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A Puzzling Time


Today, I haven’t managed to get much work done.

Why? I’ve just discovered a great new maths puzzle.

I’m a big fan of sudokus and their many variations, but it’s nice to have something new to puzzle over. For me, solving the puzzle isn’t the most fun part – I like the early stages of working out how to solve it, and coming up with a strategy.

So finding a new type of puzzle is an exciting start to my day.


I like maths puzzles for my own enjoyment, but they also play a big part in my tutorials. I usually start a tutorial with some kind of puzzle or brain teaser, usually containing some carefully disguised maths that’s related to the work we’ll be doing later.

Most of the students I work with are in year 10 and 11, on the verge of taking their GCSEs, and all of them find it hard to tackle problem-solving questions – any question which doesn’t look exactly like a question they’ve seen before, they won’t even attempt it.

As a student, these were the questions I always liked the most. Problem-solving questions are making up a larger chunk of each GCSE paper, yet so many students are lacking the skills or confidence to tackle them.

And this is where the puzzles come in. By getting my students to try a puzzle they’ve never seen before, they can exercise the problem-solving part of their brains, and start to apply the same skills to exam questions.

I’m building up my own little library of puzzles that I use with my students. My favourites are ones that are really simple to explain and require little prior knowledge in order to solve them – anything involving basic arithmetic and simple shapes.

I want my students to look at the puzzle and think “I can probably solve this; I’m not sure how, but it looks like something I can do.”


So, you’re itching to hear about this great new puzzle I’ve found. Thanks to Alex Bellos’ maths puzzle in The Guardian for this one:

Replace each letter in the word CLEVER with one of the symbols: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 + – x ÷ =, so that the word becomes a balanced equation. Within the word, the same letter must represent the same symbol. Different letters must represent different symbols (i.e. you cannot have two different letters representing the same symbol).


This puzzle ticks all the boxes for me. Easy to explain. No specialist knowledge needed. No obvious strategy.

Definitely going in my tutorials this week.

Now where’s my pen? I’ve got a few more to solve …

Claire Cant
Claire is a teaching assistant, Maths tutor and computer science graduate who loves nothing more than a good maths puzzle. She is on a mission to turn everyone into a maths lover, and refuses to believe that anyone "doesn't have a maths brain".