a variety of reasons this is an interesting and entertaining book. If you are a musician, or music lover with a penchant for games and puzzles, it will provide hours of challenging involvement.

Zane Turner

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