Monday, December 12, 2011


I have frequently had occasion to show that the published answers to a great many of the oldest and most widely known puzzles are either quite incorrect or capable of improvement. I propose to consider the old poser of the table-top and stools that most of my readers have probably seen in some form or another in books compiled for the recreation of childhood.

The story is told that an economical and ingenious schoolmaster once wished to convert a circular table-top, for which he had no use, into seats for two oval stools, each with a hand-hole in the centre. He instructed the carpenter to make the cuts as in the illustration and then join the eight pieces together in the manner shown. So impressed was he with the ingenuity of his performance that he set the puzzle to his geometry class as a little study in dissection. But the remainder of the story has never been published, because, so it is said, it was a characteristic of the principals of academies that they would never admit that they could err. I get my information from a descendant of the original boy who had most reason to be interested in the matter.

The clever youth suggested modestly to the master that the hand-holes were too big, and that a small boy might perhaps fall through them. He therefore proposed another way of making the cuts that would get over this objection. For his impertinence he received such severe chastisement that he became convinced that the larger the hand-hole in the stools the more comfortable might they be.

Now what was the method the boy proposed?

Can you show how the circular table-top may be cut into eight pieces that will fit together and form two oval seats for stools (each of exactly the same size and shape) and each having similar hand-holes of smaller dimensions than in the case shown above? Of course, all the wood must be used.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


If you take a rectangular piece of cardboard, twice as long as it is broad, and cut it in half diagonally, you will get two of the pieces shown in the illustration. The puzzle is with five such pieces of equal size to form a square. One of the pieces may be cut in two, but the others must be used intact.


Friday, October 14, 2011


Certain numbers are called triangular, because if they are taken to represent counters or coins they may be laid out on the table so as to form triangles. The number 1 is always regarded as triangular, just as 1 is a square and a cube number. Place one counter on the table—that is, the first triangular number. Now place two more counters beneath it, and you have a triangle of three counters; therefore 3 is triangular. Next place a row of three more counters, and you have a triangle of six counters; therefore 6 is triangular. We see that every row of counters that we add, containing just one more counter than the row above it, makes a larger triangle.

Now, half the sum of any number and its square is always a triangular number. Thus half of 2 + 22 = 3; half of 3 + 32 = 6; half of 4 + 42 = 10; half of 5 + 52= 15; and so on. So if we want to form a triangle with 8 counters on each side we shall require half of 8 + 82, or 36 counters. This is a pretty little property of numbers. Before going further, I will here say that if the reader refers to the "Stonemason's Problem" (No. 135) he will remember that the sum of any number of consecutive cubes beginning with 1 is always a square, and these form the series 12, 32, 62, 102, etc. It will now be understood when I say that one of the keys to the puzzle was the fact that these are always the squares of triangular numbers—that is, the squares of 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, etc., any of which numbers we have seen will form a triangle.

Every whole number is either triangular, or the sum of two triangular numbers or the sum of three triangular numbers. That is, if we take any number we choose we can always form one, two, or three triangles with them. The number 1 will obviously, and uniquely, only form one triangle; some numbers will only form two triangles (as 2, 4, 11, etc.); some numbers will only form three triangles (as 5, 8, 14, etc.). Then, again, some numbers will form both one and two triangles (as 6), others both one and three triangles (as 3 and 10), others both two and three triangles (as 7 and 9), while some numbers (like 21) will form one, two, or three triangles, as we desire. Now for a little puzzle in triangular numbers.

Sandy McAllister, of Aberdeen, practised strict domestic economy, and was anxious to train his good wife in his own habits of thrift. He told her last New Year's Eve that when she had saved so many sovereigns that she could lay them all out on the table so as to form a perfect square, or a perfect triangle, or two triangles, or three triangles, just as he might choose to ask he would add five pounds to her treasure. Soon she went to her husband with a little bag of £36 in sovereigns and claimed her reward. It will be found that the thirty-six coins will form a square (with side 6), that they will form a single triangle (with side 8), that they will form two triangles (with sides 5 and 6), and that they will form three triangles (with sides 3, 5, and 5). In each of the four cases all the thirty-six coins are used, as required, and Sandy therefore made his wife the promised present like an honest man.

The Scotsman then undertook to extend his promise for five more years, so that if next year the increased number of sovereigns that she has saved can be laid out in the same four different ways she will receive a second present; if she succeeds in the following year she will get a third present, and so on until she has earned six presents in all. Now, how many sovereigns must she put together before she can win the sixth present?

What you have to do is to find five numbers, the smallest possible, higher than 36, that can be displayed in the four ways—to form a square, to form a triangle, to form two triangles, and to form three triangles. The highest of your five numbers will be your answer.


Monday, September 5, 2011


Sometimes a very simple question in elementary arithmetic will cause a good deal of perplexity. For example, I want to divide the four numbers, 701, 1,059, 1,417, and 2,312, by the largest number possible that will leave the same remainder in every case. How am I to set to work Of course, by a laborious system of trial one can in time discover the answer, but there is quite a simple method of doing it if you can only find it.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The practical usefulness of puzzles is a point that we are liable to overlook. Yet, as a matter of fact, I have from time to time received quite a large number of letters from individuals who have found that the mastering of some little principle upon which a puzzle was built has proved of considerable value to them in a most unexpected way. Indeed, it may be accepted as a good maxim that a puzzle is of little real value unless, as well as being amusing and perplexing, it conceals some instructive and possibly useful feature. It is, however, very curious how these little bits of acquired knowledge dovetail into the occasional requirements of everyday life, and equally curious to what strange and mysterious uses some of our readers seem to apply them. What, for example, can be the object of Mr. Wm. Oxley, who writes to me all the way from Iowa, in wishing to ascertain the dimensions of a field that he proposes to enclose, containing just as many acres as there shall be rails in the fence?

The man wishes to fence in a perfectly square field which is to contain just as many acres as there are rails in the required fence. Each hurdle, or portion of fence, is seven rails high, and two lengths would extend one pole (16½ ft.): that is to say, there are fourteen rails to the pole, lineal measure. Now, what must be the size of the field?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


At a recent secret meeting of Suffragists a serious difference of opinion arose. This led to a split, and a certain number left the meeting. "I had half a mind to go myself," said the chair-woman, "and if I had done so, two-thirds of us would have retired." "True," said another member; "but if I had persuaded my friends Mrs. Wild and Christine Armstrong to remain we should only have lost half our number." Can you tell how many were present at the meeting at the start?


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A boy, recently home from school, wished to give his father an exhibition of his precocity. He pushed a large circular table into the corner of the room, as shown in the illustration, so that it touched both walls, and he then pointed to a spot of ink on the extreme edge.

"Here is a little puzzle for you, pater," said the youth. "That spot is exactly eight inches from one wall and nine inches from the other. Can you tell me the diameter of the table without measuring it?"

The boy was overheard to tell a friend, "It fairly beat the guv'nor;" but his father is known to have remarked to a City acquaintance that he solved the thing in his head in a minute. I often wonder which spoke the truth.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It will be seen in the diagram that we have so arranged the nine digits in a square that the number in the second row is twice that in the first row, and the number in the bottom row three times that in the top row. There are three other ways of arranging the digits so as to produce the same result. Can you find them?


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


In a recent motor ride it was found that we had gone at the rate of ten miles an hour, but we did the return journey over the same route, owing to the roads being more clear of traffic, at fifteen miles an hour. What was our average speed? Do not be too hasty in your answer to this simple little question, or it is pretty certain that you will be wrong.


Monday, April 4, 2011


"I say, Rackbrane, what is the time?" an acquaintance asked our friend the professor the other day. The answer was certainly curious.

"If you add one quarter of the time from noon till now to half the time from now till noon to-morrow, you will get the time exactly."

What was the time of day when the professor spoke?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


"Now, then, Tommy, how old is Rover?" Mildred's young man asked her brother.

"Well, five years ago," was the youngster's reply, "sister was four times older than the dog, but now she is only three times as old."

Can you tell Rover's age?


Saturday, March 5, 2011


Though the following little puzzle deals with the purchase of chestnuts, it is not itself of the "chestnut" type. It is quite new. At first sight it has certainly the appearance of being of the "nonsense puzzle" character, but it is all right when properly considered.

A man went to a shop to buy chestnuts. He said he wanted a pennyworth, and was given five chestnuts. "It is not enough; I ought to have a sixth," he remarked! "But if I give you one chestnut more." the shopman replied, "you will have five too many." Now, strange to say, they were both right. How many chestnuts should the buyer receive for half a crown?


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Every one is familiar with the difficulties that frequently arise over the giving of change, and how the assistance of a third person with a few coins in his pocket will sometimes help us to set the matter right. Here is an example. An Englishman went into a shop in New York and bought goods at a cost of thirty-four cents. The only money he had was a dollar, a three-cent piece, and a two-cent piece. The tradesman had only a half-dollar and a quarter-dollar. But another customer happened to be present, and when asked to help produced two dimes, a five-cent piece, a two-cent piece, and a one-cent piece. How did the tradesman manage to give change? For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the American coinage, it is only necessary to say that a dollar is a hundred cents and a dime ten cents. A puzzle of this kind should rarely cause any difficulty if attacked in a proper manner.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Four brothers—named John, William, Charles, and Thomas—had each a money-box. The boxes were all given to them on the same day, and they at once put what money they had into them; only, as the boxes were not very large, they first changed the money into as few coins as possible. After they had done this, they told one another how much money they had saved, and it was found that if John had had 2s. more in his box than at present, if William had had 2s. less, if Charles had had twice as much, and if Thomas had had half as much, they would all have had exactly the same amount.
Now, when I add that all four boxes together contained 45s., and that there were only six coins in all in them, it becomes an entertaining puzzle to discover just what coins were in each box.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Ruby Brooch

The annals of Scotland Yard contain some remarkable cases of jewel robberies, but one of the most perplexing was the theft of Lady Littlewood's rubies. There have, of course, been many greater robberies in point of value, but few so artfully conceived. Lady Littlewood, of Romley Manor, had a beautiful but rather eccentric heirloom in the form of a ruby brooch. While staying at her town house early in the eighties she took the jewel to a shop in Brompton for some slight repairs.

"A fine collection of rubies, madam," said the shopkeeper, to whom her ladyship was a stranger.

"Yes," she replied; "but curiously enough I have never actually counted them. My mother once pointed out to me that if you start from the centre and count up one line, along the outside and down the next line, there are always eight rubies. So I should always know if a stone were missing."

Six months later a brother of Lady Littlewood's, who had returned from his regiment in India, noticed that his sister was wearing the ruby brooch one night at a county ball, and on their return home asked to look at it more closely. He immediately detected the fact that four of the stones were gone.

"How can that possibly be?" said Lady Littlewood. "If you count up one line from the centre, along the edge, and down the next line, in any direction, there are always eight stones. This was always so and is so now. How, therefore, would it be possible to remove a stone without my detecting it?"

"Nothing could be simpler," replied the brother. "I know the brooch well. It originally contained forty-five stones, and there are now only forty-one. Somebody has stolen four rubies, and then reset as small a number of the others as possible in such a way that there shall always be eight in any of the directions you have mentioned."

There was not the slightest doubt that the Brompton jeweller was the thief, and the matter was placed in the hands of the police. But the man was wanted for other robberies, and had left the neighbourhood some time before. To this day he has never been found.

The interesting little point that at first baffled the police, and which forms the subject of our puzzle, is this: How were the forty-five rubies originally arranged on the brooch? The illustration shows exactly how the forty-one were arranged after it came back from the jeweller; but although they count eight correctly in any of the directions mentioned, there are four stones missing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


A gentleman who recently died left the sum of £8,000 to be divided among his widow, five sons, and four daughters. He directed that every son should receive three times as much as a daughter, and that every daughter should have twice as much as their mother. What was the widow's share?