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The Independent Culture
THE SECOND series of Radio 4's Puzzle Panel is over, it's been declared a success and I have signed up for a third series in the autumn. Time to turn to the Augean backlog of correspondence. The last two Puzzlemaster columns, on Kosovo, have drawn a huge and thoughtful response with only one dissenter.

As usual, it is the one out of step that is most telling; the one swimming against the tide of my own thoughts that throws them into sharpest relief. Besides, if we all thought the same, what would we talk about?

What, to paraphrase the e-mail, has Kosovo to do with puzzle-writing? What, as my father would have said, has honey-cake to do with a windmill?

Well, firstly I am human with human interests. Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, as Terence put it. I've found it psychologically difficult to square it with myself, fossicking about in the foothills of the intellect while enormities are happening in Europe. Secondly, I am one of the many being asked by our elected Government to give the moral rubber-stamp to Nato's strategies; and, finally, I am one of those whose charity is dependably sought to sort it out when it inevitably goes pear-shaped.

Thirdly, and more centrally, puzzles would lose much of their appeal for me if they taught nothing; if they were incapable of generalisation to "big boy" problems; if they did not facilitate the transfer of skills to other areas of mental endeavour. Spotting the bad mental habits of our elected leaders is not just a game. It is a serious game. It offers object lessons not just in how not to think, but also in how not to vote. If we cannot solve a local and perennial problem recurring throughout history (nowadays followed by bleatings about ensuring this sort of thing never happens again), what hope is there of solving problems with no track record, such as global warming, overpopulation, loss of biodiversity, genetic tampering?

We have to change the way we think. Lead on, MacMaslanka!

Points to ponder

1 Families stop having children after their first boy. Boys and girls are equiprobable and multiple births are impossible. Will this affect the ratio of sexes? What will the average number of children be in a family?

2 How many distinguishable cubes can be made by painting each face either white or black?

3 Find a one-word anagram of IMPLACABLE ROT.

Solutions to last week's problems

1 (see diagram) The fly walks, at most, 9cm. Let each edge traversal be marked by an arrow with two ends(!). Three arrow-ends can only meet at the start or finish. The remaining 6 corners can have, at most, 2 arrow- ends. This makes 6 corners with two half-arrows, and two corners with three half-arrows, making 9 arrows and so 9 edges traversed.

2 Two boys and 2 girls is more likely than a boy and three girls.


comments to: indy@puzzlemaster.co.uk