Friday 4 July 2008


Today is, of course, Independence Day (appropriate greetings to all our American readers), but it is also the anniversary of that "golden afternoon" in 1862 on which the Reverend Charles Dodgson - better known as Lewis Carroll - took Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell, the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, on a boating trip up the Isis.

It was on that expedition that Mr Dodgson spun the yarn of Alice's Adventures Underground - later published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: that treasure trove of incomparable nonsense...
"Your hair wants cutting," said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

"You should learn not to make personal remarks," Alice said with some severity; "it's very rude."

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"

"Come, we shall have some fun now!" thought Alice. "I'm glad they've begun asking riddles. -- I believe I can guess that," she added aloud.

"Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?" said the March Hare.

"Exactly so," said Alice.

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.

"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least -- at least I mean what I say -- that's the same thing, you know."

"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"

"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"

"You might just as well say," added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, "that 'I breathe when I sleep' is the same thing as 'I sleep when I breathe'!"

"It is the same thing with you," said the Hatter...
Lewis Carroll was, of course, an inveterate divisor of games and puzzles and here's one of his most notorious teasers...
A weightless and perfectly flexible rope is hung over a weightless, frictionless pulley attached to the roof of a building. At one end is a weight which exactly counterbalances a monkey at the other end.

If the monkey begins to climb, what will happen to the weight?
What do YOU think? Let me know...

Finally, here's a visual tribute to Lewis Carroll's immortal dream child set to the Cocteau Twin's 'Alice'. Dream on...

Image: Illustration of the Monkey puzzle from Sam Lloyd's Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks and Conundrums New York, 1914. Unfortunately, Mr Lloyd obviously didn't know how to spell Lewis Carroll.


Good Dog said...

This feels very much like a QI question....

After much scribbling on paper, I'd say the weight... rises. Because, since the weight and the monkey weigh the same, as the monkey climbs the length of rope between the two gets shorter.

If it was put into practice, for a time it may look like the monkey was sinking, or perhaps staying in the same place.

Do I hear the buzzer?

Good Dog said...

What on earth was I thinking about saying it would look like the monkey was sinking?

(I actually scribbled a monkey and a ton block on scraps of paper for this and was jiggling them about the desk for this...)

But, since the monkey is climbing the rope, making the distance between the two objects decreases, meaning they would both rise up toward the pulley.

Oh, I blame this medication they've got me on.

I think I'll go and look for another corner to paint myself into.