A team of volunteers have deciphered a message written by Charles Dickens in his own puzzling brand of shorthand, solving a riddle that had persisted for more than 150 years.

Apparently in 1859 the Times had mistakenly rejected an advertisement that Dickens had hoped to run during his delicate transition from the editorship of Household Words to All The Year Round. Dickens had written to the newspaper’s editor, J.T. Delane, asking him to intervene in the matter and had saved a cryptic copy of the message, possibly for legal reasons. With the passage of time the key to the author’s so-called Brachygraphy had been lost.

When scholars recently appealed for help in understanding the message, an international team of amateur solvers pooled their insights to decipher the “Tavistock Letter.” “Having the text of this letter at long last will allow scholars to learn more about Dickens’s shorthand method while gaining further insight into his life and work,” wrote Philip Palmer, curator and head of literary and historical manuscripts at Morgan Library & Museum. “We are thrilled that colleagues at the Dickens Code project have helped make this letter accessible in new ways to researchers.”

That’s not the end of it — a further puzzling page, this one from the notebooks of Dickens’ shorthand pupil Arthur Stone, still awaits solution.

(Thanks, Bill.)


From reader Derek Christie:

Each player in a game of cribbage has a hand of four cards. A single further card is turned up and serves as the fifth card in every player’s hand. Part of the game involves scoring your hand. You get points for any combination of cards that adds to 15, like 9 4 2; for two or more of any rank, like 3 3; or for any run of three or more, like Ace 2 3. The Jack, Queen, and King each score 10. Show that if a 5 has been turned up, every player must score some points.

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A Miserable Vacation

twine puzzle

Your eccentric uncle has dropped you into the middle of Twine Island, which is festooned with one continuous loop of twine. The twine never crosses itself, but it snakes everywhere, and the island is too hilly for you to see the whole layout at once. As a character-building exercise, your uncle offers you a million dollars if you can determine whether you’re inside the loop or outside. How can you do this?

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City A contains 20,000 people. One percent of these have one foot only and wear one shoe apiece. Half of the remaining people go barefoot, wearing no shoes at all, and the rest wear two shoes apiece.

In City B, 20 percent of the residents have one foot only and wear one shoe apiece. Of the remainder, half go barefoot and half wear two shoes apiece.

If 20,000 shoes are worn in City B, what is its population?

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A Simple Plan

Image: Wikimedia Commons

You have three identical bricks and a ruler. How can you determine the length of a brick’s interior diagonal without any calculation?

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RSS Quiz

The Royal Statistical Society has released its Christmas quiz for 2021, a set of 11 puzzles that require general knowledge, logic, lateral thinking, and searching skills, but no specialist mathematical knowledge.

Anyone may enter, individually or in teams of up to five. The top entry will receive £150 in Wiley book vouchers, second place £50 in book vouchers, and the next three entries a puzzle book or board game. And everyone who achieves a score of 50 percent or higher will win a donation to their favorite charity or good cause.

Entries must be received by 21:00 GMT on January 31. See the quiz web page for the rules and some tips for budding solvers.