Puzzle Master

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The Independent Culture
JUST IN time for the millennium, a war - sorry, a conflict - brought to you by those masterful negotiators of Nato. Tony and Co, fresh from not quite sorting out Northern Ireland, are now lending their skills to that age-old puzzle within an enigma, the Balkan Question.

Cynics may see this as a last chance to try out the soon-to-be-obsolete 1999 weapons catalogue. But I believe that the sincere intention is to solve a messy problem on humanitarian grounds. Unfortunately, after only 10 years they have come up with the wrong solution. The fighting men are doing a difficult job well, of course. But then it doesn't matter how fast you run if it's down the wrong road.

Let us put it in a way Miss Marple would have approved of. People change their minds less readily under pressure. Did bombing the British convert them to Hitler? The principle applies a fortiori to tyrants. Bully a bully and you'll make him bullier. As you'd expect, the first thing Milosevic did after the bombing was to step up atrocities in Kosovo.

If you want to increase support for a tyrant, bomb his people. It's no skin off his nose. Something must be done about this genocide. But Cook and Blair have expressed a false opposition between non-intervention on the one hand, and the "bombing for peace" of a sovereign state on the other, as if there were no tertium quid.

A strategy requires concrete and specific goals. If Milosevic doesn't cave in, what do you do for an encore? Particularly now you've alienated the Russians. And what if he does cave in?

Denis Healey, on Channel 4 News, was one of the few to seize upon these obvious and obstinate facts. The veteran of the invasion of Italy was told by Labour MP Ms Barbara Follett that he was wrong. That was then and this non-war is now (as if human nature changes!). Ah! The arrogance of youth, condemned to repeat old mistakes but always in its own terms! But what do these ultracrepidarian remarks about unilateral arrogance have to do with the civilised microworld of puzzles? Well, real problems are rarely simple, and yet they have serious consequences. So clear thinking is best practised with artificially soluble virtual problems, or puzzles as they are known in the trade.

They may seem mere trifles, but from such little acorns great oaks can grow.

Solution to last week's problem:

Six cuts are needed to saw a cube into 27 identical cubelets. The central cubelet has six faces, to create each one of which requires a separate sawcut, so six cuts are required. Get out of that without moving!

Points to Ponder

1 A woodworm enters one of the 27 cubelets and traverses each cubelet once at points where faces meet (not at edges or corners) until finally emerging. Where must it come out?

2 Every room of the Palace of Wisdom has an even number of doors. What about the number of outside doors?

3 What is the etymology of ultracrepidarian?

(Solutions next week)

comments to: indy@puzzlemaster.co.uk