Thin Thinking

Some of the figures (particularly the holy ones) in El Greco paintings seem unnaturally tall and thin. An ophthalmologist surmised that the painter had a defect of vision that caused him to see people this way.

The zoologist Sir Peter Medawar pointed out that we can reject this conjecture on purely logical grounds. What was his insight?

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On Target

Samuel Isaac Jones offered this poser in his 1929 book Mathematical Wrinkles:

Cook was within 10 miles of the north pole and Peary was also within 10 miles of the pole, but 20 miles from Cook. What direction was Peary from Cook? Suppose Peary threw a ball at Cook and hit him. In what direction did the ball go?

He omitted the answer, apparently inadvertently. What is it?

The Crossing

A family of four has to cross a river. The father and mother each weigh 150 pounds, and each of the two sons weighs 75 pounds. Unfortunately, the boat will carry only 150 pounds maximum. How can they get across?

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“The Best Bridge Problem Ever Invented”

I don’t play bridge, so I’m posting this somewhat blindly. It was devised by W.H. Whitfeld, card editor of the Field, apparently in the late 19th century. The reader who submitted it to the Strand wrote, “If you don’t know the solution, I guarantee that it will take you or any of your staff three or four days.”

“We have a higher opinion of our readers’ skill than to allot them such a time-limit as this,” wrote the editors. “But certainly anyone who can solve this problem in three or four hours will have good cause to be congratulated on his ingenuity.”

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A French Cryptogram

When the Chevalier de Rohan was sent to the Bastille in 1674 on suspicion of treason, he knew there was no evidence against him except what might be extracted from one other prisoner. His friends had promised to communicate the result of that examination, and in sending him some fresh clothing they wrote on one of the shirts MG DULHXCCLGU GHJ YXUJ, LM CT ULGC ALJ.

For 24 hours de Rohan puzzled over the message, but he could make no sense of it. Despairing, he admitted his guilt and was executed. What was the message?

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“The Hidden Star”

dudeney - hidden star

From Henry Dudeney:

The ilustration represents a square tablecloth of choice silk patchwork. This was put together by the members of a family as a little birthday present for one of its number. One of the contributors supplied a portion in the form of a perfectly symmetrical star, and this has been worked in exactly as it was received. But the triangular pieces so confuse the eye that it is quite a puzzle to find the hidden star.

Can you discover it, so that, if you wished, by merely picking out the stitches, you could extract it from the other portions of the patchwork?

Breaking Bad

Amy and Betty are playing a game. They have a chocolate bar that’s 8 squares long and 6 squares wide. Amy begins by breaking the bar in two along any division. Betty can then pick up any piece and break it in two, and so on. The first player who cannot move will be clapped in chains and rocketed off to a lifetime of soul-destroying toil in the cobalt mines of Yongar Zeta. (I know, it’s a pretty brutal game.) Who will win?

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The Kitchen Snitch

A logic puzzle from Mathematical Circles (Russian Experience), a collection of problems for Soviet high school math students:

During a trial in Wonderland the March Hare claimed that the cookies were stolen by the Mad Hatter. Then the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse gave testimonies which, for some reason, were not recorded. Later on in the trial it was found out that the cookies were stolen by only one of these three defendants, and, moreover, only the guilty one gave true testimony. Who stole the cookies?

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