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Subject: ‘Puzzle’

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12 12 12, or 12 December 2012

Posted in History, Oddities, Puzzle on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

12 December 2012 is an interesting date because when written in abbreviated form the digits are all the same, viz 12 12 12.  This numerical coincidence last happened, of course, on 11 November 2011, barely over a year ago.  But it will not happen again until 1 January 2101 or 01 01 01, a wait of just over 89 years.

postcard, 12 12 12, 12 December 1912, 2012, numerology, digits, identical

Postcard to celebrate 12 12 12 (ie 12 December 1912), postmarked in Strasbourg

It will be interesting to see what interest 12 12 12 generates.  A hundred years ago numerous postcards were issued to celebrate the almost identical occasion, particularly it appears in mathematically-inclined Germany.  Above is a postcard, postmarked in Strasbourg at 12′oclock on 12 12 12.   Now, with the omnipresence of the internet and television, the natural point to celebrate might be the 12th second of the 12th minute of the the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of this century, or 12 12 12 12 12 12.

As an illustration of the wonders to be found in the Look and Learn picture library, here is another 12 12 12 image, a depiction of Danzig, the Northern Venice.

12 12 12, interesting date, Danzig, picture, illustration, 12th December 1912, numerology

Postcard to celebrate 12 12 12 (ie 12 December 1912), depicting Danzig

Both images are available for licensing, from Look and Learn or its agent, the Bridgeman Art Library.

The Times crossword first appeared in 1930

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Puzzle on Thursday, 10 May 2012

This edited article about crosswords originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 703 published on 5 July 1975.

D-Day, picture, image, illustration

D-Day landings

There he was minding his own business, thinking up the Daily Telegraph crossword every day with his friend, Melville Jones, when suddenly counter-intelligence in the shape of two gentlemen from M.I.5 moved in on him. Leonard Sidney Dawe was more than somewhat startled, for he was not exactly famous, even though his anonymously-invented crosswords were. He was a physics teacher who happened to be good at concocting puzzles. Now it appeared that either the Tower of London or a firing squad loomed.

Not that you could really blame the anti-espionage section. The date was June 4, 1944, two days before the Allied invasion of France, the immortal D-Day that was to carry the war back into occupied Europe. Somehow, quiet Mr. Dawe had managed to work more key codewords into his recent puzzles than anyone thought possible; anyone in the secret that is, for the fewer people that knew about D-Day, the better the chances of success. And here was Mr. Dawe apparently spilling the beans. Some mean-minded souls were suggesting that he must be a German agent.

It was sheer coincidence, of course, but amazing all the same. On May 2, the answer to a clue was Utah, one of the projected Allied landing beaches, on the 22nd, Omaha, another of them, on the 27th, the answer was Overlord, the very name of the entire operation, and on the 30th, Mulberry, the name of the two artificial floating harbours that were to be taken to Normandy. To top it all, the answer on June 1 was Neptune, the code-word for the naval part of the invasion.

The two men looked hard at Mr. Dawe and believed his story, then left for London. On June 6th, the Allies successfully landed, taking the enemy by surprise.

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Mirages are rearranged reality

Posted in Oddities, Puzzle, Science on Thursday, 9 June 2011

This edited article about mirages originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 962 published on 16 August 1980.

mirage, picture, image, illustration

A Mirage

A person dying of thirst in the Gobi Desert may imagine many things in his delirium – but the mirage he sees is real enough.

Many people think that a mirage is nothing but an illusion. It is not. A mirage is an optical phenomenon that can be seen by the coolest observer and photographed. The elements going to make up the mirage – traditionally palm trees – are real: they are, however, rearranged according to the laws of refraction.

What happens is that light changes its direction of travel – it refracts – on its passage through an atmosphere having an unusual distribution of air density. An increase in density of the air decreases the velocity of light passing through it. The result is a displaced image.

It can easily be seen how these conditions could arise in desert regions. On calm, clear summer days the surface of the ground becomes strongly heated. A layer of hot air is formed, which reflects the sky so as to suggest a blue pool of water. It also reflects nearby objects. A mirage is produced – of, say, a palm tree reflected in a pool of water. The reflection and the pool may be illusory, but there has to be a palm tree there to begin with.

Curious expressions: OK

Posted in Language, Oddities, Puzzle on Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Jackson, picture, image, illustration

President Jackson

We all use the expression OK, and we all know what it means – it’s a short term to indicate agreement or to suggest that things are satisfactory. Yet its origin is obscure.

It’s widely believed, for example, that Andrew Jackson, the American president, thought that it was an abbreviation for “oll Kurrect”, a piece of information to hearten the worst of spellers. Then it was put about that it stood for Old Kinderhook, New York State, the birthplace of a leading 19th century American politician: and in fact the town was sometimes referred to by its initials.

The surprising fact emerged from some recent research that OK really may have sprung from “oll kurrect”, though the connection with the far from supremely literate Andrew Jackson was political rather than etymological, the work of his enemies.

Apparently there was a craze for comic misspellings and abbreviations in Boston during the late 1830s. These became so well known that OK came to mean “all correct”, with knowledge of the intermediate “oll kurrect” being assumed.

It should be pointed out that attempts have also been made to derive the expression from Jamaican – oh ki – and Surinamese – okee.

Nostradamus, prophet or writer of riddles

Posted in Historical articles, History, Language, Mystery, Puzzle on Wednesday, 8 June 2011

This edited article about Nostradamus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 961 published on 9 August 1980.

Nostradamus, picture, image, illustration

Nostradamus predicted the destruction of New York City at the end of the twentieth century, by Clive Uptton

In the spring of 1940, German planes flew over Northern France and the Low Countries, dropping propaganda leaflets. The leaflets stated that Germany’s enemies were bound to lose the Second World War, which had started the previous September, and that her coming defeat had been predicted almost 400 years earlier.

The leaflets, which were a prelude to German troops overrunning the countries, were said to contain the prophecies of the greatest astrologer of all time, Nostradamus, who was born in the south-east of France in December, 1503. According to the leaflets, he had foretold the “annihilation” of the British and Allied forces and of the “overwhelming victory” of Hitler and his henchmen.

In fact, the prophecies were forgeries, and the idea of using the false predictions came from the German Minister of Propaganda, Dr Goebbels. For weeks beforehand, Goebbels had been preparing the leaflets, which were specially written by a pro-Nazi astrologer named Karl Krafft, who closely copied the style and method of Nostradamus.

As morale-destroyers, the leaflets were so effective that British Intelligence employed their own astrologer, a Hungarian ÈmigrÈ named Louis de Wohl, to compose a counter-set of “Nostradamus prophecies”. A reputed £100,000 was spent in printing the leaflets, and in having them dropped by the R.A.F. over Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and the North of France. According to the contents of these leaflets Nostradamus forecast the defeat of Germany.

This unique form of aerial warfare lasted until 1943, the year in which Krafft, as Nostradamus, had said that Britain would be under German rule. By then, however, the tide had turned against Germany and her ally, Italy. The German army at Stalingrad was decisively beaten by the Russians, and Italy surrendered unconditionally to join in the war against Hitler.

Who, then, was this man called Nostradamus? And why did his words, even if they were faked, have such an extraordinary effect upon the wartime civilians and fighting men who read them?

Nostradamus was born Michel de Notredame, the son of a respected notary in Saint Remy, Provence, and he later took the Latinized form of his surname. As a child he showed remarkable intellectual powers, and his parents saw that he was instructed in Greek, Latin and mathematics.

At the age of 19 he went to study medicine at the University of Montpellier, and he graduated as a doctor three years later. At the time, Southern France was in the grip of a deadly “black plague”, and Nostradamus went from village, to town, to city bringing what relief he could to those who were afflicted with the disease.

After working in Marseilles and Lyon, he settled in the quiet hill-town of Salon. Here he married for the second time, his first wife and family had died of the plague, despite his efforts to save them, and he turned his intellect to the mysterious art of astrology.

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The newspaper crossword

Posted in Famous Inventors, Inventions, News, Puzzle on Monday, 6 June 2011

This edited article about crosswords originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 959 published on 26 July 1980.

newspaper boy, picture, image, illustration

A paperboy delivering the newspaper

Readers of the Sunday Supplement of the New York World were presented with a new type of puzzle in the issue of 21st December, 1913. It is generally accepted that this was the first true crossword puzzle, and it was devised by Arthur Wynn. The readers enjoyed the puzzle so much that it became a regular feature. In the 1920s other papers began to publish crosswords, and the world-wide crossword craze which followed has never waned.

The first jigsaw puzzle

Posted in Education, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Puzzle on Tuesday, 24 May 2011

This edited article about the jigsaw puzzle originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 946 published on 8 March 1980.

jigsaw, picture, image, illustration

A rabbit family jigsaw

John Spilsbury, a teacher at Harrow School in the 1760s, was searching for a new way to teach his pupils geography. One day he decided to cut up a map of the British Isles and ask the boys to reassemble it. The idea proved so successful that dissected puzzles, as they were then called, soon became the fashionable way of teaching geography, history and religion. These first puzzles did not interlock and were produced for educational purposes only. Interlocking puzzles were developed at the start of the present century and quickly became popular.

Count Cagliostro’s Search For a Golden Secret

Posted in Mystery, Puzzle, Science on Friday, 18 February 2011

This edited article about Count Cagliostro’s search for a golden secret originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 903 published on 12 May 1979.

Count Alessandro di Cagliostro and his lovely wife Serafina cut a fine dash in 18th century London. They rode in an ornate gilt coach, with expensively liveried servants to wait on them; their gorgeous clothes glittered with diamonds.

When admirers enquired as to the source of his wealth, the count gave an explanation that made their eyes open wide with amazement. He knew how to turn lead into gold, he said, and how to double the size of a diamond. And – he knew the secret of eternal life.

Count Cagliostro. Modesty was not Count Cagliostro's strong point. He claimed to be able to raise people from the dead, restore youth with mud baths and elecric treatments, foretell the future and perform a number of unspecified miracles.

Count Cagliostro. Illustration by Angus McBride

Cagliostro – it was not his real name, and he had no claims to a title – was a charlatan and a confidence trickster. He made money by selling everlasting life potions, and cure-all pills lavishly wrapped in gold foil. He was trading on the beliefs that had inspired alchemists for centuries.

But now alchemy was at a low ebb, debased by tricksters to deceive the gullible. It was not always so.

Alchemy began as a mystical kind of chemistry. The earliest chemists worked and coloured metals and, because gold was so highly prized, they claimed that it was the only pure metal. It followed therefore that if the impurities could be removed from the other metals, they would become gold.

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The first newspaper crossword

Posted in Anniversary, Language, Puzzle on Friday, 10 December 2010

picture, crossword puzzle, cross-word, word-cross

By the 1960s almost every magazine carried a crossword puzzle. The illustration accompanying the article that shares the page is by C. L. Doughty

21 December marks the anniversary of the publication of the first crossword in an English-language  newspaper. The crossword – a grid of squares filled in horizontally and vertically with words obtained from clues – had been around since the 19th century. The Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica had published a crossword in 1890.

Today’s anniversary, however, celebrates the crossword compiled by an English journalist, Arthur Wynne, for the New York World in 1913. Wynne’s “Word-Cross Puzzle” became a regular feature and soon spread to other newspapers.

Many more pictures relating to puzzles and games can be found at the Look and Learn picture library. Click on the link or picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial and educational use.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Posted in Puzzle on Wednesday, 30 May 2007

What's wrong with this picture? (illustration)

Exercise your brain with this puzzle from 1965, here reproduced from the original artwork.