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The Independent Culture
IT'S A circus out there, chaotic and illogical. A judge says the cruelty used on a defenceless chimp went "beyond what was necessary". Necessary cruelty, there's a concept. Being cruel to be caned. It may make legal sense, but not common sense.

This week also the New Millennium Experience Company tried with limited success to convert two Dome sceptics by walking them round it. Oh well, two down, 52,619,998 of us to go.

Experience can pop the prejudicial bubble. My unexpected sighting of our stately Dome (cf last week's column) converted me at a glance. It needed a direct sighting and not remote viewing. My driver remained unimpressed perhaps because, like Hercules, he was shielded from its Medusan charms by seeing it only in the mirror.

The dearth of roadsigns on my road to Damascus (or "Damn! Don't ask us") augurs ill for visitors. Or is the plan to lure people there by mistake? After all, some things (eg happiness) are best approached indirectly. All roads lead to dome.

Moses died within sight of the promised land. I thought I'd had my microchips within sight of the promised lunch when we ran into another unexpected sighting just short of our Docklands destination: the Westferry roundabout, all lit-up like a Christmas tree. Yet it wasn't a tree and it wasn't just for Christmas. It was a huge cluster of traffic lights.

Damien Hirst may do things by halves, but not the Commission for New Towns: according to the East London Advertiser there are 65 sets of lights in this work of art. My driver - not realising that art had right of way - shot several reds, green and ambers and careered wildly off into a carpark. As we adjusted our hold on reality I visualised another roundabout somewhere else with all the missing roadsigns on it.

It's not all mad news. Music in schools - known to facilitate acquisition of other skills, including maths - is to receive increased funding. To the 3E's (Education Education, Education) and the 3P's (Phonics, Phonics, Phonics) add the new mantra: Literacy, Numeracy, Musicality. Not quite in alphorder perhaps, but, it can at least spell its own initials, unlike the 3R's.

Oh and Puzzle Panel's back, though I had wondered if all the strands would come together in time. I'd set aside January to tackle a backlog of paperwork and to immerse my asthmatic lungs in breathable air in the Alps or Palm Desert.

But a frantic call from the editor put paid to that. The series had been brought forward two weeks. No one seemed terribly sure why or how the mistake had happened. But then in complex organisations things happen without anyone having done them, which saves on apologies. With ineluctable Sherlockian logic I eliminated all suspects one by one till only I remained. I must have done it.

What the hell, when have I ever been up-to-date, on time or had a clear desk? I can't even find the intray. My quest for air would have to wait. But my lungs had other ideas. Flu left me with asthma so bad that breathing was painful. Even slight wheezing can upset radio listeners. A woman once wrote to point out that she paid her licence fee in full and deserved someone who could breathe properly. I do understand. I once listened to a talk and registered only the bits where the speaker's teeth whistled. It set my ears on edge.

The show had to go on. A Harley Street doctor was found who - between my script meeting and tea with the panellists - injected me with depomedrone. It didn't stop the pain, but at least I didn't wheeze; or croak.

From then on all went smoothly. It was, of course, a dream team: David Singmaster, William Hartston and Val Gilbert. But also it was a return to the magical, manageable, mythical world of puzzles.

Solutions to last week's puzzles:

1. A 3 x 3 magic square can only be constructed in integers if its magic number is a multiple of 3.


3. NeuroN, INDOeuroPEAN. Brian Glyde suggests PLeuroN(S). Apparently it's a somite (sic), especially in an insect's thorax.

Points to Ponder:

1. You leave home for the dome (see picture, left) traversing each part of the network exactly once. Where's home? Where's the dome?

2. How many states do 65 sets of traffic lights have?

Comments to indy@puzzlemaster.co.uk

`Puzzle Panel': R4, Fridays at 1:30pm