Russian science writer Yakov Perelman asks: How many times must an 8-toothed cogwheel rotate on its axis to circle around a 24-toothed cogwheel?

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Black and White

tanner chess problem

By John Tanner. White to mate in two moves.

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Nobody Home

pooh and piglet

A puzzle by S. Sefibekov:

Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet set out to visit one another. They leave their houses at the same time and walk along the same road. But Piglet is absorbed in counting the birds overhead, and Winnie-the-Pooh is composing a new “hum,” so they pass one another without noticing. One minute after the meeting, Winnie-the-Pooh is at Piglet’s house, and 4 minutes after the meeting Piglet is at Winnie-the-Pooh’s. How long has each of them walked?

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Bright and Early

Meteors are more commonly seen between midnight and dawn than between dusk and midnight. Why?

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Black and White

ropet chess problem

By Ivan Pavlovich Ropet. White to mate in two moves.

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Podcast Episode 69: Lateral Thinking Puzzles


Here are four new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits! Solve along with us as we explore some strange situations using only yes-or-no questions.

Puzzles 1 and 2 are from Kyle Hendrickson’s 1998 book Mental Fitness Puzzles and Jed’s List of Situation Puzzles.

Thanks to listeners Saber and Tommy Honton for puzzles 3 and 4. Here are two corroborating links — these spoil the puzzles, so don’t click until you’ve listened to the episode:

Puzzle #3

Puzzle #4

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Use this link to get video and audio lectures at up to 80 percent off the original price from The Great Courses.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Black and White

legentil chess problem

By Georges Legentil. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Knife Act

knife act - problem

I have just baked a rectangular cake when my wife comes home and barbarically cuts out a piece for herself. The piece she cuts is rectangular, but it’s not in any convenient proportion to the rest of the cake, and its sides aren’t even parallel to the cake’s sides. I want to divide the remaining cake into two equal-sized halves with a single straight cut. How can I do it?

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Black and White

ischty chess problem

By Juri Ischty. White to mate in two moves.

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Close Dosage

You’re on a drug regimen that requires you to take one pill a day from each of two bottles, A and B. One day you tap one pill into your palm from the A bottle and, inadvertently, two pills from the B bottle. Unfortunately the A and B pills are indistinguishable, and taking more than one B pill per day is fatal. And the pills are very expensive, so you can’t afford to throw out the handful and start over. How can you arrange to take the correct dose without wasting any pills?

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Hour of Babel


A problem from the second Balkan Mathematical Olympiad, 1985:

Of the 1985 people attending an international meeting, no one speaks more than five languages, and in any subset of three attendees, at least two speak a common language. Prove that some language is spoken by at least 200 of the attendees.

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Black and White

loyd chess problem

By Sam Loyd. White to mate in two moves.

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Cube Route


You’re planning to make the wire skeleton of a cube by arranging 12 equal lengths of wire as shown and soldering them at the corners.

It occurs to you that you might be able to simplify the job by using one or more longer lengths of wire and bending them into right angles at the cube’s corners.

If you adopt that plan, what’s the smallest number of corners where soldering will still be necessary?

Click for Answer

Weighing in Verse


How can you find one bad coin among 12 using only three weighings in a pan balance? We published the classic solution in November 2013, but a clever alternative appeared in Eureka in October 1950. Here the aspiring counterfeiter is named Felix Fiddlesticks, and he’s trying to find the coin for this mother:

F set the coins out in a row
And chalked on each a letter, so,
To form the words: “F AM NOT LICKED”
(An idea in his brain had clicked).

And now his mother he’ll enjoin:

weighing in verse table

This plan will reveal the bad coin no matter which it is. For instance, if the coin marked O is heavy, then in the first two weighings the left pan will drop, and in the third weighing it will rise; no other bad coin will produce this result. The plan will also reveal reliably whether the bad coin is heavy or light.

Such cases number twenty-five,
And by F’s scheme we so contrive
No two agree in their effect,
As is with pen and patience checked:
And so the dud is found. Be as it may
It only goes to show CRIME DOES NOT PAY.

(Cedric Smith, “The Twelve Coin Problem,” The Mathematical Gazette, Vol. 89, No. 515 [July 2005], pp. 280-281. A generalized algorithm for solving such a problem for any number of coins is given by Michael Weatherfield in the same issue, pp. 275-279.)

Riddles in the Dark


In 1904, a 12-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien sent this rebus to a family friend, Father Francis Morgan. What does it say?

Click for Answer

Black and White

florentine chess problem

From a Florentine manuscript, 1600. White to mate in two moves.

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Three Coins

Three coins are lying on a table: a quarter, a half dollar, and a silver dollar. You claim one coin, I’ll claim the other two, and then we’ll toss all three. A coin that lands tails counts zero, and a coin that lands heads wins its value (in cents, 25, 50, or 100) for its owner. Whichever of us has the larger score wins all three coins. If all three coins land tails then we toss again.

Which coin should you claim to make the game fair — that is, so that each of us has an expected win of zero?

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Digit Spans

A puzzle by A. Savin: Using each of the digits 1, 2, 3, and 4 twice, write out an eight-digit number in which there is one digit between the 1s, two digits between the 2s, three digits between the 3s, and four digits between the 4s.

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The Jeweler’s Observation


Prove that every convex polyhedron has at least two faces with the same number of sides.

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Black and White

ebert chess problem

By Hilmar Ebert. White to mate in two moves.

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Ride Sharing


You and I have to travel from Startville to Endville, but we have only one bicycle between us. So we decide to leapfrog: We’ll leave Startville at the same time, you walking and I riding. I’ll ride for 1 mile, and then I’ll leave the bicycle at the side of the road and continue on foot. When you reach the bike you’ll ride it for 1 mile, passing me at some point, then leave the bike and continue walking. And so on — we’ll continue in this way until we’ve both reached the destination.

Will this save any time? You say yes: Each of us is riding for part of the distance, and riding is faster than walking, so using the bike must increase our average speed.

I say no: One or the other of us is always walking; ultimately every inch of the distance between Startville and Endville is traversed by someone on foot. So the total time is unchanged — leapfrogging with the bike is no better than walking the whole distance on foot.

Who’s right?

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A Passing Wave


A puzzle from J.A.H. Hunter’s Fun With Figures (1956):

A man paddling a canoe upstream sees a glove in the water as he passes under a bridge. Fifteen minutes later, he turns around and paddles downstream. He passes under the bridge and travels another mile before reaching the rock from which he started, which the glove is just passing. If he paddled at the same speed the whole time and lost no time in turning around, what is the speed of the current?

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Modern Art

modern art puzzle

Which part of this square has the greater area, the black part or the gray part?

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Black and White

shinkman chess problem

By William Anthony Shinkman. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer