EPS Review #152 - Chasing Vermeer

Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, The Chicken House, 2004, 256pp.

Claire with pentominoes Claire with pentominoes For Christmas I decided to give someone a set of pentominoes and found this nice Quintillions site. Ross already has a soma cube. Chasing Vermeer has pentominoes in it, and a mystery story about a famous painter seemed up Claire's alley. So I gave the puzzle and book to her. Our copy is a lovely hardback complete with a tipped-in plate of A Lady writing a Letter, plus an attached bookmark containing a cipher key.

I came home one evening to find Claire finishing the story at the kitchen counter. I looked at the book, and in the front found the challenge to decipher the clues in the illustrations by Brett Helquist. This was fun! Claire and I worked it out and then checked the answer on the Scholastic website.

So I read the story as well. It is set in Chicago. Calder (the boy with the pentominoes) and Petra (both ethnically diverse) attend a progressive school founded on the ideas of John Dewey. Their teacher assigns some open-ended tasks, and these tie-in with various mysterious happenings, including the theft of a Vermeer on its way to Chicago for display. Petra finds a copy of Lo! at Powell's Used Books and this inspires her to think outside the box. Sadly, this is way way outside the box, and Calder and Petra solve the mystery with some pretty unsatisfactory illogical leaps. Still it is probably a good book for kids.

Hey, the R-pentomino has been renamed the F-pentomino! How things change. I remember, as a child myself, trying to follow this pentomino's progeny in Conway's game of Life, using only a pencil and graph paper. After having cold gruel for breakfast, etc, etc.

I plan to use this book as an excuse to drag the kids to a few museums soon. I've never been to The Hague and Vermeer seems like a good reason to go.

I remember that Proust wrote about Vermeer. Turns out there's a puzzle about which patch of yellow he was referring to...

I saw bits of Girl With a Pearl Earring on a plane, but did not get drawn in, despite Scarlett. I'll put it on our rental list.

Brian wrote: Robert Burton would have loved to have had the ability to provide the readers of the Anatomy of Melancholy with the kind of active links you provide which offer an irresistible infinite regression, in multiple directions, to all manner of ideas, characterizations, and information.

Tom wrote: My favorite Scarlett movies are The Man Who Wasn't There and Ghost World. I did not care for Lost in Translation. I liked Match Point, but thought is was pretty much a rehash of the Landau/Huston thread of Crimes and Misdemeanors.