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.

Crowd Control


A knight’s tour is a series of moves by a chess knight such that it visits each square on the chessboard once. The example above is a “closed” tour because it ends on the square where it started.

This inspired a puzzle posed by Martin Gardner. If we filled a standard chessboard with knights, one on each square, could all 64 of them move simultaneously? The closed knight’s tour shows that they could — they form a long conga line, with each knight vacating a square for the knight behind it to occupy.

Gardner asks: Could the same feat be accomplished on a 5 × 5 chessboard?

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Podcast Episode 365: Lateral Thinking Puzzles


For this final episode of the Futility Closet podcast we have eight new lateral thinking puzzles — play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.


Sears used to sell houses by mail.

Many of Lewis Carroll’s characters were suggested by fireplace tiles in his Oxford study.

The sources for this week’s puzzles are below. In some cases we’ve included links to further information — these contain spoilers, so don’t click until you’ve listened to the episode:

Puzzle #1 is from Greg. Here are two links.

Puzzle #2 is from listener Diccon Hyatt, who sent this link.

Puzzle #3 is from listener Derek Christie, who sent this link.

Puzzle #4 is from listener Reuben van Selm.

Puzzle #5 is from listener Andy Brice.

Puzzle #6 is from listener Anne Joroch, who sent this link.

Puzzle #7 is from listener Steve Carter and his wife, Ami, inspired by an item in Jim Steinmeyer’s 2006 book The Glorious Deception.

Puzzle #8 is from Agnes Rogers’ 1953 book How Come? A Book of Riddles, sent to us by listener Jon Jerome.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for providing the music for this whole ridiculous enterprise, and for being my brother.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!