Asimov wrote Black Widower short stories for _Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine_ for years, rounding out each batch to a dozen with a few previously unpublished episodes for each new Widower collection. The Widowers are a stag club who meet once a month at the Milano restaurant: Avalon (patent attorney), Drake (research chemist), Gonzalo (painter), Halsted (teacher), Rubin (author), and Trumbull (intelligence analyst). They rotate the office of host; each month's host brings a guest for an evening of dinner, conversation, and grilling, and each eventually produces a problem of some kind for the Widowers to try to solve. (Problem-solving isn't the point of the club; Avalon, for one, grumbles about how the grilling always seems to degenerate into sleuthing, lately.) The seventh Widower - Henry, the waiter - always produces the solution after the other six have batted the problem around awhile.
I can see why EQMM usually ate them up; the puzzles tend to be the kind of artificial gimmick that EQ's own early adventures were noted for - fair, if you know the right bits of trivia, and can view the problem as a constructed puzzle rather than a story about people. The crossword aroma is generally diluted with a healthy dose of Black Widower squabbling, though, as well as the wildcard element of the guests, so they're an entertaining read.
"When No Man Pursueth" Guest: Mortimer Stellar (a stand-in for Asimov himself), who's annoyed with a publisher who bought an article only to sit on it without explanation. [Asimov used this story to blow off steam about a real-life incident.]
"Quicker Than the Eye" - Host: Trumbull. Guest: Robert Alford Bunsen, Trumbull's boss - because Trumbull couldn't explain previous successes without violating Widower confidentiality. Bunsen's minions baited a trap with a small item, in hopes of tracing their opponents' network when it was passed in a restaurant, but they still don't know how it was done. (Henry points out the obvious problem - the agent's people *must* know, after various searches and X-rays, that his cover was blown - but Bunsen's response is adequate. My issue with Trumbull's occasional panics over the dangers of unbroken enemy codes is that either the problems are very dated or Asimov didn't concern himself with making Trumbull a realistic cryptography expert, but I can always read _The Devil's Code_ for that kind of thing.)
"A Chip of the Black Stone" (a.k.a. "The Iron Gem"), according to a family legend of the Widowers' guest, Latimer Reed, is supposedly a stolen fragment of the Kaaba, but the legend's dubious, at best. On the other hand, someone years ago was *desperate* to buy it...
"The Three Numbers" (a.k.a. "All in the Way You Read It") - Host: Drake. Guest: Samuel Puntsch, a fellow researcher, although in physics rather than chemistry. A family friend and co-worker, recently committed to a mental hospital, may have an important breakthrough locked in his safe. Why won't the combination work?
"Nothing Like Murder" The Widowers' guest, a Soviet paying his first visit to New York, believes his fears of street crime were justified: he says he overheard murder being plotted in a public park. What was really said?
"Confessions of an American Cigarette Smoker" (a.k.a. "No Smoking") One of a personnel manager's little psychological tests was to observe job candidates' reactions to a pack of cigarettes: if they refused, the manner of the refusal; if they accepted, their body language and subsequent behaviour. At least one candidate, however, appears to have turned the tables to manipulate the examiner, tricking the personnel guy into a badly mistaken hiring decision. [The trick here is to figure out how the examinee betrayed signs of his deviousness during the interview that the examiner failed to pick up on.]
"Season's Greetings!" The guest is one of the Widowers' occasional quirky collectors: they've had puzzles concerning guys who collected postcards, games, even matchbooks. This month's guest collects unusual Christmas cards - why did someone mock him recently by sending an anonymous, cheapo card?
"The One and Only East" - Host: Gonzalo. Guest: Ralph Murdock, Elder of the Disciples of Holiness and cousin of Gonzalo's landlady. He's a decent man, although sober in several senses: dress, manner, and drink. His late uncle was none of those things, and destroyed his health through his appetites. However, he was determined to have the last laugh: if Murdock can't deduce which of the six cities on his uncle's list matches his only cryptic clue, he'll have to gamble - guess randomly - if he wants the inheritance.
"Earthset and Evening Star" Guest: Jean Servais, whose partner inexplicably refuses to see reason about the setting of a lunar colony they're designing for a movie. [The puzzle resembles that of the Wendell Urth mystery "The Key" (_The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov_).]
A letter dated only "Friday the Thirteenth" may be a clue in posthumously proving the innocence of a man executed long ago for an assassination attempt on President Coolidge. [Asimov had weaknesses for both presidential and calendar puzzles; both pop up regularly in his mysteries.]
"The Unabridged" is the only clue the Widowers' guest, Jason Leominster, has to the location of a valuable stamp hidden in his late aunt's house; he must locate it before auctioning her effects.
"The Ultimate Crime" Guest: Ronald Mason. In the author's note, Asimov confesses that *he* was the writer (in this story, Mason) who felt obliged to contribute to Sherlockian scholarship to consider himself a true Baker Street Irregular, and the theory propounded herein is his own; Asimov just couldn't bear not to let the world know how clever he'd been. :) The problem herein is that of Professor Moriarty's academic career: what was his great work, _The Dynamics of an Asteroid_, really about? [I think Asimov came up with a cool theory.]