Above It All


When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right. If it is all right there is no need to worry. If it is not all right one of two things will happen. Either you will crash or you will not crash. If you do not crash there is no need to worry. If you do crash one of two things is certain. Either you will be injured or you will not be injured. If you are not injured there is no need to worry. If you are injured one of two things is certain. Either you will recover or you will not recover. If you recover there is no need to worry. If you don’t recover you can’t worry.

— W.E. Johns, Spitfire Parade, 1941


lucas birdhouse

The birdhouse at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch is a replica of the 50,000-foot main house. Working from the original blueprints, architect Thomas Burke produced the structure in four months and installed it in April 2011. Roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, it has four levels and 50 individual compartments, each with a separate entry made of PVC piping.

(Via Anne Schmauss, Birdhouses of the World, 2014.)

Tank Hunt

A puzzle from Daniel J. Velleman and Stan Wagon’s excellent 2020 problem collection Bicycle or Unicycle?:

Before you is a field of 225 squares arranged in a 15×15 grid. One of the squares contains a perfectly camouflaged tank that you’re trying to destroy. You have a weapon that will destroy one square of the grid with each shot, but it takes two shots to destroy the tank, and you know that when the tank has been hit the first time (and only then) it will flee invisibly to an adjacent square (horizontally or vertically). What’s the minimum number of shots you’ll need to be sure of destroying it?

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Simple Enough


These compounds are named housane, churchane, basketane, and penguinone.

Below: To celebrate the 2012 London Olympics, chemists Graham Richards and Antony Williams offered a molecule of five rings. They called it olympicene.



Hateful Spider, (You are quite right. It doesn’t matter a bit how one begins a letter, nor, for the matter of that, how one goes on with it, or even how one ends it — and it comes awfully easy, after a bit, to write coldly — easier, if possible, than to write warmly. For instance, I have been writing to the Dean, on College business, and began the letter ‘Obscure Animalcule,’ and he is foolish enough to pretend to be angry about it, and to say it wasn’t a proper style, and that he will propose to the Vice-Chancellor to expel me from the University: and it is all your fault!)

— Lewis Carroll, letter to Agnes Hull, April 30, 1881

Packing Numbers

Leonard Gordon noted this interesting pattern in the May 1995 issue of Word Ways. The English names of the first eight positive integers (ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT) contain altogether 32 letters. The smallest rectangular grid into which they can all be packed, word-search fashion, is 5×5. Because some of the cells serve double duty, the 32 letters “fit” into 25 cells; the ratio of these values is 1.28. This ratio remains remarkably consistent as the list of numbers is extended — here are grids for the first 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 numbers:

E I G H T   O N E E R H T   E I G H T F   E L E V E N S   S E V E N O W T
F O U R W   S E V E N I N   F   X   W O   I   F S O I E   F I V E E R H T
X I S   O   E I G H T W O   N I N E O U   G   O I T N V   O G X N E N I N
S E V E N   F O U R X I S   S E V E N R   H W U X V E E   U H E V L E W T
T H R E E                   T H R E E     T H R E E E N   R T N E V E L E
 8 words     9 words        10 words      11 words        12 words
32 letters  36 letters      39 letters    45 letters      51 letters
25 cells    28 cells        30 cells      35 cells        40 cells
(1.28)      (1.29)          (1.30)        (1.29)          (1.28)

Alas, the last one isn’t optimal, Gordon notes. The names ONE through TWELVE will fit into a more compact grid:


… and that raises the ratio to 1.42 letters per cell.

(Leonard Gordon, “Packing the Cardinals,” Word Ways 28:2 [May 1995], 116.)

The Wine-Bin


A puzzle by Claude Gaspar Bachet de Méziriac, from 1612, via Henry Dudeney:

A gentleman had a wine-bin of eight compartments, as in the illustration, containing 60 bottles, arranged as shown. His dishonest servant stole 4 bottles and rearranged the remainder. The gentleman noticed that the bottles had been redistributed, but as there were still 21 bottles on every side he innocently concluded that all the 60 were there. The servant, emboldened by his success, again stole 4 bottles and rearranged the remainder without discovery. In fact, on two more occasions he repeated his theft of 4 bottles, always leaving the remainder so arranged symmetrically that there were 21 on every side. How did he arrange them on the four occasions so as to steal the 16 bottles?

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