The Pony Puzzle

pony puzzle

Sam Loyd claimed to have sold “one thousand million” of these puzzles in the late 1800s, but the solution requires an insight that most solvers overlooked.

“Cut out the six pieces very carefully, then try to arrange them to make the best possible figure of a horse. That is all there is to it, but the entire world laughed for a year over the many grotesque representations of a horse that can be made with those six pieces.”

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“Learned Ass”

Singular circumstance — A lady resident in Devonshire, going into one of her parlours, discovered a young ass, who had found its way into the room, and carefully closed the door upon himself. He had evidently not been long in this situation before he had nibbled a part of Cicero’s Orations, and eaten nearly all the index of a folio edition of Seneca in Latin, a large part of a volume of La Bruyere’s maxims in French, and several pages of Cecilia. He had done no other mischief whatever, and not a vestige remained of the leaves that he had devoured. Will it be fair henceforward to dignify a dunce with the name of this literary animal?

— Pierce Egan, Sporting Anecdotes, Original and Selected, 1822

The Bhawal Case

Death plays tricks in India. Prince Ramendra Narayan Roy died in Darjeeling in 1909 and turned up alive 12 years later in Dhaka. He didn’t remember the details, he said; he’d been found lying in the jungle and had wandered India as a religious ascetic until his memory had returned.

The Board of Revenue offered proof that Roy had been cremated, but the prince’s tenants believed the claimant and supported his bid for the old estate. Hundreds of witnesses testified variously through 10 years of legal wrangling, which ultimately decided in favor of the mysterious stranger.

His vindication was short-lived, though. Hours after the final hearing, the claimant had a fatal stroke — and, this time, he stayed dead.

See also The Tichborne Claimant.

The Trouble With Waistcoats

the trouble with waistcoats

Now, sir, your coat is off!
And see–
Your right-hand pocketed!
So let it be:
While o’er your arm
An endless string–
Some three yards round–
Hangs like a sling.
Take the string off–
But, just for fun,
It must be done
Keeping your right-hand in its place,
And not a smile must stir your face.
Until you find this puzzle out,
No coat shall wrap your back about.

How is it to be done?

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The Two Cultures

Tennyson’s poem “The Vision of Sin” contains this couplet:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

When he published it in 1842, Charles Babbage sent him a note:

I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world’s population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that, in the next edition of your excellent poem, the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:–

Every moment dies a man,
And one and a sixteenth is born.

“I may add that the exact figures are 1.167,” he added, “but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.”

“Strange Discovery in Ohio”

A queer exhumation was made in the Strip Vein coal bank of Capt. Lacy, at Hammondsville, Ohio, one day last week. Mr. James Parsons and his two sons were engaged in making the bank, when a huge mass of coal fell down, disclosing a large smooth slate wall, upon the surface of which were found, carved in bold relief, several lines of hieroglyphics. Crowds have visited the place since the discovery and many good scholars have tried to decipher the characters, but all have failed. Nobody has been able to tell in what tongue the words were written. How came the mysterious writing in the bowels of the earth where probably no human eye has ever penetrated? There are several lines about three inches apart, the first line containing twenty-five words. Attempts have been made to remove the slate wall, and bring it out, but upon tapping the wall it gave forth a sound that would seem to indicate the existence of a hollow chamber beyond, and the characters would have been destroyed in removing it. At last accounts Dr. Hartshorn, of Mount Union College, had been sent for to examine the writing.

Wellsville Union, quoted in The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, Jan. 1, 1869

Dark Science

On Aug. 21, 1945, physicist Harry Daghlian accidentally dropped a brick of tungsten carbide into a plutonium bomb core at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The mass went critical, and Daghlian died of radiation sickness.

Exactly nine months later, physicist Louis Slotin was conducting an experiment on the same mass of plutonium when his screwdriver slipped and the mass again went critical. He too died of radiation sickness.

The mass became known as “the demon core.”

The Vanishing Debtor

Alpha approaches Beta, asking for payment of a debt.

Beta: If you had an odd number of pebbles — or for that matter an even one — and then chose to add or subtract a pebble, do you think you would have the same number?

Alpha: No.

Beta: If you had a measure of one cubit and chose to add or cut off some length of it, that measure would no longer exist, would it?

Alpha: No.

Beta: Well now, think of a human in the same way: one human is growing and another is diminishing. All are constantly in the process of change. But what by its nature changes and never stays put must already be different from what it changed from. You and I are different from who we were yesterday, and by the same argument will be different again tomorrow.

Exasperated, Alpha strikes Beta.

Beta: Why are you angry with me?

Alpha: As someone nearby just demonstrated, it was not I who hit you, not I at all, but someone else altogether.

(From a fragment by Epicharmus.)