Today is the 30th of December.

Thirty, in ancient times, was the minimum age for a tribune in ancient Rome ("A man at 30 must be either a fool or a physician" - Tiberius), and was the age, according to biblical tradition, at which both Moses and Jesus began their public preaching. In more recent times, writers have expressed differing opinions of the effects of reaching the age of thirty: "For a young man, a woman of thirty has irresistible attractions." (Balzac, The Woman of Thirty, 1832).

"Thirty - the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair." (Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925)

Thirty is also the number of edges on an icosahedron; the number of edges on a dodecahedron; and the number of pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed Jesus Christ.

COMPETITION: bridge - bride - ride - side - dies - does - doss - dross - dress - cress - chess: an 11-word chain from bridge to chess. Each step involves one of the following operations: a) omission of a letter without altering the order of the others.

b) addition of a letter, anywhere in the word.

c) changing a letter.

d) making an anagram.

Three prizes of the Larousse Dictionary of Scientists will be awarded for the shortest word-chains constructed according to the above rules, leading from NUMBERS to LETTERS. Preference will be given to those using words in common usage.

16 December answers: If J times MAJOR equals RESIGNS, the value of MAJOR is 89403 (4 x 89403 = 357612). David Davies (Melton Mowbray), Paul Terry (Wokingham) and Mrs H E Kochmann (Basildon) win the Chambers Dictionary of World History.

`The Anaesthetist'