That Time Again

King William’s College has released its annual General Knowledge Paper, “The World’s Most Difficult Quiz,” a school tradition since 1904. There are 18 sets of 10 questions, each set treating a particular theme; divining the themes is difficult and useful.

This year’s quiz bears the customary warning at the top: Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est, “The greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something.” If past quizzes are any model, then search engines may lead you astray.

The answers will be on the school website at the end of January. Meanwhile MetaFilter is coordinating a spreadsheet of proposed answers (warning: spoilers).


arithmocracy: rule by the numerical majority
millocracy: the rule of mill owners
gerontocracy: government by old men
polyarchy: rule by many people
angelocracy: government by angels
paedarchy: rule by a child or children
mesocracy: government by the middle class
dulocracy: government by slaves
isocracy: polity where all have equal power
ideocracy: government according to a particular ideology
stratocracy: government by the army
diabolarchy: rule by a devil
chrysocracy: rule of the wealthy
heroarchy: government by people who are widely admired
hetaerocracy: the rule of college fellows
chirocracy: government by a strong hand or physical force
synarchy: joint rule or sovereignty
kakistocracy: government by the worst citizens
cryptarchy: secret government
papyrocracy: government by excessive paperwork
ergatocracy: government by the workers
ptochocracy: government by the poor
nomocracy: government based on a legal code
gynarchy: government by a woman or women
pollarchy: rule by the masses
pornocracy: rule by prostitutes
hierocracy: the rule of priests
merocracy: government by a small number out of the whole
ochlocracy: government by the populace
tritheocracy: government by three gods

“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself,” wrote H.L. Mencken. “Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”

Black and White

bekkelund chess problem

A prizewinning problem by Paul Bekkelund from the Norwegian chess magazine Sjakk-Nytt, 1947. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Sky Pirates

The only instance during World War I of an airship capturing a merchant vessel occurred on April 23, 1917, when the German zeppelin L 23 descended on the civilian Norwegian schooner Royal off the Danish coast. At the airship’s approach the crew abandoned the Royal in boats, and the zeppelin made a water landing to capture them.

The ship turned out to be carrying pit-props, a contraband lading, and Kapitänleutnant Ludwig Bockholt saw her conducted into the Elbe escorted by two German destroyers. “The capture of the Royal — actually a schooner of only 688 tons — hardly affected the trade war against England,” writes historian Douglas H. Robinson, “but Bockholt’s flamboyant gesture appealed particularly to the men, and tales of the exploit were told from Tondern to Hage.”

(Douglas H. Robinson, The Zeppelin in Combat, 1962.)

Truth in Advertising

Another feat of self-reference — reader Hans Havermann devised these true sentences:

“The odds of randomly picking four letters from this statement and having them be F, O, U, and R, are two out of two hundred nineteen thousand six hundred eighty-seven.”

“The odds of randomly picking four letters from this statement and having them be F, O, U, and R, are three out of two hundred ninety-two thousand nine hundred sixteen.”

These two are in lowest terms. He has seven more.

(Thanks, Hans.)

That Solves That

French conductor Louis-Antoine Jullien was the son of a violinist, who at the time of the boy’s baptism had been invited to play with the Sisteron Philharmonic Society. When he decided to ask one of the orchestra to be the boy’s godfather, all 36 members wanted to be considered.

So the boy was baptized Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roche Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noë Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien.

12/20/2019 UPDATE: In 2009 all 11 cricketers playing for England’s Dewsbury Young Stars were named Patel. “A lot of our team originate from India,” club secretary Yunus Patel told the Mirror, “but none of the players are related and it’s just a coincidence.” (Thanks, Nick.)

The Jankó Keyboard

Hungarian engineer Paul von Jankó offered this alternative to the traditional keyboard layout in 1882. Within each row, the notes ascend by whole steps, and each vertical column of identical-sounding keys is a half-step in pitch from its neighbors. This means that each chord and scale gets the same fingering regardless of key, and wide stretches aren’t as necessary. The example above has four rows, but the full Jankó keyboard has six:

This is all appealingly sensible, but music educators were skeptical and performers were reluctant to learn the new fingerings, so manufacturers stayed away. Today it’s largely a curiosity.


A problem proposed by Ashay Burungale of Satara, Maharashtra, India, in the November 2008 issue of American Mathematical Monthly: In a certain town of population 2n + 1, all relations are reciprocal: If Person 1 knows Person 2, then Person 2 knows Person 1. For any set A that consists of n citizens, there’s some person among the remaining n + 1 who knows everyone in A. Prove that there’s some citizen of the town who knows all the others.

Click for Answer

Ups and Downs

An Edinburgh startup called Gravitricity is hoping to create a “virtual battery” by hoisting and dropping weights in disused mine shafts. If the weights are hoisted when renewable energy is plentiful, and dropped when it’s expensive, then they can help to balance the energy grid with an efficient source of “gravity energy.”

Managing director Charlie Blair told the Guardian, “The beauty of this is that this can be done multiple times a day for many years, without any loss of performance. This makes it very competitive against other forms of energy storage — including lithium-ion batteries.”

Dropping 12,000 tonnes to a depth of 800 meters would produce enough electricity to power 63,000 homes for more than an hour. Oliver Schmidt of Imperial College London said, “I don’t expect Gravitricity to displace all lithium batteries on grids, but it certainly looks like a compelling proposition.”

(Via Tom Whitwell’s “52 Things I Learned in 2019.”)

Turn, Turn, Turn

Austin game developer Frank Force has won the Neural Correlate Society’s 2019 Best Illusion of the Year Contest with this “dual axis illusion”:

“This spinning shape appears to defy logic by rotating around both the horizontal and vertical axis at the same time! To make things even more confusing, the direction of rotation is also ambiguous. Some visual cues in the video will help viewers change their perception.”

The top 10 finalists are here.

12/18/2019 UPDATE: Good heavens, people are making these things. Five years ago Bill Gosper created the Lissajoke ambiguous roller, which rolls in a perplexing way:

And reader Joe Kisenwether has rendered Force’s illusion in reality — here the shape on the left spins about a horizontal axis while the one on the right spins about the vertical one:

The same thing rendered more slowly:

(Thanks, Joe.)