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Old 10-09-2012, 03:20 PM   #14348
sun surfer
in this great future
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Finished The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (4/5) and then read in quick succession Arms and the Man, a play by George Bernard Shaw, (2/5) and Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (3/5), the last two both being less than a hundred pages each.

Now I'm on A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll, which is also pretty short, and I'm really enjoying it! It's a book of mathematical logic problems, but imagine you're doing logic problems with a witty comedian writing the questions and answers.

I've been reading other Carroll works, including other puzzle works, and I'd say this is his best I've read of this type. I didn't find the word-problem puzzles of his nearly as interesting, even though I'd probably generally prefer word problems to mathematics problems. He seems to be at his funniest and most comfortable here, and the problems are short and straightforward and don't get lost in the haze of being so old. I'd say if you like maths and puzzles and Carroll, this is really a little hidden gem of his.

The really funny parts come in the answers, which take up half the book, because apparently these problems were first published either weekly or monthly in a newspaper and so people could send in answers, which he would "grade" and then publish with the correct answers and a list of "winners" that answered correctly in I suppose the next edition of the newspaper. I find myself looking more forward to reading the answers than the questions! The title of the book is even taken from an answer someone sent in on the first puzzle, sent in by "Simple Susan" and "Money-Spinner" together, where they write a poem answering the question and it ends with "the tale is tangled now no more".

First of all, it's interesting when you see unexpected traces of modern human behaviour in things from the past, and the answerers' pseudonyms are so similar to our internet posting screen user names with their randomness and anonymity. People write in to him named "Bo-Peep", "Bog-Oak", "The Old Maid", "Vendredi", "Omega", "Waiting for the Train", "Bradshaw of the Future", "Rags and Tatters", "Crophi and Mophi", "Money-Spinner", "Spear Maiden", "Nairam", "Vis Inertiae", "Yak", "Dinah Mite", "A Nihilist", "Scrutator" and so on and so forth. LOL, those could just as easily be a group of posters' screennames posting in a forum here! And Carroll will often use those names as if they're their real names in the way he addresses them and also make jokes on them.

But the funniest parts come from the way he explains the answers of the people who sent in incorrect solutions. He doesn't exactly make fun of them, but his attitude is always of such light humour that I end up giggling through all the wrong answers. For instance, on a question about the fewest numbers of guests possibly at a party, where they're all family members such as "my brother's father's uncle's wife" and so on, one person named "Sea-Breeze" who Carroll says is the " very faintest breath that ever bore the name!" sent in an answer saying that it was simple, that the fewest number could just be achieved by many incestuous intermarriages, to which Carroll acts shocked and says, "'Wind of the Western Seas', you have had a very narrow escape!".

Or another one where "Bee" and "Ayr" sent in answers: "Bee's arithmetic is faulty...<gives Bee's answer and its faults>...But Ayr's state is still more perilous still: she draws illogical conclusions with a frightful calmness" which set me giggling for reading all of Ayr's frighteningly calm illogical conclusions.

Another answer from "Crophi and Mophi" on a problem about a town square with 20 houses on each side: "...Crophi and Mophi make the bold and unfounded assumption that there were really 21 houses on each side...'We may assume,' they add, 'that the doors for Nos. 21, 42, 63, 84, are invisible from the centre of the square'! What is there, I wonder, that Crophi and Mophi would not assume?"

And the funniest, to me, of all so far, which set me laughing on and off thinking about it for a good half hour at least, comes in a later answer where someone named "Scrutator" has sent in a critique on a former puzzle that was already answered: "A remonstrance has reached me from Scrutator on the subject of Knot 1, which he declares was 'no problem at all'. 'Two questions', he says, 'are put. To solve one there is no data: the other answers itself.' As to the first point, Scrutator is mistaken; there are...data sufficient to answer the question. As to the other, it is interesting to know that the question 'answers itself', and I am sure it does the question great credit: still I fear I cannot enter it on the list of winners, as this competition is only open to human beings."
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