The Publius Enigma

In June 1994, shortly after Pink Floyd released the album The Division Bell, someone calling himself Publius posted two messages to the newsgroup

  • “My friends, You have heard the message Pink Floyd has delivered, but have you listened? Perhaps I can be your guide, but I will not solve the enigma for you.”
  • “The Division Bell is not like its predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons) who recognizes this–and where this information points to–a unique prize has been secreted.”

When readers asked for proof of his authenticity, Publius wrote, “Monday, July 18, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Approximately 10:30pm. Flashing white lights. There is an enigma.” Sure enough, at the appointed time during a Floyd concert the words ENIGMA PUBLIUS appeared in white lights at the front of the stage.

Unfortunately, the clues then dwindled, no explanation was given, and no winner was ever announced. Rumors about the enigma have appeared ever since in fan circles and semi-cryptically from the band’s organization, but no one really knows what the enigma is. “It is important to note that neither I nor anyone involved with this zine will enter into any correspondence on this topic,” wrote Jeff Jensen, editor of the band’s fan magazine, in issue 34. “It’s a puzzle for you, devised by the one who loves you enough to drive you mad.”

“The Glass of Wine Under the Hat”

Place a glass of wine upon a table, put a hat over it, and offer to lay a wager with any of the company that you will empty the glass without lifting the hat. When your proposition is accepted, desire the company not to touch the hat; and then get under the table, and commence making a sucking noise, smacking your lips at intervals, as though you were swallowing the wine with infinite satisfaction to yourself. After a minute or two, come from under the table, and address the person who took your wager with, ‘Now, sir.’ His curiosity being, of course, excited, he will lift up the hat, in order to see whether you have really performed what you promised; and the instant he does so, take up the glass, and after having swallowed its contents, say, ‘You have lost, sir, for you see I have drunk the wine without raising up the hat.’

— Samuel Williams, The Boy’s Treasury of Sports, Pastimes, and Recreations, 1847

False Confidence

A 19th-century opening manual gives this line in the Queen’s Gambit Declined:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 e5 6. Ndb5 d4 7. Nd5 Na6 8. Qa4 Bd7 9. e3 Ne7

false confidence

The authors say Black has the superior position. That may be a bit optimistic — do you see why?

“Eating a Candle After Lighting It”

This is done by cutting a piece of apple the shape required, and sticking into it a little piece of nut or almond, to make it resemble the stump of a candle. The almond wick can be lighted, and will burn for about a minute, so that the deception is perfect. You can afterwards eat it in the presence of the company. … [T]his candle should be already in front of the audience, and should be placed in a candlestick, and if well introduced it goes down (in more senses than one) capitally.

— Frederick D’Arros Planche, Evening Amusements for Every One, 1876

Color Commentary

British radio listeners received some unlooked-for entertainment in 1937 when they tuned in to hear Lieutenant Commander Tommy Woodroofe give a radio commentary on the illumination of the fleet at Spithead. It appears Woodroofe had fortified himself a bit before the broadcast:

At the present moment … the whole fleet is lit up. When I say ‘lit up’ I mean lit up by fairy lamps. It’s fantastic. It isn’t a fleet at all. It’s just … it’s fairyland. The whole fleet is in fairyland. Now if you’ll follow me through … if you don’t mind … the next few moments you’ll find the fleet doing odd things.

There followed a pause of 11 seconds, after which Woodroofe said, “I’m sorry, I was telling people to shut up talking.”


At the 1939 World’s Fair, San Francisco Seals catcher Joe Sprinz tried to catch a baseball dropped from the Goodyear blimp 1,200 feet overhead.

Sprinz knew baseball but he hadn’t studied physics — he lost five teeth and spent three months in the hospital with a fractured jaw.


In 1958, Canada held a bullfight. The Lindsay, Ontario, chamber of commerce approved $12,500 to arrange the event, apparently to promote cultural enrichment, but the transplant was shaky from the start.

Four Mexican matadors showed up on July 21, but the six bulls were delayed at the Texas border and the fight was delayed for three weeks. It finally went ahead, with three matadors, on August 22 and 23, over the objections of the Ontario SPCA, though organizers promised it would be “bloodless.”

Apparently the event itself went well, but when it was over the bulls were retired anyway, and Ontario never tried bullfighting again. Matador Jorge Luis Bernal told the Peterborough Examiner, “If a bull lives, he will be too wise for anyone to fight again. He will know the ways of the bull ring.”


José Silva and João Rafael devised this chess game to demonstrate at the 1978 Portuguese Junior Championship. The game is spurious, but the moves are legal:

1. a3 h6 2. b3 g6 3. c3 f6 4. d3 e6 5. e3 d6 6. f3 c6 7. g3 b6 8. h3 a6 9. a4 b5 10. a5 b4 11. c4 d5 12. c5 d4 13. e4 f5 14. e5 f4 15. g4 h5 16. g5 h4 17. Nc3 dxc3 18. Ra3 bxa3 19. b4 Nf6 20. exf6 Rh6 21. gxh6 g5 22. b5 g4 23. b6 g3 24. d4 e5 25. Bb5 axb5 26. d5 Bg4 27. hxg4 e4 28. d6 e3 29. Qd5 cxd5 30. Ne2 d4 31. Nxd4 Be7 32. dxe7 Qxe7 33. Bb2 Qe4 34. fxe4 cxb2 35. a6 b4 36. Nc2 b3 37. Ke2 bxc2 38. Rd1 Nd7 39. g5 Rc8 40. g6 Rc7 41. bxc7 Nb6 42. cxb6 h3 43. Rd7 Kxd7 44. Kd3 Ke6 45. e5 Kf5 46. Kc4 Ke4 47. Kc5 Kd3 48. Kd6 Kd2 49. Kd7 Kd1 50. Kd8 f3 51. g7 g2 52. h7 a2 53. f7 h2 54. b7 f2 55. a7 e2 56. e6 Kd2 57. e7 Kd1

turnabout 1

Okay so far? Now 58. a8=R h1=R 59. b8=N g1=N 60. c8=B f1=B 61. e8=Q e1=Q 62. f8=B c1=B 63. g8=N b1=N 64. h8=R a1=R:

turnabout 2

The players agree to a draw.

Four-Dimensional Basketball

The public school in College Corner, Indiana, straddles the border with Ohio — the state line runs right through the gymnasium. So at the opening tip of a basketball game, players jump from different states.

Until 2006, when the Hoosier State began observing daylight saving time, a ball thrown from Ohio would hit the net in Indiana an hour earlier.