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The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco (1988)
Dennis Shasha
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

The first in a sequence of delightful books. This one offers 38 puzzles packaged very well as a collection of stories solved by Dr. Ecco. To introduce him:

(quoted from The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco)

“Dr. Jacob Ecco is a mathematical detective and puzzle solver. In this book he helps his clients discover treasures, outsmart kidnappers, and identify spies by means of deduction and insight. His clients’ puzzles are meant for you to solve as well. Dr. Ecco is accompanied by Professor Scarlet, who asks questions and records their adventures. Scarlet’s remarks and questioning will help you work toward your own solutions. The puzzles are inspired by the methods and thinking of researchers in computer science and mathematics. They require no special background in either subject, but solving them will lead you to some central ideas in the two fields.


Ecco received his Ph.D. from Harvard at age nineteen with a thesis called Combinatorial Catastrophe Theory. It was an extraordinary unification of two hitherto disparate fields and has become the basis for much research since then. But Ecco refused all offers of employment. He dropped out of academic life, moving to MacDougal Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village. He called himself an omniheurist— a person who solves all problems. Over the next ten years, he became a world famous puzzle solver with a global clientele.”

The book is full of entertaining puzzles over the spectrum of difficulty. According to the author in the preface,

(quoted from The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco)

“You have to like challenges. Some puzzles have stumped physicists, a psychiatrist, and several computer science colleagues of mine for a long time. On the other hand, an artist I know well (my wife, Karen) has solved most of them. You don’t need training, only a clear head and imagination.”

See also Codes, Puzzles & Conspiracy (which has its own entry on this website)and the additional sequels Dr. Ecco’s Cyberpuzzles, Puzzling Adventures, and The Puzzler’s Elusion

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Works Similar to The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Codes, Puzzles & Conspiracy [a.k.a. Dr. Ecco, Mathematical Detective] by Dennis Shasha
  2. Crimes and Math Demeanors by Leith Hathout
  3. Conned Again, Watson! Cautionary Tales of Logic, Math and Probability by Colin Bruce
  4. Science Fiction Puzzle Tales by Martin Gardner
  5. Puzzles from Other Worlds by Martin Gardner
  6. A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll
  7. The Case of the Murdered Mathematician by Julia Barnes / Kathy Ivey
  8. Let's Consider Two Spherical Chickens by Tommaso Bolognesi
  9. L.A. Math: Romance, Crime and Mathematics in the City of Angels by James D. Stein
  10. The Turing Option by Harry Harrison / Marvin Minksy
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GenreMystery, Didactic,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)