Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike

Recently I’ve  been reading SuperInfinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.

This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.

Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’. 

The rules are clearly explained and easy to follow. Guided by the letters and numbers, we navigate our way through a series of colourful mazes, following the movement patterns of chess pieces – Rook, Bishop or Queen, depending on the puzzle. Choosing the correct route from the starting letter to the end point will reveal the hidden word.

There’s a pleasing sense of satisfaction when we identify the solution. Very quickly, however, we realize that each puzzle contains far more than a pathway to a single word. There are dead ends. There are ‘black holes’ – squares that can be reached from the starting point of the maze, but from which there is no possible route to the end – and ‘white holes’, that can be reached from the end but not from the start. And there are other words lurking within the puzzle, sometimes bouncing around from letter to letter in endless loops.

These structural subtleties have the effect of slowing us down. We become absorbed in the scenery on our way to the destination. The words that we uncover in the process are brought together in the final puzzle, the Knight’s Tour, which is fiendishly difficult but immensely fun. 

It may seem like a peculiar jump from John Donne’s metaphysical sonnets to Lori Wike’s playful puzzle poems. Yet they have certain attributes in common. Both are beautifully crafted and intellectually appealing, full of subtle wit and elegant conceits. And both elicited in me a happy thrill of discovery.

Jump Search by Lori Wike is published by Penteract Press (February 2023).

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