113. Up for a challenge
Might this book help me learn to find my way?
Never unaware of my lack of navigational ability I had spotted The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain on the shelves of a National Trust bookshop.
‘Can YOU crack over 300 fiendish puzzles?’ was the challenge on the cover. ‘Follow the clues around Great Britain to find out!’
‘Not a chance!’ I’d muttered under my breath as I picked up the display copy. The shiny paperback was a nice size, but heavy. And inside, the book looked attractive, too, with maps located on the right-hand pages, facing four sets of questions on the left-hand side of each spread.
I’ve always felt a little intimidated by maps, but even the text that had leapt out at me on my first flick through the book was daunting.
To the nearest quarter of an hour, how long would it take you to walk along the riverside from the footbridge at Haylands Bridge to the point where Hardraw Beck joins, assuming you were walking at a constant 3km/h?
The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, page 110
I felt I’d landed in one of those nightmarish maths classes I’d suffered in Form D at school, the ones in which my fellow eight- and nine-year-olds were expected to tackle ‘Problems’.
You know the kind of thing1:
Reader, I was lost already. I closed the book and restored it to its place on the shelf.
I looked at Jim darkly. ‘No thank you.’
‘In case you were thinking about getting me this book for Christmas, well, no thank you. Save the £14.99.’
The price wasn’t the issue, but within the hour, finding myself browsing the many yards of shelves in a second-hand bookshop, I came across a copy of the very same book.
I laughed. ‘Two pounds!’
Like a shot, Jim put a £2 coin down on the counter.
‘She gets lost everywhere!’ he told the lady in charge. ‘She needs the practice!’
I hadn’t looked at the book since it had come home with us that day, but when Terry Freedman posted the latest essay in his series ‘5-minute tip/behind the scenes’4 entitled ‘How I read 4 books – and reviewed them – in under a week’ I decided to approach this non-fiction book using his methodology.
Note: Terry’s guidance will not, of course, apply to every book. The subjects of some of his recent reviews cross a variety of genres, including reference books and text books, and as he cautions in his post, Terry’s view is that ‘the techniques... don’t much lend themselves to reading novels’.
You can read some of Terry’s reviews here:
The Notebook: A History of Thinking on Paper by Roland Allen
Once upon a Prime by Sarah Hart
This post contains reviews of A Little History of Music by Robert Philip, The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars by Lixing Sun, and How Words get Good by Rebecca Lee.
Here are the stages which Terry describes in his post as ‘9 Great Tips for Reading More Efficiently’:
Don't even open the document
Read the table of contents
Always start at the end
Read even more
Read still more
The big picture
Read the tags
How much detail?
Take in more words at a time
With past experience setting me up with extremely low expectations of my navigational ability, I turned to Terry’s list for guidance on how best to approach finding my way around the book.
1. Don’t even open the document
Well, I felt that my very first glance of the book on the shelf had already given me a good idea about it: that it was mappy5, and I would therefore find it difficult.
Why not open it, though?
I referred back to Terry’s post.
That's right: just keep it closed, and spend some time thinking about what you're looking for, and what you think the document might contain in relation to that. It may sound like a waste of time but it isn’t, because what you're doing is setting up some mental hooks on which to hang ideas as they come up from the material, or from your interaction with the material.
What mental hooks had presented themselves to me? I had a think, and found I was already wondering whether my initial judgment had been clouded by my chequered wayfinding history. Instead, in no time at all I was anticipating that the book…
…would challenge me
…would allow me to indulge my passion for puzzling
…would see me getting something positive out of interacting with maps
…might teach me skills which I could transpose to the real world when I’m out
getting lostin the landscape
Actually, this was already looking promising.
2. Read the table of contents
Terry had given this warning in his post: ‘If the author has used totally unhelpful section or chapter headings, like ‘All’s well that ends well’, or ‘All that glisters’, you won’t have much joy.’
Well, my joy abounded! The table of contents in this book is concise and clever, with colour-coded bullet points telling me exactly what to expect.
The foreword, introduction, introduction to the maps and puzzles and a double-page spread showing a key to interpret map abbreviations and symbols would, according to the table of contents, be followed by eight sections of puzzles categorised into different locations in Great Britain.
I noticed with considerable relief from the contents page that 46 of the book’s total of 239 pages held the solutions to the puzzles. Reader, even if I couldn’t work them out for myself
silly billy I would at least be able to find the answers.
3. Always start at the end
Terry recommends reading the summary of the book, and I found this on a single page headed ‘An introduction to the maps and puzzles’.
Here I’d struck gold. These two paragraphs told me exactly what to expect:
…the questions …will test how far your skills will take you. There is something for everyone: a mix of word puzzles, search-and-find clues and general knowledge questions, as well as navigation conundrums to satisfy the more skilled map-readers.
Hopefully these maps, puzzles and stories will encourage you to look at a map of your local area for places that have a story to tell and footpaths to explore. What are you waiting for? Put your knowledge and skills to the test all whilst celebrating the regional diversity, history and landscapes that make Great Britain so great.
The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, page 7
In fact, it wasn’t only the summary which had given me an indication of what to expect from the book, but also these words printed on the back cover:
…put your map-reading skills to the ultimate test… Through fiendish word games, navigational tests, code-crackers, anagrams and mathematical problems, you’ll discover… whether you have the puzzle-solving prowess to conquer every region that makes Britain so great.
And in case by this point I hadn’t found the confidence to tackle what awaited me on the inside pages, the following call to arms was printed in bright red at the bottom of the text panel:
Do YOU have what it takes?
Reader, a gauntlet had been thrown. I was absolutely up for the challenge!
4. Read even more
Although Terry suggests reading the first and last paragraphs in each section of a book, that advice doesn’t really apply here. In this book not a great deal of text is arranged in paragraphs: after the foreword and introductions, puzzles come in thick and fast, with only a single page ahead of every map/puzzle spread containing solid text.
There are 40 maps in the book, amounting to five for each of the eight sections in the United Kingdom that had been listed on the Contents page.
The number of individual puzzles for each map varies, but each map has at least one puzzle in each of the following categories:
Plenty of the puzzles do fit the label ‘Easy’, and I appreciate that the book is so inclusive of people like me who perhaps have
absolutely zero little confidence in their map-reading ability. Here are two examples in this category:
How many places of worship are marked with symbols on the map?
The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, page 172
Where on the map sounds like somewhere suitable to go shopping?
The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, page 74
5. Read still more
The advice from Terry to concentrate on the first sentence in each paragraph led to my closer examination of the parts of the book that weren’t made up of maps and puzzles. At the beginning of every geographical section is a page entitled ‘GET OUTSIDE!’, each featuring a brief interview with one of Ordnance Survey’s ‘Get Outside’ champions to encourage readers to visit the area they represent. This, I felt, was a lovely touch.
6. The big picture
This tip, in fact, is geared towards reading a newspaper quickly. As Terry puts it in his article, ‘…the headline and first paragraph, plus the picture and picture caption, should tell you all you need to know… The key questions – what, where, who, when, why – are answered in the first paragraph, with subsequent paragraphs providing further detail.’
7. Read the tags
This web-specific point perhaps smells like a red herring when it comes to the on-paper non-fiction book that is the subject of this exercise, but actually there is plenty about this book that can be identified as if it were a tag appended to an online text.
For instance, there are some obvious keywords and other visual clues on the front and back covers:
‘THE ORDNANCE SURVEY’
The title headline is the name of the country’s national mapping agency, which tells me that the book has excellent navigational credentials.
There is an attractive map of Great Britain, and this, teamed with the words ‘PUZZLE TOUR OF GREAT BRITAIN’ suggests that the book will provide the reader with an adventure.
‘PUZZLE’ and ‘PUZZLES’
These words get me excited about the prospect of indulging my passion for puzzles.
‘PUZZLES BY DR GARETH MOORE’
I feel I’m in good hands; Dr Gareth Moore6 is the author of over 250 bestselling international puzzle and brain-training titles.
The tags have not only told me what I can expect from the book; they’ve also spurred me on to make a start on the puzzles.
8. How much detail?
Terry’s suggestion of asking myself if I really need all the detail is excellent, and one which I will bear in mind when I have a more traditional non-fiction book to review. He suggests skim-reading the document, explaining that a good way to do this is ‘…to train yourself to look out for certain “signpost” words – and then ignore the rest of the sentence.’
Ah yes, the signposts. Signposts – and maps – are indeed things I need to tune into, both when it comes to reading a document efficiently and for finding my way around a landscape.
9. Take in more words at a time
Terry’s final tip – to read more words at once – is perhaps not one entirely applicable to The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, although it would absolutely pay dividends in reading plenty of other non-fiction books.
Indeed, this book is perhaps an exception to this tip in that I’m finding I need to take in fewer words at a time, and to read – and re-read – the words making up the puzzles more carefully.
Take this as an example:
Count the number of public telephone symbols within the boundary formed by the A591, the A6 and the A66, then add this to the second-lowest spot height number on the map. Add the number of camping sites where you can also park a caravan, anywhere on the map, to the total. Rearrange the digits of the resulting number to find a spot height on the map. What is that spot height?
The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, page 74
This book is not one which is designed to be read efficiently in the way that one might want to read a text book, reference book, handbook or simply a non-fiction ‘reading book’. In fact, perhaps the reverse is true of a puzzle book.
A quick brainstorm about what I look for in a puzzle book saw me scribble down these keywords:
Engagement with a subject
Food for thought
It strikes me that anyone – certainly me – sitting down to enjoy this book would need to spend time on it, not save time. A puzzle is a pastime: it passes the time, and that’s exactly the point. Reader, some considerable time is going to pass before I’ve managed to complete every puzzle, but I am confident that using this book will improve my familiarity with maps and might even see me become more navigationally adept in the process.
Although The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain is not a book to which all of Terry’s tips for efficient reading apply, I’ve found that exploring it under the excellent guidance of his post has been an exciting journey in its own right.
This attractive book offers an appealing array of information about locations across Great Britain, and the puzzles, being set at four levels of difficulty, cater for a wide range of abilities and experience in its readers. I had done The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain a huge disservice by discounting it with such haste from my Christmas list, and am confident that anyone with a love of the outdoors and a passion for puzzling would be delighted to find it in their stocking.
With thanks tofor his generous assistance with this post.
📚 Reading 📚
📚 My friendhad this week drawn my attention to this fabulous post by , whose newsletter is packed with beautiful observations of life in comic format. Reader, you know that I get lost at the drop of a hat, and this sheer delight of a story-in-art of Margreet’s mum getting lost has really struck a chord. Enjoy!
📚 Regular readers of ‘Dear Reader, I’m Lost' will be no strangers to my ongoing light-hearted correspondence with fellow Britof Eclecticism: Reflections on literature and life. Keep your eyes peeled for his next letter – it’s his turn to write to me on Wednesday!
📚’s September and October sketchbook pages are wonderful. The art itself is gorgeous, but what I love more than the sketches are the freedom and confidence that come across in Melanie’s pages. is one of my favourite recent finds on Substack, and with inspiration from Melanie I’m hoping to get out more to develop my own sketchbook practice.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please let me know by clicking the heart. Thank you!
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Here’s an example of just the sort of maths problem I’m thinking about. It’s taken from the ‘Brain Training’ page of the Saturday Telegraph published on November 18, 2023.
Jim and I managed to solve it over breakfast this morning, not without frustration!
Fancy the challenge? Have a go, and then click on the pdf to download the answer which Jim and I had come up with, and an explanation of how we solved it.
Don’t believe everything you read. 😉
You might well ask… 👀
Terry’s newsletteroffers its free subscribers a wide variety of posts, as well as excellent additional content for paid subscribers. This post you’re reading refers closely to Terry’s post ‘How I read 4 books - and reviewed them - in under a week’, from which he has kindly removed the paywall so that you can access it for free.
Thanks, Terry! 😊
Rhymes with ‘happy’, which it is NOT. And yes, I made it up.