Puzzlemaster

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The Independent Culture
IT'S ALL passed in a blur of materialism as disorientating as Sale of the Century on hash. Who bought me these socks? And this bath oil presided over by a demonic Winnie the Pooh?

Christmas was expected (having been advertised solidly for the last few months), but it still managed to take me by surprise. For weeks I'd drawn up lists headed "find this list" like a map so detailed it contains itself, which was what I could hardly do as the day approached. Just think. Everything under control. Relax, see friends, maybe watch a little TV.

Well, not quite. Here I am on the cusp of 1999 still delivering presents and writing cards to people I had over-optimistically crossed off my list but who resuscitated themselves by sending me a card at the last minute. Seasonal brinkmanship. They'll box it as a game next year, you'll see. You arrange for your card to strike your opponent's doormat by the last possible post before Christmas, so denying them a right of reply until after Boxing Day. Scrutinise your list and you can work out who wasn't going to send you a card until they were forced to by the unexpected arrival of yours. Then you can strike them off next year's list.

The analysis won't work with me: I send mine out alphabetically. If I were Noah, aardvarks would always get a card and zebras hardly ever. In the new millennium all this card-based tit-for-tatting will be done by computer, no doubt, thereby freeing us up for the important task of earning the money to pay for it.

I enjoyed the chaos of it all. For example, I had dinner at a friend's house in Northampton with my second father (anyone from a broken home will know it's always worth carrying a spare). Then I visited my twin mother: well, what would you call your mother's twin sister to give some feel of the phenomenon? She looks and moves just like my mother, but is completely different. Quite uncanny.

Next port of call was Lowestoft, where my half-brother lives in a fisherman's cottage overlooking the Birdseye factory. No Christmas tree for him - but a stockpile of sticks amassed by Bella the dog. The living room looked like a set for Joan of Arc.

Whenever I feel untidy I think of Mike. Dishes lie piled up in the sink. Old and treacherously gummy coffee coats the kitchen floor so your shoes stick fast after a couple of steps. There's an alien life-form oozing from the microwave - quick, throw me a rope!

He gave me a guided tour of Great Yarmouth by night. If you closed your eyes you almost believed you were in Brighton.

Usually I fear Christians even when not bearing gifts, but the bunch at the Abington Church carol service were not over-friendly. The church was jammed solid and no one was miffed when I muffed the high notes in "Angels We Have Heard on High".

There were disappointments, too. The usual Christmas walk in Salcey Forest was scrapped. It wouldn't be the same now so much of it has been hacked down. Then there was TV. Had we all become incredibly sophisticated, or were the programmes rubbish?

It was while gazing vacuously at tree decorations with a comedy special droning on that I first realised that the snub dodecahedron has two sorts of triangles on it (dotted and undotted in the diagram, left). Why is Christmas TV so bad? Why are the films noirest before dawn? Why are all the best films in the wee hours? With five terrestrial channels must I really go digital?

Solutions to 19 December puzzles

1. Nothing is missing from the advert for "A pounds 1,00 (sic) Christmas Shopping Spree".

2. Gaol & margarine.

3. Grantham.

Solutions to 12 Puzzles of Christmas

1. 7:36.

2. 20 sheep, 2 shepherds.

3. 10.

4. a) No-eye deer; b) D'ya thinky saw-us; c) A whey in a manger; d) Camel ye faithful; e) legs.

5. 12 pentagons; 80 triangles.

6. 1/4 (see diagram: the smaller circle must be a quarter of the larger).

7. "2 loo rolls" was read as "2100 rolls".

8. pounds 31, pounds 21 & 8p.

9. 3 shepherds, 6 sheep.

10. The 2nd and the 8th are twins.

11. Caspar arrives first.

12. a) Once in Royal David's City; b) A partridge in a pear tree; c) Christmas; d) Santa Claus; e) Christmas tree; f) Silent Night.

Point to ponder

How many edges and vertices has the snub dodecahedron?

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