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Black and White

pierce chess problem

By W. Timbrell Pierce, 1873. White to mate in two moves.

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“A Man Carried Away by a Kite”

A young man named Power, residing at Castlecomer, went a few evenings ago to fly what he termed a Spanish kite, of very large dimensions. Having adjusted the cord and tail, it rapidly ascended with a brisk breeze until it had taken the full length of the cord, which became entangled round Power’s hand. The wind increasing, he was drawn a distance of nearly half a mile in the greatest agony, the cord cutting into the bone. The Rev. Mr. Penrose, the protestant curate of the parish, seeing the man running and shouting, at one time raised off the ground for a distance of some perches, and again running along at full speed, perceived that he was dragged by the kite, and followed him as fast as he could; but being unable to come up with him, he shouted at the top of his voice to ‘Let go; there was a man killed in a thunderstorm by the lightning of a kite.’ When Power heard these words, he shouted with redoubled vigour, but could not extricate himself until, after the distance mentioned, he was stopped by a high stone wall, the top of which, being coped, cut the cord and set at liberty the kite and the owner, who was almost lifeless with fatigue and fright.

Kilkenny Journal, reprinted in the Times, Oct. 28, 1858

Spin City

Imagine two concentric roulette wheels, each divided into 100 sectors. Choose 50 sectors at random on each wheel, paint them black, and paint the rest white. Prove that we can now position the wheels so that at least 50 of the aligned sectors match.

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In a Word



n. fear of one’s mother-in-law

Above: “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” from Puck, November 1915.

Asked what was the maximum punishment for bigamy, Lord Russell of Killowen said, “Two mothers-in-law.”

Enforced Rest

At a certain moment yesterday evening I coughed and at a certain moment yesterday I went to bed. It was therefore true on Saturday that on Sunday I would cough at the one moment and go to bed at the other. … But if it was true beforehand … that I was to cough and go to bed at those two moments on Sunday, 25 January 1953, then it was impossible for me not to do so.

– Gilbert Ryle, Dilemmas, 1954

Horse Play

horse play 1

A carnival worker is asked to paint the deck of a carousel. Because the center of the carousel is occupied by machinery, he can’t measure its diameter or even its radius. The best he can do is to take the measurement shown in green, which is 42 feet.

He’s explaining this apologetically when his supervisor stops him. “That’s all the information we need,” he says. “That’s enough to tell us how much paint to buy.”

How did they go about it?

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Purple Pen

Passages from the writings of Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860-1939), widely considered the worst novelist of all time:

  • Heavily laden with the garb of disappointment did the wandering woman of wayward wrong retrace her footsteps from the door for ever, and leisurely walked down the artistic avenue of carpeted care, never more to face the furrowed frowns of friends who, in years gone by, bestowed on her the praises of poetic powers.
  • Rising to her feet, and tossing her haughty head as high as she reasonably could without pain, she commenced to pace the floor in deepest agony.
  • That she whom he stole from the straight and narrow path upon which she unquestionably trod was not about to walk on the crooked and broad road of destruction, driven thither by his daring desire to stab the life of his chum, Maurice Munro, with the steel of distrust in order to gratify his licentiousness by the purity of his stolen, enforced prey distressed him even to the edge of distraction.
  • “I, as you see, am tinged with slightly snowy tufts, the result of stifled sorrow and care concerning you alone; and on the memorable day of our alliance, as you are well aware, the black and glossy locks of glistening glory crowned my brow.”
  • Father Guerdo’s face darkened somewhat, his thin lips parted, exposing two rows of irregularly-set yellow-usefuls, while he drew down his brow, instantly impressing her by the fact that he felt displeased.
  • But President O’Sullivan, whose well-guided words and fatherly advice had on this evening so sealed the mind of forgiveness with the wax of disinterested intent that Sir John, on his arrival home, at once sent for his solicitors, Messrs. Hutchinson & Harper, and ordering his will to be produced, demanded there and then that the pen of persuasion be dipped into the ink of revenge and spread thickly along the paragraph of blood-related charity to blank the intolerable words that referred to the woman he was now convinced, beyond doubt, had braved the bridge of bigamy.
  • On arriving at his destination, he instructed the man to await his return. Then ascending excitedly step by step until reaching the beautifully-kept grounds surrounding his iniquitous wing of Hades during days he now damned he had tracked so often, desirous to expel from the region of his remembrance the thoughts that thrashed his weary brain with the lash of lewdness, concealing himself behind a fat chestnut tree that rose in overgrown majesty within the grounds, he resolved to rest within its massive trunk for a short time until his anger subsided somewhat.

“She cannot be altogether laughed off,” wrote Anthony Powell. “She may be a long way from Shakespeare, but she partakes, in however infinitely minute a degree, of the Shakespearean power over language.” Ros herself had written, “I expect I will be talked about at the end of 1000 years.” She may have been right.

The Bright Side


I want now to introduce another case — the case of a young officer in the cavalry who was killed in the charge of the Light Brigade. This officer was among the leaders of the charge and was shot quite early by a soldier named Ivan. Suppose that, had he not been shot by Ivan, he would have been killed within a few seconds by a bullet fired by Boris, who also had him within his sights. Our natural response to this case is to say that the officer’s death was a grave misfortune, depriving him of many years of life. Yet … should we not also conclude that in this case all the officer lost in being shot by Ivan was a few seconds of life, so that his death was hardly a misfortune at all?

– Jeff McMahan, “Death and the Value of Life,” Ethics, October 1988

Leap Day

Alice gets a rocket-powered pogo stick for her birthday. She jumps 1 foot on the first hop, 2 feet on the second, then 4, 8, and so on. This gets alarming. By judicious hopping, can she arrange to return to her starting point?

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Nobrow Cartoons by Mark Heath

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